Madison Bumgarner

Giants' Farhan Zaidi reflects on difficult decision at trade deadline

Giants' Farhan Zaidi reflects on difficult decision at trade deadline

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants used 64 players at the big league level, DFA'd plenty from the Opening Day roster and said goodbye to longtime second baseman Joe Panik late in the year. This was a season of transition, and there were dozens upon dozens of decisions to analyze. 

But as president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi looks back, there's one that stands out from his first year. Asked about regrets earlier this week, Zaidi took a long pause and noted that he's constantly auditing every decision. 

"The thing that I spend a lot of time thinking about is just going back to July 31 and the way the trade deadline unfolded," he said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. "I feel like I alternate nights losing sleep about not potentially buying at the deadline and trying to improve our chances this year, or selling more at the deadline and setting ourselves up better for 2020 and going forward."

The Giants ultimately played it somewhat down the middle. A stunning July run put them back over .500 and in a crowded wild-card pack, so Zaidi held Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith -- two of the bigger pieces on the market -- to give retiring manager Bruce Bochy a chance down the stretch. At the same time, he shockingly got the Atlanta Braves to take on Mark Melancon's salary and turned a couple of solid Drew Pomeranz performances into Mauricio Dubon. Sam Dyson was also dealt for prospects.  

Looking back on that decision-making, Zaidi noted that the Giants couldn't count on beating out all the other teams in the NL Wild Card chase at the time. But this season wasn't about getting a high draft pick and loading up on prospects at any cost. Team officials repeatedly said that they wanted to compete as long as possible. 

"I do think there are two separate goals between actually making the playoffs and being involved in the playoff chase," Zaidi said during a season-ending press conference. "If we had been basically in the wild-card race until the last weekend of the season and things hadn't gone well, I still would have felt like we achieved a lot of our goals of playing meaningful baseball as deep into the season as possible.

"I feel like we made some trades that are going to set us up better for 2020 and beyond, but we also kept a lot of the ingredients that had gotten our team to the point of being in contention in place."

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The fear within the organization was that the July bubble would burst, and that did happen. But the Giants were still at .500 on Aug. 26 and hanging around in the race after sweeping a weekend series with the A's. 

"On August 26, I was really happy we still had Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith on our team and felt like those guys gave us a chance," Zaidi said. "It didn't turn out the way we wanted and we didn't have the September we wanted, but I think we owed it to our fans and to Boch and to the players to keep those guys and give us a shot to continue what we had accomplished in July leading up to the deadline."

How Farhan Zaidi views Madison Bumgarner, Giants in MLB free agency

How Farhan Zaidi views Madison Bumgarner, Giants in MLB free agency

SAN FRANCISCO -- Farhan Zaidi spent 32 minutes Tuesday talking about his first season as the Giants' president of baseball operations and his plans for his first full offseason. Many of the questions focused on three topics: The ballpark, the search for a new manager, and the need to hire a general manager. 

All three of those issues might be resolved before the Giants get to the one that may be most important to the fan base: What's going to happen with Madison Bumgarner?

Zaidi expects another long offseason for marquee free agents, and that could include Bumgarner, who is a month from hitting the open market for the first time. The left-hander is excited about seeing what's out there, but if you're waiting for the Giants to publicly court him, you'll be waiting a long time. 

Zaidi, as a rule, does not talk about his interest in free agents. Asked about his own players Tuesday, he gave a general answer. 

"We have a certain level of interest in bringing all those guys back," Zaidi said. "We anticipate those guys will want to see what's out there in free agency. Some of them publicly commented on it, which is their right, and it's exactly what we'd expect them to do."

In addition to Bumgarner, closer Will Smith and catcher Stephen Vogt are scheduled to be free agents. Left-handed reliever Tony Watson can opt out of the third year of his deal, although he's believed to be strongly considering a return. With incentives, he could make $7 million next season. 

Bumgarner and Smith will be due much more than that, though both could be hampered by qualifying offers. It is a lock that one will be placed on Bumgarner, and the Giants are strongly considering giving one to Smith. They would either recoup a draft pick or get an All-Star closer on a one-year deal worth a bit more than $18 million. 

"I will say kind of at the outset of free agency, we have interest in at least having discussions about those guys coming back," Zaidi said of his free agents. 

Asked about Bumgarner, Zaidi noted the "tremendous track record" and the reliability that "every team in baseball could use." It's unclear what the market will look like, but the 30-year-old Bumgarner has always been confident that it will be there and be healthy. At the very least, the Atlanta Braves, the closest franchise to Bumgarner's North Carolina home, figure to give the Giants a run for their money.

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With Bumgarner a free agent, the Giants will enter the offseason with Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto atop their rotation and Logan Webb, Tyler Beede, Shaun Anderson and Dereck Rodriguez (who will play Winter Ball) filling things out. No matter what happens with Bumgarner, it's clear some veteran help will be brought in. 

"It's going to be a necessity for us and it's a priority for us to continue developing our young pitchers," Zaidi said. "But certainly, having veteran pitchers around them is valuable from a competitiveness standpoint and also valuable from a developmental standpoint."

Giants appreciated how Clayton Kershaw handled Madison Bumgarner's moment

Giants appreciated how Clayton Kershaw handled Madison Bumgarner's moment

SAN FRANCISCO -- The moment was so perfect that it appeared it had to have been planned beforehand. 

Bruce Bochy was looking for one last opportunity to get Madison Bumgarner into a Giants game, having decided not to start him Sunday, and when he looked up in the fifth, there was Clayton Kershaw jogging to the mound. Kershaw and Bumgarner will go down as two of the best left-handers of this generation, but their relationship goes beyond that. 

The two have become friends, talking before most Giants-Dodgers games over the last decade. They keep in touch off the field and have always cherished the competition they have on it. Their battles are filled with inside pitches, subtle smiles and good-natured taunting as they sit in opposing dugouts. 

Their matchup Sunday wasn't planned, both managers said, but it wasn't a total surprise. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters before the game that he expected to see Bumgarner as a pinch-hitter, not a reliever. Kershaw said he joked about a possible matchup. 

Bochy knew what he wanted to do, even if he felt bad about a repercussion. He was apologetic to Brandon Crawford after pulling him from the final game for a pinch-hitter, but Crawford understood.  

"I just wanted to do something for Madison," Bochy said. "With all he's done, I just said there can't be a better script right now with Clayton on the mound. They've battled so many times, not just pitching against each other, but how they compete against each other with the bat."

As Crawford headed back to the dugout and Bumgarner walked up the steps to a standing ovation, the shortstop had just one request. 

"I told him, 'You better hit a homer,'" Crawford said later. 

Bumgarner has taken Kershaw deep twice, and he certainly tried for a third one. He took a huge swing at the first pitch, a fastball up in the zone, but fouled it straight back. The next pitch was up and in and Bumgarner laughed as he looked out at the mound. Bumgarner ended up lining out, but what stood out to the Giants wasn't the result, but how Kershaw handled everything. 

He threw seven fastballs, all between 89-91 mph. He wasn't directing meatballs down the heart of the plate, but he certainly gave Bumgarner every opportunity to compete and do something memorable. Kershaw also called rookie catcher Will Smith out before the at-bat to let Bumgarner soak in the cheers. 

Bumgarner said after the game that he appreciated how it all went down, and his teammates applauded Kershaw -- who tipped his cap to Bochy after the third out -- as well. 

"That's what makes baseball fun, little tidbits like that that you get to see throughout the year," catcher Buster Posey said. "I thought it was really cool how Kershaw pitched him. He went right after him and challenged him. Those two have been going at it for a decade now and there's hopefully more to come, we'll see."