Playing Pepper 2022: San Francisco Giants

It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching.  Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside.  Not in this space!  Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch.  There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper!  If you want to keep up with the Giants during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well.  You can follow that here!

San Francisco Giants
107-55, first in the NL West, lost in the NLDS
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper
Top pitcher by bWAR: Kevin Gausman (5.4)
Top hitter by bWAR: Brandon Crawford (6.1)

An excellent and surprising year by the team by the bay ended with a bit of a sour note losing to the hated Dodgers in the playoffs.  Even that downbeat couldn’t overshadow what the Giants had accomplished.  Now for the hard part, doing it again.  Is it possible?  Let’s see what the experts are saying!

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

C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about San Francisco’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?

Michael: The Giants did the bare minimum. They resigned Anthony DeScalfani and Alex Wood and added Alex Cobb. They let Kevin Gausman walk and didn’t replace him. (EDIT: The Giants did wind up adding Carlos Rondon to replace Gausman.  We will see if that’s enough.) That puts a lot of pressure and expectations on Logan Webb. They really don’t have internal candidates if and when there are any injuries to starting pitchers.  

They also haven’t added enough to their lineup. They lost Kris Bryant and Buster Posey and haven’t replaced them with anyone. If they go into 2022 without a better option at catcher or in the outfield, they will again be asking for a lot from youngsters. Joey Bart catching and Heliot Ramos in the outfield could happen and could be great, but is unlikely. Farhan Zaidi has always tried to build a team of depth and the Giants are lacking depth right now.

Craig: What I liked about the off season was….they did nothing. The single worst thing a team can do is sign a big bonanza free agent. It’s lazy GMing. Makes the owner and the fans feel good in the moment but those guys rarely pay off (at least compared to what they get paid). Let’s see what Farhan does with the mid level guys. I’m expecting a lot of action in this upcoming short free agent window. 

Richard: While the San Francisco Giants’ 2021 season (107-55) was a pleasant surprise, it also set up expectations for the organization in 2022. Specifically, would the Giants use their financial might as one of the MLB’s wealthiest franchises to retain key performers from 2021 and also add several high impact free agents to the everyday roster.

They did not retain free agent RHP Kevin Gausman (who went to the Blue Jays), perhaps their best player in 2021, and their top free agent signings this off-season were LHP Carlos Rodon (3 yrs/$44 million) and RHP Anthony DeSclafani (3 yrs/$36m). The team also did not get the right-handed power bat they need in the outfield and may have to address their catching needs mid-season. So, no big splashes this off-season (and the fact that they apparently were in on free agent shortstop Trevor Story is meaningless—they have the resources to sign Story if they really wanted him).

From the moves the team made this pre-season it looks like they decided that 2022 was just not going to be an “all-in” year.

C70: There were a lot of articles written about the somewhat surprising success of the Giants last season. In your opinion, what was the most important factor in their record and can it happen again, at least in some regard?

Michael: Depth was the main reason for their success. They had the most talented 40 man roster in decades. Their 26 man roster wasn’t always the same 26 and that’s because baseball is a constant shuffle. Injuries will always happen and when they did, the Giants always had major league talent to step in. They had depth in the bullpen and in the starting rotation and they had depth in the lineup on both sides of the plate.

Getting career seasons out of players in their 30’s was the factor nobody saw coming. Especially from players who struggled the years before. Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria all played much better in 2021 than they had in the season’s prior and that was a huge jolt to the clubhouse and the field. Will Crawford and Belt do it again? Will Longoria stay healthy? Will they get resurgent years from others? Those questions will be huge in 2022.

Craig: I have no idea how they did that. I think I checked in with an 84 win total prediction (or something like that). It might have been less. What I learned about baseball last season was that Zaidi knows more than I do about how to build a baseball team. Do I think it will happen again? No. 

Richard: The #1 reason for the Giants’ success is obvious: President of Baseball Ops Farhan Zaidi’s three-year reconstruction of the entire franchise fully bloomed in 2021. When he was brought in prior to the 2018 season, Zaidi didn’t just face remaking a 40-man roster, he had to tear down what was a one-dimensional baseball organization and rebuild it from scratch to reflect the revolutionary changes in the game that Giants ownership had ignored for years. Truly smart people hire other smart people, so Zaidi brought in General Manager Scott Harris, Senior Advisor J.P. Ricciardi, and Manager Gabe Kapler, who in turn hired smart coaches and so on.

Can 2021 happen again? Well yes it can, but no it won’t.

Yes it can, because the same consortium that created 2021 continues to drive the organization. More importantly, Zaidi and his group are not attacking each season the way the previous regime under Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans did, by crossing their fingers and hoping, by relying on player/fan branding, or just by blind do-dah luck. The Giants are finally on the cutting edge of the game, using proprietary analytics and next level player development techniques, which are continuously audited and improved.

On the other hand, to mix a metaphor, the reality check is about to raise its ugly head. The reason 2021 won’t happen again is simply because of the many external forces that shape every team’s success and failure each season. Things that fell into place in 2021, won’t in 2022. In the NL West, the epic collapse of the San Diego Padres in 2021 is extremely unlikely to reoccur; the Los Angeles Dodgers, Farhan Zaidi’s former employers, have built an organization that is not dedicated to having a good season here and there, it’s built on sustained excellence; and several other NL teams have literally upped their game this off-season.

C70: Year 1 without Buster Posey. How strange is it going to be not to have him in the orange and black?

Michael: There was baseball in San Francisco before Buster Posey was drafted in 2008 and baseball after. His debut in 2009 and his arrival in 2010 was a watershed moment for the franchise and nobody did a better job leading an entire organization from the field than Buster. Much of what the Giants did in 2021 was a direct correlation to the day in day out work Buster put in to make the pitching staff better and make the lineup more dangerous. Personally, just to see Buster healthy again was a joy. He was a once in a lifetime talent who led the Giants to 3 world championships. His impact will never be talked about enough in San Francisco. They won’t be able to replace him, so Crawford and others will just have to continue to try to emulate the bar he set.

Craig: I move on from players very quickly. For me this won’t be hard to do at all. I’m not sold on Joey Bart at all though so replacing Posey’s production will be a massive issue that will likely strongly impact their end of year win total.

Richard: For me, not strange at all. Posey took all of 2020 off (COVID opt-out) and his previous two seasons were not that productive (a .688 OPS and 7 HR in 2019; a .742 OPS and 5 HR in 2018). However he did have a nice comeback in 2021 (3.5 WAR). I think Buster Posey’s dedication to the needs of his family is admirable and what better way to go out than with the excellent final season he put up in 2021. The organization and all Giant fans should be proud of Posey’s career and his character.

C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?

Michael: Marco Luciano is the type of prospect you dream about. He feels more fiction than fact and the potential is everything from a Hall of Famer that reshapes the franchise to a lightning bolt that thrills fans for a few years. It would seem that he wouldn’t see Major League time until September at the earliest, but a more likely debut would be in 2023.

Craig: Probably Heliot Ramos but I don’t see any prospect making it this year so my enthusiasm for all of them is pretty low right now. 

Richard: In last year’s Pepper I picked the somewhat obscure relief pitcher Camilo Doval as the rookie to make the biggest splash, and his 2021 line (27 IP, 37 SO, 1.04 WHIP) made him a late innings star for the Giants. This year, a couple of long-touted San Francisco prospects will be on short leashes: twenty-five-year-old catcher Joey Bart and twenty-seven-year-old SS/CF Mauricio Dubon. Both of whom have not performed well in Major League stints. The Giants almost traded Bart, and Dubon was sent down to the minors twice last season.

Bart is supposed to be Posey’s heir-apparent, but look for two very talented rookie catchers to soar through the Giants’ minor leagues this year: twenty-two-year-old Patrick Bailey and nineteen-year-old Adrian Sugastey. Baily is a defensive standout with line-drive pop in his bat, and Sugastey has parking-lot-behind-the-bleachers power and a rifle arm. Maybe a year from now, life after Buster will feature one of these players behind the plate.

On the pitching side 22-year-old RHP Ryan Murphy may be a year away from the bigs, but he looks to be an impact arm in the Giants future. Last season he had 107 IP with 164 SO at San Jose and Eugene, two of San Francisco’s minor league affiliates.

C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?

Michael: The Giants will not win 107 games. I do see the team winning 90+ but it will take much more depth and health to get anywhere close to 2021. I could see them finishing anywhere from 1st to 3rd no matter how many wins they end up with. The Dodgers aren’t going anywhere and the Padres have added one of the best managers in the game to help take their talent to the next level. Assuming health, both the Dodgers and Padres could easily win 90 and even cross 100 wins. Those 19 games versus each will be huge.

Craig: Well I was such an accurate prognosticator last year so….lqtm. I really do think Buster’s absence will be huge. His bat won’t be replaced but the way the pitchers responding to the delicate fingers he’d throw down, I’m really not sure our staff can overcome that. I predict they win 90 games, good enough to make it in to the new post season format. 

Richard: With the CBA’s expanded playoff set-up, each League will go from five teams in the post season to six. While that may bode well for the Giants, it also bodes well for a number of other NL teams. So here’s my question to all baseball experts from Arkansas to Duke’s Bar in London: tell me which two of the following eight NL teams will not make the 2022 MLB playoffs: Atlanta, the Mets, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, St. Louis, LA Dodgers, San Francisco, San Diego. Now throw in the usual surprise team (Miami? the Cubs?) and the picture gets even tougher.

I’ll pick the Giants to have a +.500 season this year, but still finish in third place behind San Diego and the Dodgers.

C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Giants Twitter accounts to follow.

Michael: @BaseballJeff1, @maddelucci, @stevenrissotto, @giantsprospects

Craig: I’m at war with most of the local scribes so I’ll leave all of them off this list except @extrabaggs who puts all those chumps to shame with his detailed reporting and writing. And I don’t follow any other twitter accounts that focus on the Giants. 

Richard: The other Giant bloggers featured in Playing Pepper are certainly worth checking into. But honestly, the latest news, commentary, and research I need in order to write about the Giants, and all of MLB, can only be found at the MLB Network, Baseball, ESPN’s various MLB stat platforms, FanGraphs, and (online) the LA Times, NY Times, and SF Chronicle. There’s a lot of writing to get done and not a lot of extra time to traverse the endless frontiers of social media.

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