Playing Pepper 2023: San Francisco Giants

If there is one thing baseball is good at, it’s tradition.  (OK, so that point could be debated with the changes over the last few years.)  Tradition around here states that the beginning of the season means that it’s time for Playing Pepper!  This is the fifteenth season–a decade and a half!–of the series that helps you get ready for the season by going around the league and talking with people that live and die with their teams.  Bloggers, former bloggers, podcasters, we’ve got them all as we take a tour of MLB and play some pepper!  If you get inspired to make some predictions during this series, this contest is open to fans of all teams so enter today!

San Francisco Giants
81-81, third in the NL West
Website | Twitter | Twitter List
Last year’s Pepper
Top pitcher by fWAR: Carlos Rodon (6.2)
Top hitter by fWAR: Thairo Estrada (2.7)

Everyone knew that the Giants were going to fall off from the 107 wins of 2021 because that’s just the way it works in baseball.  Dropping all the way to .500, though, was a little bit more of a drop than some projected.  Can the Giants now contend in a tough NL West?  We’ve got a few folks that have some thoughts on that.

Contributor Site Twitter
Richard Dyer The Giants Cove
Michael Saltzman Around the Foghorn RoundTheFoghorn
Chad King The Torturecast chadk21

C70: The Giants’ offseason had some twists and turns to it. What are your thoughts about how this winter went and how the team is set up for 2023?

Richard: It is counterintuitive to say, but one of the worst things that’s happened to the Giants under President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi was their 107-win 2021 season. After that randomly lucky campaign, team ownership apparently thought they had discovered a new and magical way to save money: assemble a team of marginally talented (i.e., cheap) role players, platoon the hell out of them, then sign several cheap starting pitcher reclamation projects, mix them all together and hope to strike gold. The following truism apparently did not occur to anyone in the Giants’ brain trust: if that 2021 team replayed that 2021 season one hundred times they probably would have won 107 games once, lost 107 games maybe ten times and played close to .500 ball in the rest.

So during the 107-win 2021 off-season, and the 81-win 2022 off-season, the Giants front office did a lot of huffing and puffing about all the high end free agents they would be signing since they had all the money in the world to spend (or a big chunk of it). But Zaidi and his front office ended up doing absolutely nothing, coincidentally leaving ownership with a larger slice of the revenue pie each of the last two years.

We will never know the real reason why the team failed to sign not even one (I mean zero, zilch, zippo) high impact player the past two off-seasons, but if the problem is that free agent players simply don’t want to play in San Francisco the solution is simple: add additional zeros to their contract offer. Which the Giants, who has noted are the fifth most valuable MLB team (at $3.5 billion), did not.

For 2023, the San Francisco Giants are set up the way my Uncle Ed manages to “set up” at our family Thanksgiving each year. He drinks a tremendous amount of inexpensive alcohol while watching football on TV, then embarrasses himself at dinner with highly inappropriate racial humor and blindingly boring stories about the aluminum siding industry. So I’ll be looking for the moment the Giants infield fumbles that first routine double play in the opening week of 2023.

Michael: Impossible not to feel disappointment and even a level of anger that the Giants let Carlos Rodon and Kevin Gausman walk in consecutive years, while also pulling the plug on Carlos Correa and losing out on Aaron Judge. The Giants could afford to have all of them on the roster and instead have none of them. What they are left with is a similar team as every other year of the Farhan Zaidi era. Veterans who underperformed to expectations but have shown flashes of brilliance, trying to redeem their value in San Francisco. Gausman and Rodon already showed the entire baseball world that the Giants can be a place to earn top dollar on the free agent market. Several veterans signed short deals with the Giants as a result. All have injury histories and might not perform. With all that said, There is almost zero depth on the 40 man roster pushing the incumbents and with very little organizational depth, there is a very good chance the Giants don’t survive the season with enough healthy bodies to compete. 

Chad: I think the Giants striking out on Aaron Judge and Correa had a silver lining. They were able to commit funds to a wider variety of players that they wouldn’t have normally acquired like Taylor Rogers, Ross Stripling, Sean Manaea and others. Their depth will prove to be one of their strengths.

C70: Brandon Crawford is set to be a free agent after the season but it’s hard to imagine him anywhere but San Francisco. Will the club extend him and how good will he be this year?

Richard: Not only should the Giants not extend Brandon Crawford, who is 36 years old, they should try to trade him to any team who might accidentally want to take him at the 2023 trade deadline.

The Giants’ ownership and front office continues to hype up and celebrate player branding among the low information wing of their fanbase as a way to distract from poor on-field performance and to ingratiate themselves with their (sometimes) easily distracted fans. And it has absolutely killed this franchise over the past ten years. For some reason, many Giants fans are simply thrilled when the team holds on to veteran players long after their use-by dates have expired. And since San Francisco’s 18th ranked farm system (Baseball America) is kind of like an empty train station at three in the morning, there’s really no expectation that a crop of young, talented players is anywhere on the horizon. The Giants apparently will simply continue signing more cast-off 34-year-old corner outfielders for $8 to $12 million a year.

Michael: This will likely be Crawford’s final season as a Giant. Brandon Belt was in a similar position last year and the Giants had no issues watching him walk. Farhan will have no issues letting Crawford walk after this year. After playing like an MVP in 2021, he struggled last year and it seems the writing is on the wall to lose another long-time Giant at the end of the season. I could see Crawford retiring, like Buster Posey and Matt Cain did, after this season instead of playing elsewhere. No matter what 2024 brings for Crawford and the Giants, 2023 will be special because the greatest shortstop in team history may be playing his final games here.

Chad: The Giants will only extend Crawford if he shocks them with a 2021-like performance. The reality is that he’s an aging SS, and although his defense is still premier, the bat has faded, and the injuries are more frequent. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone so core to the team.

C70: What’s going to be the strength of the Giants this season?

Richard: I am sad to report that this franchise, and this 2023 team, is currently the blandest and most uninteresting of all 30 Major League Baseball teams. Amazingly duller than the Colorado Rockies or Kansas City Royals, which is saying quite a lot. If the Giants do have a secret superpower, it will continue to remain a secret throughout the 2023 season.

Michael: The same strength as last year. The ace and the closer. Logan Webb and Camilo Doval are All-Stars and the only young players on the Giants worth getting excited about long term on the 26 man roster. If Webb continues to be a clear ace and if Doval continues to be a dominant closer, the entire staff becomes much more formidable. The rest of the starting staff has major injury histories and the depth is shaky as long as Kyle Harrison remains in the minors. Taylor Rogers was a strong addition to the bullpen but going from the starters to the closer was the Giants biggest weakness last year. Rogers alone won’t be able to fix that. 

Chad: Depth, depth, depth! And the long ball.

C70: Which rookie (or player with limited MLB experience) do you think will have the most impact this year?

Richard: Thankfully the Giants have slowed up on touting twenty-six-year-old “rookie” catcher Joey Bart (an 81 OPS+ after three years and 132 games) as the next Buster Posey. How many more ABs will be wasted on Bart before San Francisco moves on to switch-hitting catcher Patrick Bailey, 23, remains to be seen. And waiting in the wings is Double A Richmond catcher Adrian Sugastey, who has the kind of power stroke that wins major awards.

There are two well-known prospects in the Giants’ farm system who could start contributing in 2023. The hope is that talented LHP Kyle Harrison, 21, could join the starting rotation by mid-season; and gifted shortstop Marco Luciano, 21, should be given a long leash to claim a spot at SS or 3B this year. These are the potential franchise-changing players in the Giants system.

But my favorite Giants minor league pick is AAA RHP Randy Rodriquez, 23, who sports a low-release 99 MPH fastball and an even nastier off-speed slider that makes his fastball look like a rocket. I would love to see Rodriguez in the bullpen on a September call-up this season and maybe force his way into the starting rotation in 2024.

Michael: Kyle Harrison will dominate once he is up. He has ace written all over him. A left handed Matt Cain seems to be the comp, which is completely unfair to Harrison but also exciting for fans if it actually happens. If there are any setbacks and he doesn’t end up a part of the 2023 rotation, Casey Schmidtt is the name to look for. His glove is special at third base, and his bat could be special too.

Chad: Kyle Harrison. Although his spring wasn’t anything to talk about, his stuff has been talked about by the players. He’ll start out the season in AAA, but I believe he’ll be called up by June to fill in the rotation for injury. He’s not quite Tim Lincecum, but he’s going to be a force this year.

C70: What’s the best case, worst case, and most likely scenario on how 2023 plays out?

Richard: Best case scenario for the Giants in 2023 is that they somehow hold off the Arizona Diamondbacks for one more season, and finish in third place. The D-Backs and the Baltimore Orioles are among the most talented emerging franchises in the game, and both teams are on track to eventually challenge the top tier teams in their respective divisions.

Worst case scenario is that the Giants somehow hold off the Arizona Diamondbacks for one more season, and finish in third place. This would give San Francisco’s ownership group yet another excuse not to spend money in the 2023 off-season, and continue to primarily focus on their expanding lucrative real estate projects next to Oracle Park.

And the likely 2023 scenario? The Giants finish in fourth place just ahead of the Rockies and then talk about retooling. All over again.

Michael: Best case, like any large market, big spending team is a World Series. As the 2010, 2012, and 2014 teams proved, making the playoffs is the difficult thing, but pitching can carry you through the post season. If Webb, Alex Cobb, Anthony DeScalfani, Sean Manaaea and Ross Stripling all have 25-30 starts this year, the Giants might be as good as any team in baseball. That’s also asking way too much of pitchers who have always struggled to stay consistent throughout a season. That group with Harrison could end up being a big problem for teams in the postseason. Webb-Harrison-Cobb especially. Worst case is all of these pitchers struggle to see the field and their bullpen gets destroyed with the extra work. The Giants lineup only has so much potential, but their staff could be anywhere from as good as there is in baseball to one of the worst in the game. If it’s the latter because of injuries, it will be a long season. The most likely scenario is that they play slightly above .500 ball for most of the season, compete for a playoff spot and possibly make the playoffs. 

Chad: Best case: 87-90 wins and a wild card
Worst case: under. 500, numerous injuries
Most likely: 84 wins and just missing out on a wild card.

Series Navigation<< Playing Pepper 2023: Chicago White SoxPlaying Pepper 2023: Baltimore Orioles >>

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