This is the last week of regular season baseball. Is this the last week for our Giants? 6 games to finally put an end to a miserable collapse? Or is this the prelude to another unexpected October of joy?
More on that in a moment, but first: the question for the offseason. I won’t answer this question now, we’ll get to it once the season is actually, truly over, but right now, on September 26th, thinking about this season and the next one, what do you trust more:
- The “depth” in the bullpen, and the Giants’ ability to find an internal solution to one of the team’s great weakness?
- Or, the “depth” in the organization, and the Giants’ ability to find an internal solution to the hole in the left field? (A hole they’ve had, really, since 25 retired).
The reason this is the question is because the Giants don’t have many spots to fill for the 2017 roster and they don’t that have as much money to spend this offseason. My guess is that they can afford to make one splash in free agency. So, what do you do? Go get a closer, or go get a left-fielder?
Two realities that complicate this question.
- It has been the organization’s philosophy to not spend a lot of money on the closer position. They’ve won 3 world series with three different closers. Now, if Brian Wilson had stayed healthy this might be different conversation, but that didn’t happen and so the MO has been: spread the wealth throughout the pen and go with the hot hand. And it’s worked until this year. It’s a good philosophy. Overpaid closers who have crippled their teams can be found all over baseball, and throughout history (see: Papelbon, Jonathan and Benitez, Armando). It makes a lot more sense to spend money on a player who will contribute everyday and who could enhance the other significant weakness on the team: POWER!
- The other complicating reality, however, is that there are three great closer options hitting free agency this year, and there are no similarly viable options for left field. Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman would all be significant upgrades and bring order to the Giants bullpen chaos. They are going to be expensive, and they are going to be THE move if the Giants sign them. Everything else will be small potatoes: minor league invitees, maybe a trade, maybe an unexpected propsect call up. The outfield options get interesting if Yoenis Cespedes opts out of his contract, but after that its old guys (like Jose Bautista or Carlos Beltran), injury risks (like Josh Reddick), and a whole lot of uninspiring choices. All that to say, the best bang for the buck is actually the bullpen, but that contradicts both conventional wisdom and organizational wisdom.
To further simplify (and assuming Cespedes does, in fact opt out), would you rather sign one of the big 3 closers (and going with some combination of Mac Williamson, Jared Parker, Gorkys Hernandez, cheap/old vet in LF), or sign Cespedes and let Bochy and company figure out the bullpen?
I go back and forth on this daily, but hope to have an answer once we get to the postseason. Onward.
Looking Ahead: despite everything that has happened, the Giants control their destiny. Win out and they will get to play bonus baseball. I have a hard time believing anyone, Giants/Cards/Mets, win out, so let’s play through some scenarios:
- First, the Giants: 6 games at home, 3 against the Rockies and 3 against LA. In some ways this looks easy, both of these teams are done, essentially, in terms of the regular season. The Rockies are working on vacation plans, and the Dodgers will be prepping for Washington. But, nothing has been easy for the Giants, plus these are two teams that would delight and find motivation in sending SF packing for the year. The Giants will (likely) start: Moore, Samardzija, Cueto, Bumgarner, Someone, and Moore one more time. My sense is they need to win 4 games to get in, and there’s no way they should not get four wins this week. That being said, a 1-5 week and a quiet drift into the night wouldn’t surprise me at all. One final thought here: I wrote a lot this year about establishing a strong home record. If they go 6-0 they will finish with 46 home wins, about 5 wins short of what I was looking for. The lack of home dominance continues.
- For the Cardinals: They have the slightly more “difficult” task of playing every day this final week. It may not actually be more difficult (they have 4 games against the Reds), but it does require an extra start and more work for their bullpen. They play the Reds and then close with the Pirates, all at home. Nothing especially difficult there. Once again the Giants missed an opportunity: the Cards played 4 games at Chicago and lost 3 of them this weekend, and yet the Giants could not separate themselves at all. If the Giants go 4-2, the Cardinals will need to go 5-2 to keep pace.
- Finally, the Mets: the Mets finish the season on the road, the only of these 3 teams to play on the road this week. They get the grieving Marlins for 3, starting today, a day off on Thursday, and then 3 more with the Phillies against whom they just finished a wild series. If the Giants go 4-2, and the Cards go 4-3, then the Mets simply need to play .500 ball this week to host the Wild Card Game.
Prediction: There is nothing in the Giants’ recent track record to suggest they go any better than 4-2 this week. They haven’t won more than 3 games in a row all second half, and a 3-3 week seems like the most likely, honest, assessment of how things will go. If they do any worse than 4-2 , though, they likely won’t make it to the Wild Card, and they really wouldn’t deserve it anyway. A lot has been written about the potential of a 3-way tie. I find it far more likely that the Giants and Cardinals actually tie for the second Wild Card spot. My prediction is everyone goes 4-2/5-2, the Mets take the first wild card spot, and the Giants and Cards tie.