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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Should the Giants Pull the Plug?

About a month ago, I speculated that the Giants had a good chance of outperforming the predictions of experts ("How Will the Giants do in 2019?"). I argued that they had decent starting pitching, great defense, and an excellent bullpen. The primary wildcard was their offense, but if their core position players (Posey, Panik, Belt, Crawford, and Longoria) ended up hitting close to their career averages, then the Giants might send manager Bruce Bochy into retirement with a winning season. They probably wouldn't make the playoffs, but at least they'd do okay.

Well, 50+ games into the season, it's becoming clear that Bochy's last year won't be a memorable one. Although the defense and bullpen have been more than adequate (Mark Melancon being a notable exception), starting pitching has been a disappointment, and the offense has been terrible. For the most part, the core position players have not hit. Only Joe Panik is close to his career average, and it wouldn't surprise me that by season's end, Buster Posey closes in on his. However, Longoria, Belt, and Crawford are struggling, and there have been few signs that they will turn things around anytime soon. All three look as if they can't catch up with a good fastball. It's hard not to wonder if the increase in average pitch velocity is taking a toll on their performance ("Pitch Velocity and Aging Curves").

As far as pitching, of the starters, only Madison Bumgarner is showing flashes of his former self. The rest of the members of the original starting rotation -- Jeff Samardzija, Derek HollandDereck Rodríguez, and Drew Pomeranz -- have struggled. Holland has been sent to the bullpen, Rodriguez was relegated to AAA to regain his command, Samardzija has continued to give up home runs at an alarming rate, and Pomeranz, in spite of displaying absolutely wicked stuff at times, has pitched inconsistently.

What should the Giants do? I wouldn't pull the plug on the season. I hate giving up. Nevertheless, at a minimum the Giants should begin lighting a few fires for the future. To begin with, it's probably time for the Giants to move (keep) Samardzija, Holland, and Pomeranz to the bullpen and let their young starters (Dereck Rodríguez, Andrew Suarez, Tyler Beede, and Shaun Anderson) take over. All four have demonstrated they can win in AAA, so there's no point in wasting their arms there. Instead, the Giants should use this year to find out whether they can win at the major league level. In other words, the Giants should seek to make this season as "productive" as possible. They may not win any more games. They might even lose more. But, come September, they will have a pretty good sense which of their young starters, if any, will be a part of a future Giants' rotation.

As far as position players go, few, if any, are trade bait. Some are saddled with long contracts, and others appear to no longer have what it takes to be attractive to other teams. If possible, I'd jettison Longoria, but that'll be tough to do with his contract. For now, I'd keep Crawford, Panik, and Belt. Panik might have a few productive offensive years left in him, and all three are playing good defense. Still, the Giants should see if they can pick up potential replacements through trades over the next couple of months (see the next paragraph). I don't see the Giants ever trading Posey, but they might want to move him to 1B soon in order to extend his career. He can't afford too many more concussions, and his knees won't hold up forever. Plus, Joey Bart may be ready for the big leagues by the middle of next season.

Only Bumgarner and the bullpen offer the Giants much hope of getting some decent prospects. I'm not sure how much the Giants can get for Bumgarner, but they should get a pretty decent return for closer, Will Smith. Several teams seem interested in him, including the Milwaukee Brewers, which is where the Giants got him from in the first place. The Brewers might be willing to give up quite a few prospects, including Lucas Erceg, who is from the Bay Area, if it looks like they'll reach the postseason. I hate to see Bumgarner go, but if he's traded, I hope he lands with the Houston Astros, which looks like the team most likely to keep the Dodgers from winning the World Series. That would offer me (and other Giants fans) some consolation for losing one of the greatest Giants of all time.

P. S. It'd be nice if the Giants could figure out a way to rid themselves of Mark Melancon, who has turned out to be one of the worst investments the Giants have made in recent years, that would be great. It would help make room for players who actually might help the Giants get back to the playoffs in the future.

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