The San Francisco Giants have been this decade’s model National League franchise. Three World Series titles and a succession of smart, just-right player moves will do that for you.
Not to mention the transactions that led to the current roll — the signing of Hall of Fame-to-be manager Bruce Bochy in 2007, the same year the Giants made Madison Bumgarner the 10th player taken in the June draft and the year before Buster Posey became the fifth overall draft pick.
So what the heck is going on here?
It is almost impossible to believe that the Giants find themselves in a what-do-we-do-now moment in the second week of May, at the bottom of the NL West.
A lot of what could go wrong has, including the dirt bike accident that will keep perennial Cy Young candidate Bumgarner on the disabled list with a separated shoulder until perhaps the All-Star break.
They were in a funk when he went out, and it has only gotten worse.
The Giants have the worst winning percentage in the NL.
They have scored the fewest runs in the league and have given up the second-most runs, one fewer than San Diego. Look at both starting rotations and see if that computes.
They have endured injuries in center field and shortstop and have played with a season-long hole in left field.
Posey is hitting, but few others are.
New closer Mark Melancon is out with an elbow injury, although it is not believed to be serious.
The question is, at 12-23 after beating the Mets on Wednesday, where to they go from here? They are built to compete now, but can they?
The competition in the West always starts with the Dodgers, but both the Rockies and Diamondbacks have gotten out of the gate well.
The Giants are getting a tad older. Their second-youngest starter, Joe Panik, is 26. Brandon Belt is 29, Posey and Brandon Crawford are 30. At 27, Bumgarner remains their youngest member of the rotation. Matt Moore is the only other starter under 31. Melancon is 32.
Some teams might choose to sell, but that is not the Giants’ standard operating procedure. It is too early, anyway. Much too early. There is plenty of season left, but the Giants are trending the wrong way.
The Giants were 29-42 after the All-Star break last season, a stretch that was camouflaged by the fact that they had the best record in the majors before the break and were one converted save opportunity from sending Johnny Cueto to the mound in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cubs in Wrigley Field.
One veteran talent evaluator said the Giants should wait it out.
“Manager and staff too good to continue to struggle,” the evaluator said. “Plus very good talent. Wait ’til everyone is healthy and see what it looks like.”
Yet unless things dramatically change, the Giants will at least have to consider changes.
Most of their money — the opening-day payroll is a franchise-high $180 million — is tied up in their stars. Cueto is in the second year of a six-year, $130 million deal. Posey has $100 million-plus due through 2021. Jeff Samardzija and Hunter Pence are on deals that average $18 million a year. On the other side, Bumgarner has options for 2018 and 2019, and it will require a lot to lock him up, a necessity.
Third and fourth starters Samardzija and Moore have struggled early, with a combined 1-9 record and an ERA of about 6 in 14 starts. As projectable as they are, it is very difficult to move players who are not in form.
Cueto’s case is the most intriguing. He has an opt-out clause after this season that must be exercised within three days of the conclusion of the World Series. He is owed $21 million in each of the next three seasons and has a $22 million option with a $5 million buyout in 2022. He is one of the few true No. 1 starters in the majors, although he sits behind Bumgarner on this staff, and a case could be made that he could get a new deal with an annual average value of at least the $21 million a year he is getting now, with a longer term.
There is always a market for Cueto, who turned 31 in February, regardless of his contract status. Kansas City bought him as a rental in 2015 and won a World Series with him.
The Giants would have no trouble moving Cueto, but the only reason to do so was if they believed — or were led to believe — that he would use his opt out.
In that case, the Giants could use Cueto as a way to get younger and deeper. Scouts consider their farm system adequate, but not a strength. Christian Arroyo has made an impression with his early power after being recalled two weeks ago, and former No. 1 draft pick right-hander Tyler Beede is considered a mid-rotation prospect. He could fit well behind Bumgarner and an effective Samardzija/Moore could be a fit. Ty Blach has pitched well in spots.
At the same time, losing Cueto would put a severe crimp in a rotation that at its best is among the best in the game. It is not something that should be done lightly.
Speaking to Bay Area reporters this week, general manager Bobby Evans said the team’s current situation “doesn’t necessarily negate the potential to make moves at the deadline that may weaken you in the current year,” he said.
“But that’s not our mentality.”
Never has been.