On August 17, the Rockies had a 55.5 percent chance of making it to the postseason according to FanGraphs. The Giants, on the other hand, had just a 3.3 percent chance. On Sunday, the Rockies’ chances had fallen all the way to 29.5 percent while the Giants’ rose to 23.6. One team had better than a coin flip’s chance while the other’s odds were essentially non-existent. Now, their outlook is about equal. A lot can change in a week.
In one week, teams must decide whether they’re buying or selling as the August 31 trade deadline approaches. Ordinarily, this is an easy decision for all but a handful of teams. The good teams shore up their weaknesses and the bad teams scrap their roster for parts.
The Giants were one of the teams caught in the middle last season, but even their decision wasn’t that tough. After going 33-19 in June and July, the Giants were 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, but Farhan Zaidi correctly identified that the roster would eventually turn back into a pumpkin. The Giants sold off Drew Pomeranz, Mark Melancon, and Sam Dyson, and the Giants won 22 of their last 54 games.
In a normal season, two games out of a Wild Card spot, the 2020 Giants would have already traded Kevin Gausman. He’s a great player on a bad team, and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. This year? The question of whether to trade him gets a lot muddier.
The Giants aren’t good, but they don’t have to be good to make it to the postseason. They don’t even necessarily have to be good to win the World Series. In the one postseason I simulated, a 29-31 team were crowned World Champions.
With as random and nonsensical as the playoff landscape looks this year, it could be argued that a Gausman in the hand is worth two A-ball prospects in the bush. Who knows? Maybe keeping him through the end of the year makes him easier to re-sign.
Should the Giants decide to trade Gausman, there’s still the problem of who is going to take him. If you’re a team looking to acquire Gausman, do you really want to go all-in on a player who is going to make, at most, six regular season starts for you? Are you willing to sell your future to marginally increase your chances in a season that could be derailed by the Marlins going on an eight-game winning streak or a couple of your players going to a bar?
You can swap out Gausman and the Giants for any other impending free agent on a fringe contender and it’s equally muddy. The bad teams who would be selling a normal year are still sort of in it, and the good teams who would be buying are getting less return on their investment.
This won’t create a complete deadlock. There are still some teams like the Red Sox and Pirates who are definitely out of it as well as the Dodgers, Yankees, and A’s who are definitely in it. The Phillies and Red Sox made a trade on Friday which sent Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to Philadelphia. The Phillies also acquired David Hale from the Yankees the same day.
The only thing that’s certain about the upcoming deadline is uncertainty. While I would expect most teams to make decisions based on their true talent rather than the standings, the opposite wouldn’t surprise me.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.