SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been decades since the Giants treated their major-league roster like a salvage yard at the trade deadline.
In 2005, they were 14 games under .500 at the deadline yet just 5 1/2 games out in the NL West. They added instead of subtracting, pulling off a statement deal for outfielder Randy Winn.
In 2013, they were 12 games under .500 at the deadline and 10 games out in the NL West. They stood pat and kept valuable players like Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez, both of whom helped them win a World Series the following year.
In 2019, the franchise’s first year under president Farhan Zaidi, the Giants were two games over .500 at the deadline but 15 games behind the Dodgers, and their churning roster was not equipped to contend. They jettisoned a couple of relievers but held on to Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, settling for compensatory draft picks when each pitcher signed elsewhere after the season.
There are sellers at the trade deadline, and there are “everything that isn’t nailed down” sellers at the trade deadline. The Giants rarely fall into the first camp. They never fall in the latter. Even when they are on the wrong side of the playoff probabilities, and even when they hold useful rental players, they do not move them for the sake of moving them. There was ancillary value to letting Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy ride out together at the end of 2019. There is value to the notion of seeing a season through to the finish. White flags do not sell at the box office.
But here’s the easily obscured truth: If another club had offered something truly compelling for Bumgarner three summers ago, he would have ended the season in another uniform. If Zaidi had been presented with a choice between nostalgia and a couple of top-100 prospects or major-league-ready players who could’ve accelerated an incremental rebuilding effort, he would’ve taken the prospects in a heartbeat.
Every potential transaction or roster decision is a value judgment — a carefully calibrated value judgment — and sometimes the value of seeing a middling season through isn’t as great as the value of strengthening a highly flawed roster for the following season. Given how much work the current roster needs, given that their minor-league pipeline is advancing at a trickle, and given how the NL West landscape will not get any less rugged in the foreseeable future, the organization must seize every opportunity and leverage every transactional action date to improve the group that will stand on the chalk line on Opening Day 2023.
Realistically, Carlos Rodón will not be one of those players. And realistically, the Giants should be able to extract something compelling between now and 3 pm PDT Tuesday.
Another double-digit strikeout game for Carlos Rodón. 📈
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) August 1, 2022
If Sunday afternoon was Rodón’s final start as a Giant, the ticker moved in a profitable direction. Rodón dominated the Chicago Cubs over seven innings of a 4-0 victory. He overwhelmed them with top-rail fastballs and struck out 10. He poured his slider like heavy cement for strikes. He allowed two hits and didn’t walk a batter.
“It’s as good an outing as you could hope for from him,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said.
“He’s a beast on the mound, man,” catcher Austin Wynns said.
“The most professional and effective players around the game are able to separate some of the noise,” Kapler said. “It would be totally understandable if some of that got in. But obviously, Carlos was able to keep it out today.”
“I’m worried about winning tomorrow, and that’s all I really care about,” said Rodón.
The Giants must balance winning tomorrow with winning as many games as they can in 2023. It’s hard to fathom their doing enough of the former if they ship Rodón off their roster. It’s hard to fathom their doing enough of the latter if they don’t.
This much you can count on, and I have this on good authority: If Zaidi finds a compelling trade for Rodón, Giants ownership will not stand in his way. A deep reservoir of trust remains between ownership and Zaidi despite the miscalculations that followed last year’s record-setting 107-win season. The communication is open and involves collaboration, not marching orders.
Giants win 4-0 behind Jason Vosler, Austin Wynns and Carlos Rodón. Which of them will still be here after 3 pm Tuesday? Buckle up.💺
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) August 1, 2022
Besides, from a public relations point of view, the bloom is already off the rose. The Giants had nearly 10,000 empty seats on a resplendent Sunday afternoon against a marquee opponent. It’s not as if they have a captive marketplace that they feel they cannot disappoint. It’s dawned on every segment of the organization that things have to change. If Rodón can bring back a player who could become a franchise star fans have been clamoring to cheer, or even an everyday player or two good enough to avoid falling into the patchwork of platoons, then the Giants won’t have to justify the trade to their fans. The Giants are not looking for a smattering of Low-A lottery tickets. They are seeking players who could step in right away and improve a roster that has gotten out of whack with a half-dozen DH types. As irreplaceable as Rodón’s presence and production in the rotation would be, there are ways the Giants could trade him and add at the same time.
Rodón might have been one of the most brilliant signings this past offseason, but he can opt out of his $22.5 million contract next season. And a Zaidi-led front office has never given out the kind of five-year, $100 million-plus contract Rodón should be able to command this winter. So he’s as good as gone.
Three years ago, so was Bumgarner. The Giants made minimal efforts to re-sign him. But Bumgarner’s peripherals were full of red flags at the trade deadline in 2019. Rodón appears to be at the height of his considerable powers. He has what might be the best fastball in the major leagues. His ability to maintain his stuff into late July without missing a single start all year portends optimism about his ability to continue to be an impact performer down the stretch and into October. The Yankees and Cardinals are looking for starting pitching, but the Giants will not have a limited market. Every contending club would salivate at the thought of Rodón as part of a postseason rotation.
The Giants would normally be one of those teams, and mathematically, they still could be. They are four games behind the Phillies for the final wild-card spot. They’d also have to leapfrog the Cardinals or someone higher in the standings. Those two clubs are expected to strengthen their rosters between now and the trade deadline, too. The probabilities are not in the Giants’ favor, and if the front office does not improve the roster in a meaningful way, the players won’t have a leg to stand on. How could they when they lost seven consecutive games out of the All-Star break?
So the clock is ticking. The Giants are 51-51 and ready to be pushed off the fence. The odds of that are good when Carlos Rodón is a text message away.
How would Kapler evaluate Rodón’s body of work this season?
“It’s excellent,” the manager said. “He’s one of the top pitchers in baseball. That’s probably how I’d evaluate it.”
(Photo of Austin Wynns and Carlos Rodón fist-bumping as they leave the field Sunday: Darren Yamashita / USA Today)