The Bonds’ curse in left continues with one very conspicuous absence of the All Star-caliber play of former prospect turned emerging Reds’ superstar slugger.
In spite of losing four of their last five, the San Francisco Giants are coasting as they head into the All-Star break atop the National League with more than 50 wins and a five-game lead against division rival Los Angeles.
In Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, they have two of the most feared starters in the National League backed by a resurgent, young bullpen which barely resembles the dominant late-innings-eating arms of their dynastic first half of the decade.
Home-grown infielders including Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and one Gerald Dempsey “Buster” Posey have given the club a reputation for being one of the best spotters and developers of talent in the league.
And yet, there is something missing.
At the trade deadline last year, the Giants had cycled through eight starters and were dealing with injuries to long-time starters including Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson. Then 27-year-old right hander Mike Leake was surrendered by the Cincinnati Reds — the same franchise that almost ended the Giants’ 2012 playoff run in the divisional round — which was embarking on a major rebuild. And Leake had the look of a potential All Star starter.
In exchange, the Giants gave up a single-A righty named Keury Mella and an undersized corner infielder named Adam Duvall.
Duvall (who is also a Type 1 diabetic) hadn’t been underperforming, it’s just that the Giants organization seemed to be blessed with homegrown corner infielders; the aforementioned Belt at first and the emergent Matt Duffy at third was hitting well above .300 and deft with the glove, giving Giants fans every reason to place their Panda hats curbside.
Leake came to the Giants with a 3.56 ERA with 5.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 51.5 percent ground-ball rate in 136 2/3 innings. And the pitcher-friendly confines AT&T park seemed a natural fit. It wasn’t. Leake finished his career as a Giant at 2-5 with an ERA over 4 and promptly made haste for the Cardinals in the offseason.
In the meantime, the then six-foot, 180-pound Duvall honed his swing and put on about 20 pounds of muscle, taking the field for the Reds as its opening day left fielder. Rosters for the July 12 All Star game aren’t announced till Tuesday and though Duvall isn’t likely to get an outfield spot based on fan votes, he is almost assured a plane ticket to San Diego with his monster first half. Currently, he is second in the National League in homers (22) and 10th in slugging percentage (.566). As of Sunday, he was also hitting .252 with 58 RBIs.
In the Giants’ case, it was a bit of misjudgement about where to put Duvall that ultimately cost them in exchange for a two-month rental on Leake. Duvall played mostly third and first base in the Giants’ system and seemed like he’d be mired, barring injury, in the minors for another year or two waiting for an opening.
The Reds, like the Giants, had a dearth of job openings on the diamond corners with a strong homegrown presence at third in Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto entrenched at first. Unlike the Giants, they recognized an everyday player and saw Duvall had range. The club converted Duvall to left field, where he has made a smooth transition.
A transition the Giants should have been willing to try as their search to replace Barry Bonds in left has stretched out almost a decade.
Since the Giants bade Bonds farewell in 2007, left field has been the teams’ Bermuda Triangle. In early June, Kelby Tomlinson became the 39th member of the Giants to start a regular-season game in left since Opening Day in 2008. In center and right, the Giants have started 17 and 25 players respectively over the same 1,350-game span.
Duvall’s potential 40 HRs and 120 RBIs to compliment the likes of Posey, Pence (when healthy) Belt and Crawford, would have shored up the most fierce home-grown murderers’ row this side of Wrigleyville.
For the Giants — who have been this decade’s dominant franchise because of Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans ability to gather, promote and keep talent from the farm to the trophy ceremony — letting Duvall go for an Airbnb pitcher was not only a misstep but a decision that seems to have far-reaching implications as the specter of the Bonds’ curse out by the Chevron Cars looks to haunt the franchise for years to come.