Barber: Madison Bumgarner’s still a Giant, and Bruce Bochy gets the credit

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Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has stumbled onto an ingenious formula for endearing oneself to a new fan base.

Step One: Take over a flailing Major League Baseball franchise and drop numerous hints that no one on the roster is safe.

Step Two: Recede into silence as the trade deadline approaches, fueling speculation that the team’s heroes will be swapped for teenagers.

Step Three: Don’t do it.

Zaidi swung a number of deals Wednesday, trading half of the Giants’ relief corps for a trainload of prospects, and even a bona fide major leaguer. But he did not trade closer Will Smith. More important to the hearts and minds of San Franciscans, he didn’t trade World Series hero Madison Bumgarner.

All around the big leagues, other executives performed similar acts of restraint. The Brewers didn’t trade Christian Yelich. The Angels didn’t trade Mike Trout. The Nationals didn’t trade Max Scherzer. The executives running those teams aren’t getting huge credit for the non-moves. Meanwhile, Frisco might be planning a parade to bless Zaidi for keeping the band together — or at least retaining the lead singer.

Really, we should be celebrating Bruce Bochy, who has provided Bay Area sports fans at least one more gift in his 13th and final season managing the Giants.

Zaidi said as much on a Wednesday afternoon conference call when I asked him whether he has been surprised by the resurgence of the Giants, who were 34-46 on June 27 but had gone 20-7 since then.

“When I look at the individual players that have contributed, whether it was our analytics department or our pro scouting department or a tip that came in from someone else, there was a reason why we felt that these guys could contribute in the way that they have,” Zaidi replied. “So in a way, I think none of the individual stories are a huge surprise. But I think the collective — the way it’s come together, and the way Boch has brought this group of players together, I think that’s kind of more the bigger story.”

Zaidi was right. The exec gets props for the way he has retooled the Giants. I love his throw-it-against-the-wall approach to roster building, and it would be hard to argue that this team isn’t significantly better than it was when he got here. It’s certainly more exciting.

But let’s be real. As clever as Zaidi was in acquiring some of the drivers of the Giants’ recent success, he couldn’t have known that Alex Dickerson would collect six home runs and 23 RBIs in his first 88 at-bats, or that Donovan Solano would hit .333 with his new team, or that 34-year-old Stephen Vogt would post an OPS of .905 after sitting out the entire 2018 season.

These were nice, unforeseen outcomes. Give Zaidi credit for presenting the opportunities, but please don’t consider this an exact science.

Also, don’t for one minute believe that Zaidi wouldn’t have traded Bumgarner if the right bargain had presented itself. I’m not privy to the conversations he had on his red phone, but I guarantee he listened to any and all offers — he all but admitted this — and would have pounced on one of them if it made sense.

Saying goodbye to Bumgarner, who gave up one earned run in 36 World Series innings, would have disheartened Giants fans under any circumstances. But Zaidi would have had plenty of cover to do it if the Giants were, say, 42-65 and 10 games out of the National League wild-card race. They aren’t. They were 2½ games back Wednesday afternoon and brimming with confidence.

The Giants went from a position of desperation to a situation where they could afford to wait for an offer that knocked their orange socks off. And the man most responsible for that is Bochy.

It was Bochy who kept the Giants from imploding during the horrible days of April and May, when they were bad, and boring, and generally adrift. High-paid veterans like Buster Posey weren’t performing. Young guys like Dereck Rodriguez were regressing. And everyone was on edge, thanks to Zaidi’s frantic wheeling and dealing.

I’m not saying the Giants clubhouse was upbeat during this time. In fact, it was shrouded in gloom. But it never blew up into open rancor or despair, and Bochy was the main reason.

He also deserves commendation for the way he has blended Zaidi’s midseason acquisitions. It’s true that the exec gave Bochy some nice pieces to work with. It’s also true that incorporating those new pieces without alienating the old ones is a tricky task. At the age of 64, Bochy has enough respect in the sport to enjoy the benefit of the doubt. He also has the unflappable demeanor — he would probably describe the Hindenburg disaster as a “hiccup” for the dirigible industry — that keeps those around him calm in hours of duress.

So when the Dickersons and the Solanos and the Vogts and the Austin Slaters and the Mike Yastrzemskis caught fire, the Giants were in position to take advantage. It wasn’t too late, thanks largely to the manager.

A year from now, we might be criticizing the MadBum non-trade. Bumgarner might fall off of a horse, or a barn, and the Giants might be 30 games behind the Dodgers, and we’ll be wondering why Zaidi hadn’t pulled the trigger on July 31, 2019. Right now, though, there is joy in the Bay Area. Bumgarner is still a Giant. We still get to watch him pitch and battle and blow snot rockets and rage when an opposing batter stares at a home run for two seconds.

It feels like a great place to be. And we wouldn’t be there if Bochy hadn’t guided the Giants so ably in his walk-off season. He made it too hard for Zaidi to give Bumgarner away at a discount, and everyone who watches Giants baseball is the beneficiary.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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