Hope­fuls face hard choices

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - TOP OF THE SECOND - Paul Sullivan

Af­ter un­der­achiev­ing the first four months of the 2015 sea­son, the White Sox went on a seven-game win­ning streak near the end of July, prompt­ing gen­eral man­ager Rick Hahn to make a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion at the trade dead­line.

Stand pat with the Sox miles out of first place in the Amer­i­can League Cen­tral but only 3½ games out of the sec­ond wild-card spot, or move im­pend­ing free-agent pitcher Jeff Sa­mardz­ija for prospects.

Hahn chose to go for broke, keep­ing Sa­mardz­ija and show­ing faith in the Sox ros­ter.

“The team’s play over an ex­tended pe­riod made us more com­fort­able with let­ting it con­tinue to build and show it­self with what we felt is its true col­ors,” he ex­plained of his de­ci­sion. “Hope­fully it will con­tinue over the next sev­eral months.”

The Sox wound up go­ing 27-34 from Aug. 1 on to fall out of wild-card con­tention, and Sa­mardz­ija left as a free agent. The Sox did get draft-pick com­pen­sa­tion af­ter mak­ing a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer to Sa­mardz­ija and used it to se­lect re­liever Zack Burdi, who has yet to make it to the big leagues af­ter Tommy John el­bow surgery last year and re­cent knee surgery.

Was Hahn think­ing with his heart in­stead of his head, hop­ing the hot streak could con­tinue and the Sox would go far in the post­sea­son?

It’s hard to say be­cause we don’t know what other teams were of­fer­ing him. But we do know he dou­bled down in 2016 by ac­quir­ing vet­eran pitcher James Shields from the Padres for prospect Fer­nando Tatis Jr., a deal that back­fired and di­rectly led to the sell-off of Chris Sale and Adam Ea­ton and the start of the long re­build.

As we ap­proach the 2019 trade dead­line, Giants pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Farhan Zaidi finds him­self in Hahn’s shoes. Af­ter spend­ing most of the sea­son stum­bling un­der .500, the Giants had won 17 of 21 en­ter­ing the week­end to move into wild-card con­tention with Wed­nes­day’s dead­line in sight.

With one of the great­est post­sea­son pitchers of any era in Madi­son Bum­gar­ner and two of the more cov­eted re­liev­ers in Will Smith and Tony Wat­son, Zaidi must quickly de­cide whether to go for a wild­card spot or re­stock the sys­tem.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is the fact this is the first one-and-done dead­line, mean­ing Zaidi can’t un­load play­ers who clear waivers af­ter July 31 and get some­thing in re­turn.

The trade dead­line has be­come big­ger and big­ger over the last decade, thanks in part to the spread­ing of ru­mors on so­cial me­dia and the in­cep­tion of the MLB Net­work, which de­votes hours and hours to dis­cus­sions of po­ten­tial deals.

This year’s dead­line doesn’t have as many big names in the ru­mor mill as some in the re­cent past. Bum­gar­ner, the Mets’ Noah Syn­der­gaard and the Blue Jays’ Mar­cus Stro­man are the three mar­quee names.

But it has plenty of con­tend­ing teams look­ing for start­ing pitchers, in­clud­ing the Yan­kees, Astros, Braves, Phillies, Car­di­nals and Brewers, and one more depend­able starter could help any of them get to the World Se­ries.

Fans know the deal too. Bum­gar­ner and Stro­man re­ceived stand­ing ova­tions from their home crowds dur­ing their most re­cent starts this week, know­ing it could be the only chance to say good­bye.

Bum­gar­ner ap­pears likely to stay with the Giants now surg­ing. One anony­mous Giants player told USA To­day: “If you trade Bum­gar­ner now, this club­house will go bal­lis­tic.”

He also can veto trades to any of eight teams on his no-trade list, though do­ing so would mean he would get a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer from the Giants in Novem­ber. That could hurt his po­ten­tial mar­ket, as free agents Dal­las Keuchel and Craig Kim­brel dis­cov­ered the hard way last win­ter.

Stro­man seems much more com­fort­able with his dead­line fate, say­ing af­ter his last start: “I feel like I’ve pitched pretty well in the best divi­sion in base­ball. There’s been no will­ing­ness from the front of­fice to sign me, so I’ve just come to terms with it and I’m ready to dom­i­nate, wher­ever that may be.”

Syn­der­gaard also un­der­stands he’s on the block, tweet­ing: “Here come them trade talks” with a GIF of “Star Wars” char­ac­ter Lando Cal­ris­sian telling Han Solo: “You might want to buckle up baby.”

Out­side of the six divi­sion lead­ers, six Amer­i­can League teams and seven Na­tional League teams en­tered the week­end in the wild-card hunt. That’s 19 of 30 teams with a shot at play­ing in Oc­to­ber, though some may be fake con­tenders.

“This is the strangest mar­ket that I can re­mem­ber,” Dodgers pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions An­drew Friedman said last week. “Just with the num­ber of teams seem­ingly in it, within five games of a play­off spot. I’ve had way more con­ver­sa­tions with teams that are more on the fence and haven’t de­cided if they’re go­ing to be on the buy side or the sell side.”

The big­gest move thus far was made by the Red Sox, who ac­quired vet­eran An­drew Cash­ner from the Ori­oles for their fifth starter spot. The Red Sox are light years be­hind the Yan­kees in the AL East and have the high­est pay­roll in base­ball with plenty of lux­ury-tax im­pli­ca­tions, so how much more they’re will­ing to in­vest in an­other ac­qui­si­tion for a wild-card race re­mains to be seen. They could use a first base­man like the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, though the White Sox aren’t ex­pected to deal him.

“We’re still in a po­si­tion to sit back and see how things go,” Red Sox pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Dave Dom­browski told WEEI.com. “There’s not a lot of needs, per se, that we have with the club be­cause we’re lead­ing the league in runs scored. You can al­ways get bet­ter. We’ve got five starters go­ing out there, they can al­ways get bet­ter. Of course you’ve got more guys in your bullpen and peo­ple con­stantly point to that.”

Al­most every con­tender, in­clud­ing the Cubs, is seek­ing bullpen help, and a glut of re­liev­ers is seem­ingly there for the ask­ing, in­clud­ing the Padres’ Kirby Yates, the Pi­rates’ Felipe Vazquez and the Tigers’ Shane Greene.

Teams that may have been on the verge of be­ing sellers re­cently have switched to be­ing prospec­tive buy­ers, as Car­di­nals gen­eral man­ager Michael Girsch con­ceded Thurs­day be­fore his team moved into a first-place tie with the Cubs in the NL Cen­tral.

“It pushes our view­point off the mid­point to the buyer side,” Girsch told the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch. “Whether that comes to fruition is hard to say. Who knows at this point? Cer­tainly (the win­ning) has changed our per­spec­tive. That is no longer the ques­tion.”

The Dodgers have al­ways been ag­gres­sive buy­ers, ac­quir­ing Yu Darvish in 2017 and Manny Machado last year. They have the best record in base­ball but need bullpen help like ev­ery­one else.

“That con­tin­ues to be our mind­set,” Friedman said. “We’re just go­ing to stop if it reaches the point of stupid. And I would hope that’s what our fans would want us to do.”

Not that “stupid” is al­ways a bad thing. Some­times it pays off. The Cubs dealt top prospect Gley­ber Tor­res to the Yan­kees for closer Aroldis Chap­man in 2016, when Pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein fa­mously asked: “If not now, when?”

Chap­man helped the Cubs win a World Se­ries be­fore go­ing back to New York, and watch­ing Tor­res be­come an All-Star with the Yan­kees was the price the Cubs knew they had to pay.

“We would be stupid if it guar­an­teed we would win a World Se­ries,” Friedman said. “But it doesn’t. That’s the prob­lem.”

There are no guar­an­tees at the trade dead­line, which is why it’s so fas­ci­nat­ing to watch base­ball’s movers and shak­ers de­cide whether to move and shake.

MORRY GASH/AP

Is Madi­son Bum­gar­ner mak­ing his last ap­pear­ances with the Giants? Hard to imag­ine him in an­other uni­form but San Fran­cisco will help its re­tool­ing quite a bit by mov­ing him.

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