How Giants' improved minor-league system affects trade deadline decisions

How Giants' improved minor-league system affects trade deadline decisions

SAN FRANCISCO -- The biggest question for the Giants -- buy or sell -- wasn't even a question a month ago, or just about every day since Farhan Zaidi took over in November. 

The organization was in a world of hurt at all levels, and for about eight months, much of the talk at Oracle Park centered around how to make this team competitive in 2020 and good by 2021. But a couple of funny things happened along the way to the Great July Sale of 2019. 

The first one is obvious, and has been in front of your face for three weeks. The Giants are suddenly good. After sweeping the Rockies and taking three of four from the Mets, they're entering this week at .500, 2 1/2 games out in the Wild Card race. 

But the second factor is one you might have missed unless you really go deep with your fandom. Seemingly just as quickly, the Giants have built a farm system that looks respectable, and that will matter as Zaidi and Co. put together a deadline plan.

The Giants still need plenty of future help, but they're not quite as desperate as they were on Opening Day. Zaidi no longer should move anything that's not nailed down in order to bolster the system. Much of the next core already appears to be on the way. 

Joey Bart (ranked 19th) and Heliot Ramos (68) were joined by shortstop Marco Luciano (71) and outfielder Hunter Bishop (98) on Baseball America's most recent top 100 list, giving the Giants four top prospects on a rankings list that often has included just one player from the organization. 

Luciano, in particular, has changed the upside of the farm system. Just 17 years old, he's hitting .344 in rookie ball with eight homers in 96 at-bats. It's early, but if his development continues he could be a franchise-altering prospect, and he's part of a crowd coming from rookie ball and Salem-Keizer. The strength of this system is at the lower levels. 

The  Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a short-season team, won the Northwest League's first-half title for the first time by going 25-12. Bishop, this year's first-rounder, is there already, along with other intriguing prospects like 21-year-old Franklin Labour (14 homers in 33 games) and 19-year-old Alexander Canario (eight homers in 27 minor league games this summer). 

Bart and Ramos lead a San Jose team that has some pitching starting to emerge with Sean Hjelle, Jake Wong and others. The Double-A roster is a bit barren, but Triple-A Sacramento -- a disaster in recent years -- is in first place and already has sent Shaun Anderson, Tyler Beede, Mike Yastrzemski, Conner Menez, Zach Green and others to the big league roster. 

If you take a step back, this is a farm system that's looking like a normal one again, and that certainly should change the math for Zaidi. 

For most of this season it seemed he needed to trade not just Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and Sam Dyson, but also guys like Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Pillar and Reyes Moronta. When Zaidi traded Tom Murphy for a 20-year-old lottery ticket, that seemed like a good template, because the Giants came into this season needing as much minor league inventory as they could get. Things have changed quickly, and the system's rise has matched the big league club's surge.

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There certainly are still plenty of holes. The Giants need more young pitching (who is the future ace of this staff?), could use an outfielder or three much closer to the big league level and have a huge hole when it comes to middle infield prospects. 

But this front office has proven fully capable of finding contributors -- Alex Dickerson, Donovan Solano, etc. -- and pushing younger players, and it turns out the previous regime left the cupboard a bit fuller than we thought. Add it up and the Giants aren't nearly as desperate at the deadline as they once were. 

Madison Bumgarner's D-backs career has started with troubling trend

Madison Bumgarner's D-backs career has started with troubling trend

The Giants had a decision to make last year as the July 31 trade deadline neared. Do they trade their longtime ace and postseason hero during Bruce Bochy's final season as manager, or do they hold on to him and compete for a wild-card berth? 

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi ultimately held on to Madison Bumgarner, but the Giants came back down to reality after a red-hot July and fell well short of the NL Wild Card Game. When it came to free agency, however, Zaidi and the rest of the Giants' front office weren't willing to give Bumgarner his desired contract. The big lefty still stayed in the NL West, signing a five-year, $85 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Through three stats, though, Bumgarner has shown a troubling trend in the desert. His velocity has continued to dip, and he now has a 7.04 ERA after allowing eight runs (seven earned) over 4 1/3 innings Tuesday against the Houston Astros. Bumgarner leads baseball in earned runs allowed (12) and hit by pitches (four). 

After a three-year run of his four-seam fastball dropping in velocity, Bumgarner was back up to 91.4 mph last season for the Giants. His fastball velocity so far for the D-backs is back down. And it's a big drop. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bumgarner's average four-seam fastball this season is just 87.9 mph, according to Baseball Savant. Despite not being a flamethrower on the hill, Bumgarner still has found ways to be effective in past seasons. He did have a career-high 3.90 ERA last season, but that number is far from concerning. The sample size is only three games this year. Still, it has been a concerning start. 

The recently-turned 31-year-old is averaging a career-low 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings while also allowing career-highs in walks per nine (3.5) and homers per nine (1.8). 

Bumgarner threw 83 pitches Tuesday against the Astros. Not one was recorded at 90 mph. The highest-velocity pitch Bumgarner threw was an 89.3 mph fastball to Yuli Gurriel. That was his only pitch that even reached 89 mph, too.

His fastball has been historically slow for himself this season.

While Bumgarner just turned 31, he has an unbelievable amount of wear and tear on his left arm. Since he became a regular at 20 years old for the Giants in 2010, Bumgarner averaged 184 innings pitched in the regular season, and that includes two shortened seasons to freak injuries. Including the playoffs, Bumgarner already has 1,963 2/3 innings pitched to his name.

[RELATED: Giants' Bart refining skill Posey mastered, Kapler says]

The Giants used their Bumgarner compensation pick in the 2020 MLB Draft on NC State lefty Nick Swiney, who already comes in as the Giants' No. 17 prospect in MLB Pipeline's most recent update. It's unfair to forever connect him to a franchise icon, but that will be true of his situation, good or bad, throughout his career. There's no minor league season for Swiney to get off to a good start, though it's clear the Giants have high hopes in someone who went 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA before the season came to a close this year.

No matter what the future holds for Bumgarner, or Swiney, Giants fans never will forget MadBum's many postseason heroics. The fact is, early on in Bumgarner's Arizona tenure, there seems to be good reason for the "Trust in Farhan" crowd to grow.

Rockies' Nolan Arenado continues to dominate Giants in odd MLB season

Rockies' Nolan Arenado continues to dominate Giants in odd MLB season

In a way, it's almost comforting. Not for Giants pitchers, but for the rest of us. 

In a year in which nearly everything about baseball and society has changed, one thing remains as normal as ever. When Nolan Arenado sees a Giants pitcher on the mound, he becomes a nightmare, no matter who that pitcher is or what his swing looked like before the series. 

Arenado came into Monday's game with a .226 average and no extra-base hits in his first eight games, but the Giants, as they always do, got him going. The third baseman hit a mammoth two-run shot off Johnny Cueto on Monday night and a low screamer that just cleared the fence off Kevin Gausman a day later.

"He hit it and I automatically thought it was a double," Gausman said. "It just kind of kept going and kept going and the next thing you know it went over the fence. Not the most fun thing. It was a bad pitch in a bad situation.

"Most guys would probably get out on it, the fact that it was so bad, but he does such a good job of keeping his barrel in the zone so long that he can hit those pitches that are out of the zone."

That homer was Arenado's 30th against the Giants, breaking Todd Helton's franchise record. It once again brought up a question we've been asking for eight years: What is it about Arenado and the Giants? 

"I don't know, I really don't know. I think whenever you face the Giants -- I've always said this -- coming up when I was a rookie it was the Giants who were the team. They would go to the World Series and win every other year it seemed like. They were just in a different category," Arenado told Rockies reporters Tuesday night. "They were so good, so elite, you knew that they were always going to be there. San Francisco, when I first came up, it was daunting going there. I don't know what it is. There's always motivation. It's like going to L.A. now. You always get excited because of the energy in San Fran, the energy in L.A. It's always super fun to play against them. 

"For some reason our games against the Giants here are always kind of crazy, but I really don't know. I really don't know. I'm just happy I'm doing it. Hopefully it continues but I really don't have the answers for that one."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Arenado always has said he's not sure why the numbers are so skewed. If anything, he should like the Giants more than any other organization. They drafted his younger brother, Jonah, in 2013, and Nolan would light up over the years talking about following a career that ended in 2019 when Jonah was released from Double-A. 

But on the field, there's nothing, even a weird 60-game season, that can stop him from demolishing Giants pitching. Bruce Bochy is gone. Madison Bumgarner is gone. Buster Posey is sitting out. Same old, same old for Arenado. 

"Yeah, he's always going to be who he is," right fielder Alex Dickerson said. "By the end of the year he's going to be a fantastic hitter and sometimes you see a guy that good is that cold to start and you know something is going to happen."

Arenado said Monday that he hasn't "felt right at all this year." He spent time before the series opener working on hitting drills and testing new bats. But perhaps all he needed was to look into the opposing dugout. 

Arenado has played 128 games against the Giants and has a .296 average, .359 on-base percentage and .562 slugging percentage, with 103 RBI. Those 30 homers are his most against any opponent and came in 102 fewer games than Helton needed to get his 29. 

[RELATED: Kevin Gausman's homecoming doesn't go as planned]

This is nothing new to Giants fans, but it is to manager Gabe Kapler. Arenado was just 12-for-48 with no homers against the Philadelphia Phillies in Kapler's two years there, but Kapler said Arenado always was the guy he wanted to avoid when he would come into Denver.

"You don't want him up in a big spot," he said. "The tricky part is he's got some guys around him who you don't want up in a big spot, either. From Charlie Blackmon to (David) Dahl, to Trevor Story, who I think is one of the more dangerous right-handed hitters in baseball. It's not an easy middle of the lineup to get through, and this is something you'll hear me say about a lot of the lineups in baseball.

"They're just stacked in the middle, but in particular with Arenado, I know he's been a Giant-killer. We're always aware of his presence."