Playing Pepper 2018: San Francisco Giants

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

San Francisco Giants
64-98, fifth in NL West
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

As Cardinal fans, we tend to have both a negative and perhaps a somewhat inflated view of the Giants.  After all, a team that continually beats the Cardinals in the playoffs has to be pretty good, right?  The Giants took a serious blow last year but it again is an even year and while that didn’t quite work out in 2016, we well remember there was still enough of it for them to hold off the Cardinals.  Because that’s always the way.  Anyway, three excellent San Francisco bloggers are here to fill us in on just what might be in store this season.

Writer Site Twitter
Craig Vaughn THE San Francisco Giants Blog 1flapdown77
Richard Dyer The Giants Cove
Doug Bruzzone McCovey Chronicles

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Craig: Last year I remember being very negative about the team in my “Playing Pepper” responses. I’ll have to go back and look and see if that’s the case. :). Bottom line this off season: I am very happy with what they did. Hey, when you lose 98 you could please me with some free ice cream. But Sabean gave me more than free ice cream. I got Longoria. McCutchen. Jackson. Watson… And hopefully I also get Bumgarner not falling off his motorbike this year. The club is much improved…..as long as no one gets hurt. 

Richard: As I noted in a recent blog, after going 64-98 last season the Giants’ front office made the decision to, 1) double down on their veteran players; and, 2) try to add two outfielders, a third baseman, and at least one reliever. And they did just that. San Francisco traded for 3B Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay and OF Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, and also signing free agents lefty relief pitcher Tony Watson and OF Austin Jackson.

The 2017 club was definitely improved. But to take a NL Wild Card slot this season, the Giants will have to be better than four of these five teams: Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado, St. Louis, and the New York Mets. Which is not likely.

Doug: The club definitely improved over the winter! You can’t say they didn’t improve. They saw the soul-sucking void that was the outfield and they got Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson to, uh, address a soul-sucking void however you do that. Caution tape, I guess? Plywood? New wallpaper? And, of course, they went out and made a big trade for Evan Longoria. Eduardo Nunez was a perfectly fine player at third base for the Giants last year, but the team saw they were going nowhere and traded him, and for the next two months they saw a series of madcap disasters manning the position. Then, and no one saw this coming because no one saw how they could do it and stay under the luxury tax, they got Tony Watson to be (A) a lefty in the bullpen who (B) wasn’t a disaster every day and in every situation. All in all, if someone put a gun to Bobby Evans’s head and say “Compete next year while staying under the luxury tax and also not trading away top prospect Heliot Ramos or else,” and nobody thought too hard about what the gun was even there for when Evans wouldn’t be evaluated on this mission for months, it would be hard to imagine a more successful offseason.

They still might not be good enough to actually compete, by the way. But I’ll just have to hope that Question 2 gives me the opportunity to talk about that.

C70: Is there any concern that the Giants’ window might be closing soon?

Craig: This question cracked me up when I read it. There is no window left, my man. Just an enclosed cinder block house. It’s pitch black inside. Gonna need to bust a block or two out just to see what’s going on outside; if there’s even still a world out there……

Richard: Organizationally, the Giants’ “window” closed after their 2012 World Series win. Ownership and the front office had just come off winning the Series two of the previous three years. They had a golden opportunity to not just win some championships, but to build a championship organization for years to come. Instead they opted to slap together a series of teams on the cheap and continued to neglect their failing farm system. At the same time the front office was actively resisting the advanced metrics revolution, opting instead to sell a tired “old school” approach to their fanbase.

The Giants accidently got lucky in 2014, riding Madison Bumgarner’s arm to another Series win. But the last three seasons shows what happens when you rely on luck and crossing your fingers instead of building a top-notch baseball franchise.

Doug: Hahaha, yes. Oh, yes. Goodness, yes. The only reason to answer no to this question would be if you think the window is already closed and they’re going to slam into it 162 times next year. This team was godawful last year, and a whole lot of that same cast is going to be back for more. Hunter Pence might be done. Brandon Crawford might have forgotten how to hit. I’ll talk about the rotation later, but suffice to say there are worries there. They went 64-98 last year, and it turns out that 98 losses is an awful lot of losses. Since the Phillies have become terrible, for example, they’ve only had one season where they lost 98 games. It’s honestly really hard to do.

But let’s say that last year doesn’t mean that much. Let’s say that the window is still unequivocally open. Yes, it’s going to close soon. This team is old. Buster Posey is a catcher on the wrong side of 30. Most of the lineup is over 30. If last year was not the reckoning, then there is a reckoning coming, and it is coming soon.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Craig: I’m gonna say “the bullpen.” My entire reputation is at risk with this answer, I know. But I think losing Raggs will be a good thing. He did great things in SF but near the end, that was one tired voice. A voice I’m sure the pitchers were tuning out. Melancon and Smith will return healthy, Watson is going to be a rock solid anchor, and some of the younger guys are going to be inspired by Curt Young and Matt Herges. The SF Giants bullpen in 2018 will surprise people. There. It’s been said.

Richard: Unlike MLB fanbases in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, for some reason most San Francisco Giants fans bond with individual players and managers instead of bonding with the historic franchise and demanding a winning organization. No doubt the Giants’ front office perceives this as a big “positive”. As a result, over the past ten years San Francisco’s ownership and front office have gotten away with “PR selling” inexpensive, poor performing players to their fans instead of actually developing talented players in the minors.

Doug: One thing people sometimes overlook is that Buster Posey has had a better career than Yadier Molina.

This is a good crowd to say that to, right?

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Giants to do well?

Craig: Cueto. Hands down. Preferably hands without blisters on them……

Richard: The problem is, for the Giants to do well in 2018, a number of veteran players will somehow have to have very good years. There is no one “key player” who can carry this team, especially offensively.

For example, catcher Buster Posey is by far the team’s best position player (and should be a lock to be a first year eligible Hall of Famer). But Posey will be 32 this season. He has had only one +.900 OPS season in his 9-year career (.957 in 2012). And he’s hit 20 or more home runs just twice in his career (24 in 2012, 22 in 2014). In 568 PA in 2017, Posey hit just 12 home runs. So Buster Posey can’t carry this team, and the other veteran players that make up the 25-man roster aren’t likely to have multiple breakout seasons at this point in their careers.

Doug: Johnny Cueto. The secret huge weakness of this team is the rotation. Madison Bumgarner has been an excellent pitcher for years, and he’s very likely to be excellent again, but there are question marks in every spot in the rotation. How will Bumgarner respond the year after he had a pretty devastating injury (even when he came back last year, he had his worst strikeout rate and home run rate since he was a rookie)? Will Jeff Samardzija ever not give up runs at the rate that advanced stats say he should be not giving up runs? Will the fourth and fifth starters — Chris Stratton and Ty Blach, at least for now — be effective major league starters? You can’t really be 100% positive about any of those questions, which is why Cueto is so vital. He struggled with blisters last year, and then he struggle with some other mild injuries, and he was never right. He was never the Cy Young contender he’s spent most of his life being. If he has a good year, that’s a huge plus for the rotation and a huge plus for a bullpen that doesn’t want to pitch lots of innings every day. If he doesn’t, that’s one day out of every five that’s for sure no fun, and the Giants really won’t be able to count on most of the other four to be much better.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Craig: 88 wins. This is risky because I think even one or two key injuries could doom the season. But I’m sticking with 88 wins and a wild card berth.

Richard: With the additions of McCutchen, Longoria, and Watson there is little doubt that San Francisco should rebound from last season’s 64-98 record. I think they have a good shot at getting to .500 this season, but not much more. And after losing 98 games last season, getting back to .500 this season would be no small achievement.

Doug: The short answer is ¯_(ツ)_/¯. The long answer is ¯_(ツ)_/¯ but then I explain it and write more words. So: the Giants lost 98 games last year. Teams that lost 98 games one year tend to be very bad the next year. On the other hand, teams that lost 98 games one year also tend to not make a big splash like the Giants did this offseason to compete again, so it’s tough to take that history as a guide. So here’s what I’ll go with: Losing 98 games means that your team is fundamentally flawed in myriad ways. For all the work the Giants did, it’s just about impossible to fix all that damage in one offseason. A successful season for them would be something like 84-78, because an 84-78 team doesn’t make you want to die every time you watch them. I’m going to say they’ll wind up in 3rd place, and I’ll consider that overly optimistic.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Craig: “Craig, have you lost your dang mind with that bullpen prediction?” 

Richard: What does the immediate future after 2018 look like for the San Francisco Giants? This is an organization that committed a series of long-term contracts to an aging team of veterans. The Giants will have the third highest MLB payroll in 2018 (only Washington and Boston are higher). The MLB Network reported that in 2020, when all these players will still be under contract and be at or approaching their mid-30s, the San Francisco Giants will have highest salary obligation in the Majors– $122.4 million. And there’s no relief from San Francisco’s farm system in the next several years. The Giants have been routinely rated in the bottom 20% of Baseball America’s team organizational rankings the past six years. And the Giants’ farm system won’t remotely be fixed by having the second pick in the 2018 amateur player draft.

On the positive side, the Giants have by far the wealthiest ownership group in the Majors (Principal Owner Charles Johnson alone is worth $4.9 billion), and the 5th most valuable franchise in baseball ($2.65 billion). [Forbes.com] So San Francisco’s ownership has more than enough resources to buy their way out of the salary pit they’ve put themselves in– if they’re willing to spend their money smarter.

Doug: “What kind of depth do the Giants have in order to weather the injuries that inevitably crop up during a long baseball season?” Oh, none, and thanks for bringing it up. The backup plan for middle infield is either Kelby Tomlinson or no plan, which are basically the same thing. The backup plan for the rotation is more unproven rookies, who as someone who attends a lot of AAA Giants games I certainly have unrealistic hopes for, but they come with legitimate question marks. The backup plan in the outfield is basically the same crew that disappointed us so badly last year, the backup plan at the corner infield spots is Pablo Sandoval (lol), and the backup plan at catcher is who cares about the backup plan at catcher this team is built on not needing a backup plan at catcher if we need a backup plan at catcher we’re doomed. The team had a depth problem last year too and it really came back to bite them; they’ve mostly addressed their needs this year by vastly improving the top of the team, but once you get through that top, it’s very, very rough.

My thanks to all of these guys for giving us a little bit of insight on the boys in orange and black.  We’ll see if all that veteran presence will help push them to October!

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