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Giants close to ‘sell’ mode as second season approaches


The San Francisco Giants’ 2017 season is fading away. After a 9-17 April they failed to gain traction in May, despite one stretch where they won 8 of 10. They finished 13-16 in May. They enter June 22-33 overall, the worst record they’ve had at the start of that month since 1991. Worse yet, there are currently three clubs in the NL West playing .600 ball, while the Giants are tied for last with the Padres at .400. They’re 11 games back in the Wild Card, with a conga line of teams to pass.

This weekend they visit the only club in the major leagues with a worse record, the (17-34) Philadelphia Phillies. They begin a stretch that includes the Phillies, Brewers, Twins and Royals. Certainly winnable games in the past, but these days nothing is guaranteed with a team that among other things is at the bottom of the majors on offense.

So the Giants are very close to “sell” mode even if they aren’t saying so right now. The draft is coming up June 12th, Hunter Pence is about to return to the lineup and I think the front office wants to see what happens in the next couple of weeks before pulling the plug. But their hands are on the plug. If the next couple of weeks show no major progress, the writing is on the wall.

That doesn’t mean they make trades right away, but they’ll start taking calls as the trade market develops into July. Their second season will begin. Not like “second seasons” of the past, in October, but it will be a time to reset. That doesn’t mean a complete rebuild — the Giants aren’t going to think that way while Madison Bumgarner (assuming he recovers), Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are in their primes. It does mean there are only a few untouchables and the Giants have to be open to offers.

In the meantime, the only help they can find is in the minor leagues. On the postgame show Wednesday night, we thought Sacramento outfielder Austin Slater would be next up. We didn’t know it would be this soon — he’s joining the club in Philadelphia after batting .321 for the RiverCats. The Giants also called up Orlando Calixte this week. They’re already in “why not” mode.

They’re seeing if anyone in their organization can contribute. As with Christian Arroyo, a little ahead of schedule, but it shows just how dire the roster situation has become. Every minor league entry in the Giants organization was in last place at last check, so that well is drying up, too. However there are still a few promising players, including the injured Steven Duggar, and their window is opening up, thanks in part to injuries but also to a lack of depth.

The old baseball saying used to be, if you want reach the fast track to the major leagues, be a left-handed reliever or
left-handed-hitting catcher. You can add outfielder in the Giants organization. They’re sending out the bat signal because — and this is a stunner — the likes of Gorkys Hernandez, Drew Stubbs, and Justin Ruggiano are not working out.

The Giants are getting absolutely nothing from their outfield, even with a healthy Hunter Pence. On our show, Ryan Covay did a breakdown of the kind of production the Giants are getting at corner outfield and infield positions compared to the rest of the NL West. As you might imagine, it’s not even close.

The Giants will always be predicated on pitching and defense at AT&T Park, but they have to know it won’t be enough just to have “gap” hitters in the future. They talk about “keeping the line moving” but the line never starts and even when it does, rarely goes anywhere. They score runs with great difficulty. This can be blamed on injuries, several regulars having “off” years, and Father Time.

They need more power. They don’t necessarily have to assemble a lineup of mashers like the Nationals, but they most certainly have to catch up. They’re too old in the outfield (a worry we voiced many times in the offseason) and they don’t
have the speed to make up for the lack of power.

In the month of May, 1,060 home runs were hit in major league baseball, the second-most in a calendar month in MLB history. The Astros hit a franchise-record 52 homers in May on the way to a 38-16 record. The Giants have hit 42 home runs for the season, last in the majors, and that was after a streak of solo homers in the middle of the month.

The Astros have almost twice as many home runs, 82, while the Rays lead the majors with 83. The Giants are last in team OPS at .635, behind the Padres. Even the Padres tower over the Giants with 62 home runs. For context, the 1985 Giants had a team OPS of .648, albeit in a more pitcher-friendly era. That team lost 100 games.

So as the Giants look to retool through trades, free agency, and the minor leagues they need to keep three words in mind: power, youth, and athleticism. Power is most likely to come via trade. There may be a couple of players in their system now who can at least cover two of those categories, but they’re going to need more help.

Governing everything the Giants do toward the trade deadline is their attitude toward free agency in the offseason, the health of Madison Bumgarner, and whether they believe they can return to contention in 2018. You can judge the answer to the last one by the kind of moves they make by the deadline. Whether they trade someone like Panik or Melancon, for example. As always, it depends on the haul they might get in return.

The Giants aren’t used to this. Fans aren’t used to this. It happens to every team, in good and bad organizations. This season was born under a bad sign and it hasn’t gotten any better, from Will Smith’s elbow to Madison Bumgarner’s dirt bike. Everything has gone wrong. It’s also true that lack of activity put them in this hole, and they keep digging.

So what to watch for in the final two-thirds of the season? What young players make an impact? What deals are made by the trade deadline? Do they show any signs of improving play? Will Madison Bumgarner return to form? The window is closing, but is it locked?

The game is changing. The Giants’ job now is to make sure they aren’t passed up permanently.

 

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