When Major League Baseball released its condensed 60-game schedule for the 2020 season, San Francisco Giants fans peaked at the August slate and took a collective gulp.
The club’s 5-5 start to the season offered fans reasons to be optimistic and examples of why they should be concerned, but it also temporarily took their mind off the gauntlet the Giants would run before the new August 27 trade deadline.
Now that the team is in the midst of the most challenging portion of its schedule, it’s possible the season could slip away from the Giants before they even have time to look up and realize what’s happening.
After a disappointing four-game set at Coors Field in which the Giants coughed up a chance to split a series on Thursday against the first-place Rockies, manager Gabe Kapler’s club heads to Los Angeles needing to play its best baseball.
So far, it’s hard to know what that looks like.
The Giants lead the majors in fielding errors and have hit into more double plays than any other team. Their 80 runs allowed are the most in the National League and their pitching staff’s 7.75 strikeouts per nine innings are the second-fewest of any team that’s played an uninterrupted schedule.
Giants hitters have proven resilient, posting the league’s sixth-best batting average at .253, but their .399 slugging percentage ranks in the bottom half of the league. Too many position players who have started regularly including Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval have lacked consistency at the plate.
What do the Giants look like at their best? And can they ever clean up the sloppy mistakes that have defined the first quarter of the season?
Those are questions Kapler’s team must answer over a grueling three-week period leading up to the August 27 deadline. An expanded playoff field should be reason to remain hopeful, but with series against the more talented Dodgers, Astros and A’s in the immediate future, it’s fair to wonder what needs to change to turn this season into a success.
Here are three thoughts.
1. Joey Bart’s clock should start now
This beat reporter is only going off of his own eyes, but from what I saw of Bart during spring training and summer camp, the Giants’ No. 1 prospect didn’t have that much work to do to be able to help the major league club.
I understand Kapler and Farhan Zaidi’s desire to wait until Bart is ready so that when he comes up to the big leagues, he never needs to return to the minors. But if the Giants are going to give Bart the best chance to grow and develop in 2020, those reps will likely need to come in the majors.
Bart should be a defensive upgrade over Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp and it wouldn’t surprise me if he worked his way into the middle of the batting order shortly after he receives a promotion. The last time I saw Bart, he was whiffing too much and chasing too many pitches below the zone, but his contact was also louder than nearly every other Giants player.
From what I’ve seen, Bart has power to all fields, the confidence to feel like he belongs and the steadiness to not allow a prolonged slump to deter his approach at the plate. It’s not ideal to have to call a player to the big leagues before you believe he’s ready, but it’s also not ideal to have your fan base lose interest in the 2020 season before you’ve played half of your games.
One thing I’m confident in saying: The Giants won’t be a worse team with Bart on the roster.
2. Rethink the bullpen
The Giants seem to have found a closer in Trevor Gott, but the rest of the bullpen is a work in progress.
There’s a lot of intriguing yet inexperienced arms, and over the last week, that inexperience has haunted the Giants at some inopportune times.
It’s too soon to say the Giants don’t have enough talented arms to have one of the National League’s better bullpens, and the recency bias of watching this team lose three of four games at Coors Field has admittedly changed my perception of the group when it’s possible the bullpen just had a tough series in a tough ballpark.
With that being said, I’m curious why the Giants built up several members of their relief corps to throw multiple innings at a time but have typically stayed away from that strategy this season. It feels as if far too often, the Giants are asking four-to-six relievers to cover the final three-to-four innings of a game, requiring pitchers to throw more often and in shorter spurts which may limit their effectiveness.
There are a lot of arms I like, particularly on the left-handed side where Caleb Baragar, Conner Menez and Wandy Peralta have shown promise, but I do think the Giants need a bit more balance and would benefit from having a handful of right-handers who are capable of getting six-to-nine outs per appearance.
Am I convinced Dereck Rodríguez or Andrew Triggs would be the answer to this kind of a problem? I’m not sure. But I am certain the Giants need to figure out ways to monitor their relievers’ usage more closely and consider swapping out a few pitchers with a handful of those working at the alternate site in Sacramento.
3. Is a “blockbuster” on the way?
It’s easy to see the Giants falling out of contention based on the challenges their schedule presents, but it’s also easy to see the ways this team could make substantial improvements and remain within striking distance of a playoff berth.
If a few veteran hitters start supporting Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano and a few relief pitchers become more reliable in the middle innings, it’s not out of the question the Giants could stay close to .500 through a challenging month of August.
Regardless of how the team performs, the Giants should be one of the teams interested in participating in trade deadline activity. Industry analysts suggest it’s impossible to predict what will happen at this year’s deadline because there are so many playoff spots, so much uncertainty due to COVID-19 and so little to gain from trades that take place 30 days before the end of the season as opposed to 60.
So if you’re holding out for a potential blockbuster deal involving the Giants, don’t hold your breath.
If there is deadline activity, it would be wise for Zaidi to recover value wherever possible. A healthy Brandon Belt could be an asset to any number of teams looking for a solid defender who walks a lot. If Johnny Cueto’s fastball becomes more effective, he could fortify a rotation for this year’s postseason and help a team in 2021. With an electric four-seamer and split-fingered changeup combination, Kevin Gausman could become this year’s Drew Pomeranz.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the flurry of activity we did at the 2019 trade deadline, but the Giants do have something going in their favor. At a time when every franchise is monitoring its balance sheet closely, the Giants can trade their major league talent and offer to pay players’ remaining salaries.
The Giants can offer to pay Cueto or Belt’s 2021 salary, potentially giving the club an opportunity to recover better prospects in return. They will happily pay the remaining money owed to Gausman or reliever Tony Watson, and they’ll certainly do the same if a team checks in on Jeff Samardzija.
An untraditional trade deadline will probably keep the Giants from swinging for the fences and executing a blockbuster deal, but Zaidi has already added a potential bullpen arm for the future in Jordan Humphreys by trading Billy Hamilton, a player who was never going to appear in a Giants uniform once Yastrzemski got off to a hot start.
Making blockbuster trades in 2020 might be impossible. Making small, successful swaps that add complimentary pieces to the organization still seems realistic.
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