A Lot of Catching Up To Do!

Well, I guess a few things have happened in the past couple months!

We’ve said goodbye to Bruce Bochy (and maybe Madison Bumgarner too), watched the Dodgers blow it again, and witnessed the Washington Nationals ascend the mountain top for the first time.

And, oh look, the Giants have a new General and Field Manager. And a lot of people are quite upset about it.

I have thoughts. Let’s get right to the heart of the issue: Gabe Kapler’s (and, to be fair, Farhan Zaidi’s) poor handling of sexual assault allegations against their players when they were with the Dodgers.

Let me offer a few quotes from the local writers regarding this issue:

From Baggs:

It cannot be understated that the Giants front office is a workplace still reeling from CEO Larry Baer’s video-captured altercation in March in which he wrestled for control of a phone and knocked his wife, Pam, to the ground in a public square. Baer returned to his former role and corner office, with a somewhat muted public presence, following a three-month suspension from Major League Baseball.

Not everyone in the organization was happy to have Baer back. You can bet not everyone in the organization is happy about Kapler, either.

Here’s the thing: whether you believe that Kapler should be exonerated or you believe his past actions are disqualifying, Zaidi knew hiring him would leave a great many of you pissed off. And he decided it was worth it.

What’s more, the Giants decided it was worth it.

From Grant:

The Giants could have chosen almost anyone, from Hensley Meulens to Mike Scioscia to, I don’t know, Casey McGehee, who would have taken the brunt of whatever managerial criticism came up. The front office would have taken the criticism for choosing the players and the manager would have taken the criticism for motivating and deploying them. This is the natural order of things.

Instead, the Giants chose the one guy who can’t be separated from the front office. There is no Kapler without Zaidi, no scenario in which he becomes the manager with anyone else in charge, so the manager’s successes or failures will become the president of baseball operations’ successes or failures.

Which means Zaidi has to be pretty damned sure about this. Pretty, pretty, pretty damned sure about this. That’s a pool of 7.7 billion people to choose from, and approximately one who could blow up on him like an ink pack in a bank robbery.

And finally, from Marcus:

Why Kapler at all? 

Especially now. He’s basically a .500 manager with two years of experience. The Phillies went .500 this season despite adding Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to what was already an 80-win team. The data shows Kapler just might not be ready as a manager. But he wasn’t even on the market long enough to collect his first unemployment check. 

Add on to that a sexual assault scandal and he figured to be an especially untouchable hire for a Bay Area franchise. Four years ago, while with the Dodgers, Kapler — along with Zaidi — mishandled allegations made against Dodgers minor-leaguers. Kapler was director of player development at the time, in 2015, and Zaidi was the Dodgers general manager. They offered a mea culpa on Wednesday, concessions made after finally looking into their actions a couple of weeks ago. But why would they put themselves in position to have to prostrate before the fan base?

This is Zaidi’s doing. This is how much he believes in Kapler. Better yet, this is how much Zaidi believes in himself, his eye for talent and his vision for the Giants. He picked arguably the most tainted hire of this bunch, overlooked candidates he acknowledged were worthy of the job. Kapler is his guy. This was a Farhan Flex.

That alone offers significant insight into the future of the Giants.

And now my take. One of the side effects, it seems, of the new, brainy, data-driven front office movement in baseball is a lack of humanity. This post-season, rather than celebrating two incredible baseball teams, a lot of of the headlines surrounded the bad behavior the Houston Astros (poster-children for the new-age team).

And that has only continued now in the offseason.

I’m not trying to reduce this to a “nerds don’t get people” simplistic view of complicated issues, but there is a risk with this new perspective (and it’s not limited to baseball). The more we value and view people as numbers, the harder time we seem to have with human interactions and the truth that they can be very messy.

Some have validly complained that the brand of baseball being played today is boring (flattened by the uniformity of data), and it’s a valid complaint, but a deeper problem is the lack of emotional intelligence and the decline of the value of humanity.

So, there’s that!

And then there’s the issue that Gabe Kapler might not be a very good manager. Dave Roberts beat him out for the Dodgers job a few years ago and while Dave seems like a really good dude, several of his poor decisions are responsible for the Dodgers inability to end the season with a win.

Kapler seems to have suffered from too much information and a lack of ability to inspire human beings with all his magical data.

I was not super excited when the Giants hired Bruce Bochy. It seemed to be a very uninspired hire. As baseball was moving into the future, the Giants were hiring a relic of the past.

It turned out ok, and in large part because Bochy is a genius with people (and bullpens).

Now they’ve finally made the cutting edge type of hire I longer for 12 years ago, and I’m not excited about it. The moral baggage is certainly part of that, but Kapler had an eventful two years in Philly and not for good reasons.

The Giants always seemed to be interested in getting someone who had previous managing experience who needed a new opportunity to make the next step. There is a long history of guys making this type of jump, Bruce Bochy being exhibit A.

The difference to me is that Bochy had MANY years of experience. He had seen bad teams, good teams, losing seasons, a world series, great players and MVPs, and a bunch of scrubs.

Kapler hasn’t seen much of anything at this point. Other than looking like he could still play, there’s not much impressive in resume.

All year long we’ve been waiting for Farhan Zaidi to make a signature move. Would it be signing Bryce Haper? (No). Would it be trading Madison Bumgarner? (It wasn’t).

This is it. Hiring Gabe Kapler. Undoubtedly many other moves are going to be made. There’s a bullpen to reconstruct after all. And some starting pitchers to find. And the question about how to move on from an aging core.

But if you were looking for a move that revealed the deep soul of Zaidi and what he wants the Giants to be moving forward, you now have it, and it’s the chiseled chin of Gabe Kapler.

I hope it works out, but I am not inspired.

2019, Here We Go!

For the past three months I’ve been waiting to write something about the Giants. But then life would happen, or a flurry of tiny little moves would happen and I’d have to spend several hours doing research just to figure out who was involved, and then there was the Bryce Harper waiting game.

It was a lot and it was nothing all at the same time.

So, let’s go back and look at what I wrote in November. After the hiring of Farhan Zaidi, I said there were three options: Punt, Retool, Rebuild. An interesting debate could be had as to which thing Farhan has actually done as we get ready for the 2019 season to kick off in a few days.

  1. Punt. By almost any definition, Farhan has not punted. He went hard after Bryce Harper. He shopped Madison Bumgarner. He’s made about 10,000,000,000 moves. He probably made another one while I was writing this post. But, from the perspective that Bumgarner, Posey, Belt, Crawford, Longoria, Melancon, and even Panik and Will Smith are still around, one could argue this is a punt. The Giants have too much money tied up into too many guys over the next few years. Farhan’s hands are tied, this year just needs to get over (and really 2020) so we can get on with it.
  2. Retool. This is actually what has happened for the most part. As mentioned above, the core of this team is still around. And as several of the players have noted this Spring, if that core is healthy it’s still not that old/far removed from being good. Yes, they are older, but compared to the early-to-mid 2000s Giants that trotted out many players between the ages of 37 and 45 (we see you Randy Johnson), this is not exactly an over the hill crew. The constant roster church from spots 15-40 has been about creating a depth the Giants have sorely needed.
  3. Rebuild. This is definitely not what happened, and you can’t blame Farhan and all of baseball for not blowing this team up (who, really, is taking Jeff Samardzija at this point), but at the same time, the Giants are being rebuilt in Farhan’s image. Which is to say the Dodgers image, which is to say the Rays image, which is to say the A’s image. That may not sit well with Giants fans, but that is what is happening.

So what? Does this mean anything for 2019? And the real question: can this team be good?

Here’s where I have something controversial to say. In a way, this team feels like 2010. The SIGNIFICANT difference is that this team does not have a young cadre of stud starting pitchers the way that that team did.

But, what made the 2010 Giants good was that they had a distinct competitive advantage in one area of the game (that starting pitching), and they figured out how to make the rest work. How did they do that? With a solid (if torturous) bullpen. A stud in the middle of the batting order. A relatively mistake free defense. And some hits on a bunch of random players.

It’s different this time around in many ways, but I do think the Giants 2019 bullpen gives them a distinct competitive advantage. MLB.com ranks the Giants as 10th, which is one nod of affirmation. I believe they will end up higher once the season shakes out. Bullpens are notoriously volatile and one year’s dominance can change quickly (see the Milwaukee Brewers). I am predicting a top 5 bullpen for the Giants.

Which, along with a starting rotation that now goes 7 or 8 deep, a defense that doesn’t make mistakes, and (this is the KEY) a collection of savvy veterans who STAY HEALTHY, I am predicting a surprise run at the division.

The most likely scenario is that the team competes for a few months, runs out of gas/health, and Farhan starts trading anything of value.

This is the blessing and curse of being a fan this year. The better these players perform the more likely they are to turn into tradable assets. If you really love Madison Bumgarner and want him to be around for a while, you might want him to suck this year. Blessing and curse.

If nothing else, the Giants are interesting again. Learning Farhan’s process is interesting. Seeing if this team can compete is interesting. Seeing what they will do if they can’t compete is interesting.

Oh, and don’t forget, this year is our last go around with Bruce Bochy.

Here we go 2019…Go Giants!

Winter (Meetings) Are Coming…

The Winter Meeting promise to be a busy time where we will really be able to gauge what our new Giants’ overlord Farhan is up to. For now, though, today’s post will be an interaction with Andrew Baggarly tweets.

1.

Not much to add to here, but this sort of sets up the rest of the post so here we go…

2.

One of the hot rumors, or at least as close to hot as we’ve gotten so far, was that the Giants would non-tender Joe Panik and dip into what is a fairly deep free agent pool at the second base position. However, they kept sweet Joe in the fold, signing him to a one-year, $3.8 million contract.

I love Joe Panik, but he has not materialized as an everyday player the way it once appeared back in 2014-2015 when he burst on the scene and helped the Giants win a World Series. He followed that up with an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove, but has had a hard time staying on the field.

In particular, it seems like he hasn’t been the same since getting hit in the head back in 2016, which totally makes sense but is incredibly sad.

Baggs suggest that keeping Panik may set up a future trade. Once all the FAs are off the board, someone with a need may come calling. I wonder, though, if the Giants will try to find a platoon parter (hello Jonathan Schoop) and limit Panik’s usage, or even try him out at some other positions and use him as a super utility player.

3.

The other big non-tender news comes here. First, Gorkys damn near led the team in home runs last year, which says way more about the Giants than about Gorkys. You can seemingly pick 15-homer-a-year outfielders off of trees these days, so he is the definition of expendable.

Second, the big story is moving on (finally) from Hunter Strickland. On the surface this is an odd move: he was a decent closer in the first half of 2018, and one of the few Giants’ pitchers with good velocity.

BUT, he was a hot head, caused all sorts of chaos, and never turned that velocity into the type of dominance that deserved investment. He was the ultimate tease, and I’m glad he will be someone else’s problem.

4.

Yeah, not happening.

5.

Finally, here’s a bit of front office news. J.P Ricciardi is someone I respect, even though he tried to fleece Brian Sabean for Tim Lincecum at one point (also, Tim Kawakami gets a lot of stuff right, but he really blew this one).

I don’t know that I trust J.P. to run a team, but his thinking could be a good foil to Farhan. Ricciardi seems more aggressive and so maybe they bring a nice balance to each other. Anyway, I think it would be a good get for the Giants and another move away from the Bobby Evans era.

Thank you Andrew Baggarly for being awesome, and next week’s post should have some interesting stuff to chew on as the meetings get started!

What Happens Now…

With a new regime and leadership taking over the club, the 2018-2019 off-season is the most exciting off-season for the SF Giants in the last 20 years.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

On the one hand, it definitely is. Again, this is the first time in two decades the Giants have moved in a definitive direction (baseball-wise) and so all bets are off. We won’t know what a “typical” Giants move is again for a little while.

And yet, there’s the distinct possibility that this will be an extremely boring 4-5 months.

Why? Because no one really knows how Farhan Zaidi is going to play this. From where I sit there are three possibilities:

  1. Total Rebuild. We’ll know this is the plan if Madison Bumgarner and at least one other “franchise” player gets traded (like one of the Brandon’s) for prospects. It is totally within the purview of Zaidi to make this call, and one could argue it is also the most logical move to make. The hard-core fans are actually calling for this, and yeah the casual fan will be lost to the Warriors for a couple of seasons, but Zaidi, at least on paper and from the track record of the teams he’s been with, will see this as a very viable option.
  2. A Retooling. We’ll know this is the plan if Madison Bumgarner is traded for major league ready players and if Zaidi works to get rid of bad contracts in order to sign new players. Maybe Zaidi remembers that the Giants were only 5 games out of first place on August 6th, and maybe he thinks some of the Giants young players are not that far away, and maybe he really likes Marwin Gonzalez, and Jed Lowrie, and some pitcher and is more interested in turning this roster over in chunks over the course of the next three years while still trying to win.
  3. A Punt. We’ll know this is the plan if Madison Bumgarner is on the team to start the season and if the Giants are relatively quiet this offseason. This is so boring, but also has a certain logic to it. The Giants are buried under long-term contracts. Maybe you use the season to see what you have with some guys (everyone from Joe Panik to Derek Rodriguez to Steven Duggar to Shaun Anderson), and maybe you see if Bumgarner’s value skyrockets by the trade deadline (or maybe you decide to keep him, Clayton Kershaw-style), and maybe you play the year out so it is just a little bit easier to get rid of the Samardzija/Melancon/Belt/Longoria/etc money.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet on option 2. I don’t see Zaidi being content with a punt, and I don’t see the ownership group being ok with a total rebuild. I do expect a lot of roster churn to happen. Some of it is already happening, none of it major though.

The other intriguing factor is the news that Zaidi is not hiring a General Manager. For the time being he will be the GM. Unfortunately, this clarifies nothing! Is this so he can be directly involved in the rebuild? Is this to give him time to punt and find the right guy? Is there someone he’s waiting for in the meantime?

No one knows, and that is why this is so exciting. It may not look like much on the surface, but a sea change is taking place, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Even if it’s boring.

Regime Change

The Giants officially announced and introduced their new MAN: Farhan Zaidi. You can read all about it here and here and here.

I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Time will tell whether this was a successful decision or not, but in my opinion this is one of the most significant hirings in recent Bay Area sports history. It’s up there with the Bob Myers/Steve Kerr partnership and the Jim Harbaugh arrival in Ninerland. This is a bold, definitive, franchise altering move, and not in a flashy way, but in a very, very substantive and smart way. Again, the Giants may not win a World Series during Zaidi’s tenure, because it’s a really hard thing to do, but if they fail, they will fail by trying to be smarter and better than the other 29 teams, not because they are stubborn and nostalgic. I LOVE Brian Sabean and will defend him to the end. He led this team well for 20 years, but it was time for a change (and when it’s time for a change, think Speedy Oil Change…I miss baseball). Anyway, this was the kind of change they needed desperately.
  2. Because the Giants have had so much front office stability for the last two decades it’s been fairly easy to predict and/or understand the moves the team has made. All bets are off now, we are in 100% new territory, and part of the fun of this offseason will be learning what Zaidi cares about, how he makes decisions, and what kind of team he will try to build. The last regime was about as polar opposite to Zaidi’s wheelhouse as you can get, so don’t expect this offseason to answer all of our questions. We will get glimpses, though, and I, for one, am ecstatic to have a fresh perspective watching over our beloved franchise.
  3. For the past year I’ve been assuming that the Giants were going to (a) Go hard after Bryce Harper, and (b) Extend Madison Bumgarner, which would (c) lead to another era of trying to build around 1-2 star players (see, the Barry Bonds era). Now, who knows?! It’s sounding like the Giants won’t pursue Harper to any great degree and that Bumgarner will be a major trade chip, probably at the July 2019 deadline. Get used to this kind of thing, as it will probably be the new norm. The team we’ve seen for a while will look radically different, probably sooner than later.

Enjoy the ride, this should be fun!

Home Runs

Part one of our post-2018 autopsy of the Giants will involve an overly simplistic view of the offense. We all know the lineup lacked punch, but when you compare it to the playoff teams, using two simple measures, things look even more bleak.

Consider: Team Leaders in Home Runs, and
Number of Players Equaling Giants’ Team Leader in Home Runs.
Here we go:

Giants Team Leader in HRs: Evan Longoria, 16

  • Red Sox: JD Martinez, 43; # of players with 16+ HRS=5
  • Indians: Jose Ramirez, 39; # of players w/ 16+=7
  • Astros: Alex Bregman, 31; # w/ 16+=5
  • Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton, 38: # w/ 16+=(Yanks had 6 different guys hit at least 24+!!!)
  • A’s: Khris Davis, 48; # w/ 16+=5
  • Braves: Ronald Acuna, 26; # w/ 16+=4
  • Cubs: Javy Baez, 34; # w/ 16+=3
  • Rockies: Nolan Arenado, 38; # w/ 16+=6
  • Dodgers: Max Muncy 35; # w/ 16+=8 (This actually jumps to an astonishing 10, if you consider that Manny Machado and Brian Dozier both hit more than 16 when you take into account their pre-trade numbers)
  • Brewers: Christian Yelich, 36; # w/ 16+=5

Again, this is a very simplistic model, and we all know the Giants need to hit more home runs, but this is a startling view of reality. Not only do the Giants not have anywhere near the top end power that most good teams have (remember no Giant has hit 30+ home runs since Barry Bonds), but they also lack the depth (the Cubs, the closest team to the Giants in this measure, had a guy named Kris Bryant only hit 15 home runs in a season shortened by injury…he’s capable of 40+ any normal year).

Part of what is worrisome about the Giants entering 2019 is not that they lack top-end power and can go get it in the form of Bryce Harper, nice though that may be, they simply don’t have the depth of power to compare to other good teams. In other words, they could use a power upgrade at nearly every position on the field, and that’s probably not going to change dramatically any time soon.

Deadline Thoughts

The trade deadline is 3 days away and the rumors continue to fly. By all accounts it seems like the Giants will be (a) Quiet, but also (b) Looking to make moves to improve the 2018 team. That’s wonderful, I do appreciate the desire to be competitive, but it is with a slightly heavy heart that I must disagree.

I’ve seen enough to conclude that the team as presently constructed will not be able to do much better than 84 wins. The entire season has been a major flirt with .500. They’ve be no more than 5 games over or under all season. And this is perfect:

Therefore, it seems prudent to do the follow things this year at the deadline:

  1. Trade Andrew McCutchen: It pains me to write this. Yes, McCutchen hasn’t had an incredible season. But it has been fun to watch him; I have really enjoyed him being on the team. I would love to live in the alternative universe where he had a one year, pre-free agency, bonanza and put up the kind of numbers that would have made us all scream for him to stay. It’s been much more of a steady plod. I’d love it if the Giants could ship him to Cleveland or Houston, get a nice prospect in return and let Andrew have a moment in the postseason. It feels silly to keep him around for this year, and I haven’t seen enough to make me excited about him signing on for the next 3-5 seasons (bring on Bryce!). Plus, moving on would give the Giants two months to see what they have with Austin Slater/Mac Williamson/etc.
  2. Trade one of Tony Watson and Will Smith: I’d prefer they keep Watson because he is very cheaply controlled for the next two seasons, and I think they could get more for Smith, but cash in on one of hese guys! The premium for good lefty relievers (especially ones who can get out right-handed hitters) is crazy. Take advantage!
  3. Trade Sam Dyson: This is a no-brainer. Dyson has been found money from the moment he showed up off the scrap heap. The Giants would get some salary relief and probably something interesting in return.

There are a variety of other possibilities. It doesn’t seem like the Giants are in any way shape or form ready to burn it to the ground and start over. But, there might be creative ways to move on from Evan Longoria, or even Joe Panik/Brandon Belt. There might be ways to sell off other spare parts (Pablo? Gorkys?). Who knows?

I don’t favor the rebuild at this point either, as I think the Giants do still have enough pieces to compete. The emergence of Derek Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, the young arms in the bullpen, and some studs waiting in the wings (Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, etc), give me hope for the (immediate) future.

Back to Bryce Harper, I know many fans are in a lather about bringing him over, and while it still feels like a longshot, I do think he is the missing piece.

Yes, the Giants went with the star strategy for 15 years and it got them no rings, but they won 3 World Series with an all-world catcher in the middle of their lineup and a bunch of guys orbiting around that sun. That sun has gone out, and what I am saying is the Giants might have a wave of pitching good enough to get the job done, but they do not have a middle of the order force anymore. The have a bunch of planets, but no sun.

So, trade off the few items of value now, let the young guys play, and then go all in this offseason (which is what the who year has been about, right?)