When I lived in Boston I won two Opening Day tickets to the Red Sox 2009 season. They did a lottery thing, and we lucked out and opening day at Fenway was as adorable and awesome as you might imagine. It was also really cold.
Anyway, the Sox opened that year at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox had won the World Series in 2007, and the Rays had knocked them out of the postseason in epic fashion in 2008 (on their way to losing to the Pat Burrell led Phillies in the World Series. Isn’t baseball amazing).
This was a showdown game on opening day.
James Shields versus Josh Beckett.
Dustin Pedroia hit a home run and Beckett struck out 10
and Jonathan Papelbon saved the game.
Also, a second year stud named Evan Longoria hit a 2-run double.
And every time he came to the plate this buzzed dude that sat near us screamed at the top of his lungs, in a sing-song voice: “Eeeeevvvvaaaaaa….Eeeeevvvaaaaaaa.” (Which is funny because of Eva Longoria who is super famous and a woman).
I can never think about Evan Longoria and not think about that drunk dude at that opening day game.
Fast-forward to today and Eeeeevvvaaaaa is coming to your San Francisco Giants.
Evan Longoria, overall, is a stud.
He’s been one of the best players in baseball,
an MVP candidate,
the first of the wave of modern, awesome third basemen,
and now he’s a Giant.
But he’s also old, and expensive, and that creates all kinds of questions and riskiness for the future of the Giants.
Do we like this trade?
Let’s start here with the positives:
- He plays 3B, an area of tremendous need. The Giants used NINE third basemen last year who collectively tallied a .216/.268/.300 slash line. That is horrid. I think Madison Bumgarner could have bested that if they let him play 3B for the whole year.
- Longoria’s won 3 gold gloves and the Giants have the potential to win a gold glove at every infield position in 2018 (yes, this will be hard to do with Nolan Arrenado being alive, but you get my point).
- He hits right-handed. Hey, this is cool! An actual, legit right-handed hitter. What an idea!
- He hits home runs too!
- He doesn’t get hurt much and has played as many games as any player in MLB over the past 5 seasons. For a team that used the DL more often than I tell my son to lower the volume of his voice (this is a lot), a durable player is a true gift.
- This trade allowed the Giants to get rid of Denard Span and his contract, which, among other things, creates some space to get another player or two.
Now for the negatives:
- The Giants had a legit young, cheap alternative at 3B and not only does this move block him, he actually was part of the trade. I was in to the idea of Christian Arroyo being a big part of the 2018 Giants, but it was not to be.
- The Giants do have a potentially great infield defense on paper, but they really needed to get better with the gloves in the outfield, especially since most of their pitchers are flyball/strikeout type guys. This infield would be awesome for a staff of sinkerballers, and maybe Ty Blach and Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede move the team in that direction. But it’s hard to see how infield defense really helps Bumgarner, Cueto, and especially Samardzija.
- He does hit righthanded, but the bar here is really low as Todd Hundley was the only right-handed hitter on the team to hit more than 3 home runs at AT&T.
- About those home runs. Longoria only hit 20 last year in a hitters division and league. Now he comes to a pitchers division and league and a tough home ballpark. Yikes. The good news is he hit 36 in 2016, so it wasn’t that long ago that he set a career high, but his power drop-off strangely mirrors the team he is joining.
- Not getting hurt is a good thing and there isn’t any cavalry coming behind him, so the Giants need him to be in the lineup, but he is 32 and most iron mans start becoming less irony (haha) around this age (see: Pence, Hunter).
- The good news here is that Longoria’s contract situation and the ability to shed Span are actually very helpful for 2018, the catch though is that Longoria’s contract is bad from 2019 until 2023. Gulp.
This trade perfectly captures the essence of the conundrum the Giants find themselves in. They purposefully and strategically went young and created the core of a team that won 3 championships. It was a master class in roster building in some ways.
But that success led to reward and commitment, a commitment that now threatens to strangle the franchise for years. There’s no getting away from the fact that Giants are all in on the Posey/Crawford/Belt/Bumgarner core (you could add Matt Cain to this list). That has led to long-term commitments to Cueto/Samardzija/Pence/Melancon.
In poker terms, the Giants are pot committed, and so it isn’t that big of a deal to add a Longoria.
But, oh does it smack of the opposite direction that led this team to the top in the first place.
2018 Opening Day Lineup as of right now:
- Steven Duggar CF
- Joe Panik 2B
- Buster Posey C
- Evan Longoria 3B
- Brandon Belt 1B
- Hunter Pence LF
- Brandon Crawford SS
- Austin Slater???? RF
I throw this in here to show how the outfield is still a mess. The hot rumor now is that Jay Bruce is next. I would be for creatively packaging Pence for Andrew McCutchen in addition to Bruce. Imagine this:
- Panik 2B
- Posey C
- McCutchen LF
- Bruce RF
- Longoria 3B
- Belt 1B
- Crawford SS
- Duggar CF
While that is mildly exciting, it does seem like the Giants are going to have gamble at least one OF position on a young guy. Maybe its Duggar time. Maybe it’s Austin Slater. Maybe it’s Chris Shaw. I don’t know, I just don’t see another way around it.
One other thought here. I know the Giants like to act fast, but this market is going very slowly. I would love to see them lay low for a bit, and maybe catch some deals in the new year.
Our final topic for the day: could the Giants actually be good in 2018?
This has been the question floating around in response to today’s trade. Most writers and commentators seem to think it is totally out of the question for the Giants to think they could be good next year, and so this is a stupid move.
In a sense I agree. 2017 was about as all-encompassing a systematic failure as a franchise can have. I can’t think of a good comparison.
By all accounts the Giants were a decent bullpen, maybe even a decent closer away from beating the Cubs in 2016. They went from that to the second worst team in baseball in a year (and only because of a walk-off home run by Pablo Sandoval on the last day of the season. Again, what a world.)
A realist, I suppose, looks at all this and says there’s no way this team is anywhere close to contending.
But, I point to the pot commitment I mentioned in the last section, and to the, perhaps foolish, belief that last year was a kind of fluke.
Grant Brisbee breaks down this question in this article (I’d recommend looking at the WAR charts as a shortcut).
I do not think that what he proposes there is totally out of the realm of possibility (in terms of the improvement).
There is a long list of “well, if”s that need to happen.
Well, if: Belt stay healthy…Bumgarner bounces back…Cueto is good again…the defense improves…the bullpen gets sorted out…several players have a bounce-back year…etc, etc etc.
But, there’s also a ludicrously long list of things that had to go wrong last year to produce a 98 loss season. And THEY ALL HAPPENED.
The Giants still have moves to make, and we’re still months away from really getting to into predictions for 2018, but at least things got a little more interesting today.
That’s all I’m asking for at this point.