Barber: Giants' 5-4 win over Cubs win makes a Madison Bumgarner deal tough

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SAN FRANCISCO — Is that it? Is that the last we’ll see of Madison Bumgarner in a Giants uniform? Was that his final act, walking slowly off the mound in the middle of the seventh inning, having battled to limit the Chicago Cubs to three runs and six hits on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff?

Who knows? We were asking the same question last Thursday, after Bumgarner had helped beat the Mets. And we may well be asking it again soon, because there’s still more than a week to go until the Major League Baseball trade deadline.

There was quite a media presence at the Giants-Cubs game Tuesday night. Cameras and recorders pinning Bruce Bochy atop the dugout before the game. Very few empty seats in the press box. The stands were buzzing, too, with a lot of “We love you, Bum” signs and one behind home plate that read, “Please don’t do it Mr. Zaidi.” When Bumgarner left the game, the fans rose to honor him — first the people behind the home dugout, then the rest of Oracle Park.

It was all a strange tribute to the accomplished left-hander, a celebration of life for someone who not only isn’t dead, but may occupy his same locker at Oracle for years to come.

In the span of a couple years, Bumgarner has gone from Untouchable to Must Trade. More recently, in the span of just a few weeks, he has gone from Must Trade to Huh, Let’s Just See About This. And very little of it has to do with Bumgarner and his pitching ability. It’s all pinned to the rise and fall and curious rebirth of the Giants as a competitive baseball team.

How was Bochy feeling about the possible finality of this occasion?

“I haven’t even thought about it, just like he’s saying the same thing,” the manager offered before the game. “We’re doing a lot of good things now, and it’s all the team’s thinking about, it’s all that Bum’s thinking about. … I don’t even have anything to say about it, except, as always, I look forward to watching him pitch.”

Hasn’t even thought about it? Sure, Boche. Nudge, nudge.

Everyone has thought about Bumgarner’s destiny by now. But after Tuesday’s game, I don’t feel any closer to reading the future. The Giants won again. In extra innings, again. They are 10-1 in their past 11 games, and 17-3 in their past 20. Their Pixar-esque feel-good story has been a delight to fans and players alike, but it is making things really tricky for Farhan Zaidi, the first-year Giants president of baseball operations.

“I don’t envy Farhan’s position right now,” third baseman Evan Longoria told me before the game.

“I wouldn’t want to be Farhan right now,” former Giants relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt said.

Both comments were largely unprompted, and I hadn’t been discussing Bumgarner with either man. It’s just what everyone is talking about right now.

And it’s hard to disagree with Longoria and Affeldt. Three weeks ago, the Giants were drifting along, dead in the water in the midst of another dreadful season, and even the most sentimental of boosters had to admit that it was time to say goodbye, finally, to the World Series legacy. Anyone with trade value had to go.

Now the Giants are a mere two games behind in the National League wild-card race, and surging. Zaidi’s head may be telling him that he has struck fool’s gold, that his team is still a couple years away from true contention. The din of the Oracle crowd and the jingle to ticket sales are commanding him to let this thing ride.

“They’re in a predicament,” Affeldt said. “Because you’re playing for a wild-card playoff spot. That’s exactly what it is, a wild card. It’s a coin flip. And it’s for one year. Because they didn’t extend Bum when they probably should have, in my opinion. So now he’s a free agent. Now we’re in a wild-card position. He’s a tradeable commodity.”

A small but important component of three World Series titles, all of them won by overachieving teams, Affeldt isn’t the type to see baseball purely as a business. But he is a realist. He knows the Giants have little chance of catching the powerful Dodgers in the NL West. They are gunning for a wild-card berth. And he knows that Bumgarner will be a free agent at the end of the season. Deciding not to trade him is no guarantee that the pitcher will remain in San Francisco for years to come.

This would all be so simple if the Giants were terrible. They’re not anymore. They have been winning close games and laughers, slugfests and pitching duels.

“The city deserves to feel like you want to win,” Affeldt said. “These players have put all this effort into working their way back to (being a) plus-.500 team, putting themselves in a playoff spot and playing with confidence. If you blow that up, you’ll lose even some of the veterans. They’ll be mad.”

The Giants probably won’t lose Longoria, no matter what they do. During his decade with Tampa Bay, he played in a World Series, and for a team that lost 94 games. He carries himself with a world-weary calm. But he seems to be in the same camp as Affeldt.

“I understand that I’m not getting any younger,” Longoria said. “My window to try to go back to the playoffs again and win a championship is small. You don’t always have that opportunity. You’re not always on a team that you feel like can make a run and be something special. I just don’t want to see that taken away too soon.”

Longoria added: “I don’t want our window to close in a year when I look back five years from now and say, ‘Man, we had that one chance in 2019, I wish we would’ve gone for it.’”

When Zaidi got here, he was greeted with tremendous pressure to make the big, decisive moves that could turn around a floundering team. Now, with the players in his clubhouse riding a wave of confidence and enthusiasm, Zaidi is under pressure to do nothing.

“That guy pitching on that mound right now is the biggest problem he’s got,” Affeldt said.

That would be Madison Bumgarner, the man who got the standing ovation Tuesday night. He left the game so that young Zach Green could pinch-hit for him. Bochy swapped Bumgarner for a prospect, if that’s not putting too fine a point on it. Zaidi might do the same thing, but it won’t be an easy call.

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