Playing Pepper 2021: San Francisco Giants

Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series!  OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter.  It’s Playing Pepper!  Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season.   I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole.  So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!

San Francisco Giants
29-31, third in the NL West
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

Limbo was the first circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno.  It was where those that were good but did not make the choice to follow Christ for the most part.  They were kinda stuck in a place that wasn’t bad but it wasn’t really where they meant to be.  Which kinda sounds like the Giants in the NL West.  It’s tough to compete with the Dodgers and Padres, but the Giants seem to have it more together than the Rockies.  Can they break out of the middle–either way?  That’s why we talk to those that know.

Blogger Site Twitter
Michael Saltzman Around the Foghorn RoundTheFoghorn
Craig Vaughn THE San Francisco Giants Blog 1flapdown77
Richard Dyer The Giants Cove

C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?

Michael: 2020 was the strangest year of baseball in my lifetime. As a Giants fan, watching games without fans made Oracle Park feel so different. The team also looked significantly different with so many new faces being at the forefront of the success they were having. No Bruce Bochy, No Buster Posey, No Madison Bumgarner, and having to say goodbye again to Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. I was pleasantly surprised with some of the new additions, particularly Kevin Gausman. He was clearly our best pitcher and just proved how skilled Farhan Zaidi is at finding undervalued talent. Same could be said for Mike Yastrzemski. He was not only the best hitter on the Giants, but legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball.

The rule changes bothered me because I have not seen how any of these rules help the game. The only rule that does help the product on the field was the designated hitter and that rule is the only one not being brought back. Since Rob Manfred took over, his rule changes have been pointless. The automatic walk shaves a few seconds off the game. Minimizing mound visits doesn’t really do much either. The three batter minimum rule is actually terrible for the game because relief pitchers being left out there in bad situations is bad for everyone. The runner on second in extras does nothing to improve the game because both sides have the same advantage. Ultimately, it’s just unfair to relief pitchers who must start an inning with a runner in scoring position. The ironic part of these rule changes is that the DH is the only rule I ended up wanting to stay, which is something I never said with Madison Bumgarner was on the Giants. That being said, it will always make more sense to have a big bat on the roster than it would be to watch Johnny Cueto and other pitchers hit. I would think after we all watched Bartolo Colon homer in San Diego, that there was no need for pitchers to hit again after that. It was never going to get better than that moment.

Craig: Well, I’m glad they got the season in. There was a point where I thought they were going to screw that up and cancel the season entirely. I love the universal DH. Pitchers have never been worse hitters and it’s a grind to watch their at bats. The dude born on 2nd base in the 10th inning I could have done without. Baseball in 2020 was a godsend. It gave us something to do. I’ll never forget that. 

Richard: Sometimes it’s a challenge to live through history while it’s actually happening. But my take at the start of the 2020 MLB season was that we were about to see something we’d never seen before—and isn’t that the cliché we hear all the time on MLB broadcasts? We watch the games because we may see something we’ve never seen before. Well, that was the entire 2020 season.

I thought the overall approach by Major League Baseball owners, Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Players Association and the players was excellent. And it worked out beautifully– the 2020 playoffs were exciting, must-watch baseball. As far as the rule changes, it was a rare opportunity to freely experiment, so why not? And hopefully several of those changes will be permanently adopted in the new CBA, which will kick in before the 2022 season.

C70: Former Cardinal John Brebbia is going to be part of the Giants this year. When is he expected to be ready and what are your thoughts about the club adding him?

Michael: It looks like he was recently placed on the 60-day DL to make room for Jake McGee on the 40 man roster. Brebbia, like most Farhan Zaidi signings, is a low risk move that has a chance to pay off. We live in a completely different world now, where baseball executives are careful to dish out large long term contracts to older players. Even as we witnessed Fernando Tatis Jr. sign his record deal well over $300 million, it is noticeable that he is 22 years old and has many prime years left. For every Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts contract, most teams are looking for bargains in free agency. A pitcher like Brebbia fits what the Giants are trying to do. Their goal has been to find players to deepen their 40 man roster. Adding a guy like Brebbia who can be placed on the 60 day was probably even more of a reason to bring him in. Allows them to have 41 players on the roster, allows him to take his time with his rehabilitation and not rush, and ultimately gives them another arm for depth in what’s becoming a crowded bullpen.

Farhan’s most successful trade deadline saw them move several relief pitchers. Playoff teams need reliable bullpen arms in October, and it is certainly cheaper to stockpile a bullpen than it is to load up a starting staff or a lineup.

Craig: Brebbia. Oh man, if you knew how much run he got at my blog this Winter. We started referring to Zaidi as shopping in the *Brebbia aisle* based on all the bargain basement purchases he snaps up. I have low expectations for Brebbs. 

Richard: Right-hander John Brebbia is an interesting signing by the Giants. Drafted in the 30th round of the 2010 draft by the Yankees, Brebbia ended up with the Diamondbacks where the Cardinals grabbed him in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. He underwent Tommy John surgery in June of last season and then was nontendered by St. Louis in December. Apparently the Twins were very interested in Brebbia but the Giants slipped in and signed him to an $800,000 deal for 2021. If all goes well, John Brebbia should be up and playing after the All-Star Break, and he’ll be controllable through the 2023 season.

Unless there’s something more here, it appears that St. Louis simply gave up on Brebbia. From the date he was called up in 2017 through 2019 he put up some seriously good numbers: 175 IP, 3.39 FIP, 3.14 ERA with 10.8 K/9. I’m guessing the Cardinals felt they just couldn’t gamble with a roster spot in a year they expect to go head-to-head all season with the Cubs for the NL Central Division title.

C70: Joey Bart got to make his debut when Buster Posey sat out the pandemic season, but now Posey is back. What does this mean for the young catcher and what impact will he have at the big league level this year?

Michael: Bart showed flashes of a bat that can do some damage at the major league level in 2020. He also struggled and never ended up hitting a home run despite 103 at bats. His .609 OPS was not impressive at all, but he showed enough as a catcher behind the plate and with his bat that fans were able to see why there was so much hype. Having a full season in the minors will do wonders for him in 2021. Posey is the everyday catcher still and Curt Casali was brought in to be the primary backup. Bart’s job is to play in Triple-A, get his confidence back and be ready for a call up when he is ready to do damage at the major league level. Posey can certainly get at bats in at first base if Bart forces his way back to the show. First Baseman Brandon Belt and Posey are in the final year of their deals, so Bart will definitely be given a chance to take over if he earns it.

Craig: Bart’s stock has fallen. Not hitting a single bomb in 103 big league at bats was a huge downer and almost unbelievable considering the juiced ball and what a strapping sturdy lad he is. I’m not totally off him because he did get called up way too early and his development could certainly still happen. But SF drafted another catcher in the first round last year so that might tell you what THEY think of Bart. It’s cool, our farm system is stocked even if Bart turns out to be a zero.

Richard: For the past three years Giants fans have been saying Bart’s name like he was the coming messiah that would turn the Giants’ franchise around. Here’s a reality check: even the best player in baseball can’t remotely have that kind of impact. Just ask Mike Trout.

Bart’s MLB debut last season was a bust: in 33 games and 111 PA, Bart put up 69 OPS+ and a .288 OBP. Most of the time he looked lost at the plate, and I’m guessing he’ll start the 2021 season in the minors. Right now, Joey Bart has dropped to at least the Giants’ third best prospect, behind SS Marco Luciano and OF Heliot Ramos. And RHP Camilo Doval could also soon surpass Bart– in three minor league seasons Doval has 233 SO in 163.1 IP and a 1.237 WHIP.

C70: What is the most pressing need of this club right now?

Michael: Talent. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in baseball last year and they are even better on paper in 2021. The San Diego Padres made the playoffs last year as well and just added the best pitcher in the American League in Blake Snell. Both teams are proving they will spend to stay on top and they are both likely to add more talent by the trade deadline. The Giants will have to face both 19 times each in 2021. The Giants do not have an ace of the staff or a cornerstone piece in the lineup. What they do have is versatility in their staff and in their lineup. They have pitchers who can start and come out of the pen, and they have bats that can play all around the diamond. They have a strong lineup against right handed pitchers and a lineup that can do well against left handed pitchers as well. However, because they do not have the Tatis Jr’s or Betts’ in their organization, they are likely to finish third in their division no matter how well they play. After missing out on Harper a couple of off-seasons ago, it doesn’t seem Zaidi has shown much interest in adding top end talent to the roster. There was talk they were in on the trade for Francisco Lindor, but until they pull the trigger on top end talent like the St. Louis Cardinals did for Nolan Arenado, the Giants will continue to look up in the standings in the National League.

Craig: I’m not sold on the starting pitching since all 5 of the projected starters are candidates to get injured. Additionally, all 5 of them, even healthy, just aren’t very good. I’m old school though, I like to have a true ace on the staff. We do not have that. 

Richard: Patience. From the front office, and especially from the fans. Not only will the Giants not contend in 2021, the earliest they’ll likely contend in the National League is 2023. The extent to which the entire San Francisco franchise was allowed to degrade under former GMs Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans will ultimately cost the Giants almost a decade to fully reconstruct. But under current President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi this franchise is on track to rebuild back to a championship level, and it’s fun watching it happen. 

C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?

Michael: I expect the Giants to play above .500 ball for the majority of the year. I expect them to finish third in the National League West and I would expect them to miss the playoffs unless the league keeps the expanded format. Considering the group they have and their reluctance to move their best prospects, I don’t see them making any significant moves at the deadline to upgrade their roster. I would assume they will actually move some of their bullpen arms for prospects at the deadline. Their goal will be to compete when their best prospects get to the big leagues. My hope is that their top prospect, Marco Luciano, flourishes this season in the minors, and the Giants make the aggressive move to call him up this season. The teenage phenom seems to have all the tools of some of the best young players in the game and it would make a huge difference moving forward if he can be an everyday player for the Giants by opening day 2022.

Craig: Having to play the Dodgers and the Padres 36 times is going to be a huge blow to their overall record. In another division I’d dream of 81 wins but having to play in the NL West, I am hoping for 74. Even that number may be optimistic once the injuries start piling up. 

Richard: Putting a competitive 26-man roster on the field in 2021, while at the same time making a full commitment to young player acquisition and development, is a demanding task. We often hear GMs and POBOs say some version of the cliché “We have one goal in [insert date here], and that’s to win ballgames”. And it’s almost always politically correct wishful thinking. Incredibly, Farhan Zaidi is actually doing what it takes to win, so while San Francisco won’t make the playoffs for several years, they are still a compelling and watchable team.

Take a global look at the NL West: The Giants over-performed in 2020 and went 29-31; the Arizona Diamondbacks (25-35) under-performed; and the lowly Colorado Rockies (26-43) only finished three games behind San Francisco. Oh, and the two best teams in baseball, the Dodgers and San Diego, happen to be in the same Division where the Giants will play them 38 times in 2021. I’m projecting the Giants to hit 78 wins in 2021, finishing in fourth place just behind Arizona.

C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?

Michael: I’d give the Giants a B- at the moment. They are doing more with what they have. The expectations from experts this season is that they will only win 75 games and possibly finish 4th in the West. I’d expect, just like last season, that they will exceed expectations. They don’t deserve an A because they have not been players in the free agent or international markets since Farhan took over. They have had opportunities to add talent and chosen not to. Instead, they have focused on clearing the books and finding undervalued talent throughout baseball. That has allowed them the financial flexibility to do whatever they want in the off-season next year. That being said, their low offers to talented players will be seen by many future free agents as a negative. Just this week, one of their best hitters lost his arbitration case. Donovan Solano, who won the silver slugger at second base in 2020, was asking for $3.9 million and will only earn $3.25 million in 2021. Instead of agreeing to a $4 million deal with one of your best players, or even giving him a multi year deal around $8 million for 2 years, they took him to arbitration and spoke openly to an arbitrator why he doesn’t deserve to make $3.9 million. That kind of penny pinching will backfire in the future when Solano and others decide to leave the organization.

Craig: I am sort of backed into a corner with having to support the current regime. I was so against the lazy GM’ing of Sabean late in his career and then his ineffective replacement Bobby Evans that I now have to give a lot of rope to Zaidi and his staff since I think they’re smart as anything and smart goes a long way with me. But sometimes you can be too smart for your own good and at some point I’d like to see Z spend some dough on a proven free agent instead of his constant dumpster dives on players with the most peripheral of stats he admires so much. 

Richard: POBO Farhan Zaidi and GM Scott Harris have already performed impressively since Zaidi was brought in before the 2019 season. They are reconstructing this franchise from top to bottom and they’re doing it intelligently and creatively. This is no push button fix, but things are on track and the results will start showing up sooner than later.

The Zaidi rebuild gets a solid “A” so far. And remember, San Francisco is one of the biggest money leviathans in MLB, valued at $3.1 billion and ranked as the 5th most valuable team by Forbes in 2020. The most dangerous front offices in Major League Baseball are run by really smart executives who know how to spend the money available to them. Look at the Dodgers, Tampa Bay, the Yankees, Oakland, and the Padres. At the end of 2021, the Giants’ 11th-ranked MLB payroll ($146 million) will dump almost $72 million in stale contracts. Imagine what Farhan Zaidi will do with that.

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