Baseball is Coming!

We are just a few days away from Valentine’s, Ash Wednesday/Lent, and, oh yeah, pitchers and catchers reporting.

While I have no earth shattering insights today as we stand on the precipice of a new season, a couple of random thoughts to hopefully get us a bit more excited about what lies ahead:

  1. The PECOTA system, one of the better projection models for baseball, thinks that the Giants will win 84 games and be the second wild card team. They are high on Johnny Cueto having a bounce back season (and Bumgarner/Cueto/Samardzija being very good), which brings us back to what I said a few weeks ago. For the Giants to be good in 2018, Cueto needs to meet his PECOTA projections. Please.
  2. The Giants made another move, by signing Derek Holland to a minor league deal, and there are still many other options out there for pitching depth. Holland was pretty terrible last year, but has been good for the most part during his career when healthy. He also has sported one of the greatest mustaches of all time. holland_stache
  3. I’m not sure how the money and roster moves would work out, but I’d be more than willing to open 2018 with Holland as the 5th starter if he shows anything during camp. His best is a close approximation to Matt Moore’s best (sorry to open that wound), but he will be way cheaper than Moore was ever going to be this year.
  4. Speaking of the 2010 World Series, Tim Lincecum is making another comeback and the Giants are interested. I’m interested too, because IT’S FREAKING TIMMY, COME ON, but also because I still believe in a Lincecum renaissance as a multi-inning bullpen weapon. How even-year-magic would it be if Lincecum turned into a poor man’s Chris Devenski and helped the Giants make another run?
  5. Finally, Fan Fest was this past weekend and how good does Andrew McCutchen look in orange and black? (Answer: real good)920x920

The 5 Most Important Players on the 2018 Giants

It’s still a little early for this type of post: we’ll need to see if there are any more moves and who comes out of nowhere during Spring Training. But for now, I am pretty cool with this 25 man roster:

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF
  9. Pence LF
  10. Duggar CF
  11. Jackson OF
  12. McCutchen RF
  13. Parker OF
  14. Bumgarner SP
  15. Cueto SP
  16. Samardzija SP
  17. Stratton SP
  18. Suarez SP
  19. Melancon CL
  20. Smith LRP
  21. Dyson RRP
  22. Strickland RRP
  23. Gearin RRP
  24. Blach LRP
  25. Law/Okert/Fernandez

I know the Giants have a stable of utility infielders coming in this spring, but I don’t know that they can do much better than Kelby Tomlinson. I like Tomlinson’s speed and familiarity (and glasses), and couple him with some left-handed power from Pablo and Jarrett Parker and that could be a nice bench. Let Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, and others lend depth from the farm system.

In terms of pitchers, I would love for Andrew Suarez to get the 5th starter nod, and I also would love to see Derek Law return to form. But, the most interesting pitching situation might be Julian Fernandez. The Giants rule 5 draft pick, he has to pitch for the big league team or he goes back to Colorado. The dude throws over 100 mph and seems pretty nasty, but has control issues and hasn’t pitched in the higher minors yet. He is a total gamble, but maybe an interesting one!

Ok, so assuming that is the team, let’s name the five most important Giants in 2018.


The most important Giant in 2018 is Johnny Cueto. I am assuming that Madison Bumgarner is going to have a huge year. He will be highly motivated to put the dirt bike incident of 2017 behind him, and prove he is healthy, strong, and ready to GET PAID. I am also assuming that Jeff Samardzija does exactly what he did last year but now with a better defense behind him. All Chris Stratton has to do is be better than Matt Moore (not a high bar at all). If Stratton is league average, the Giants are in good shape.

If those three things happen, then the two big question marks for 2018 in the Giants rotation are Cueto and the 5th starter. Every team (except, I guess, the Astros) has a question at 5th starter, so this does not make the Giants unique at all. One of the quiet story lines of this offseason is that for the first time since 2008 (2007?) the Giants have more concerns about their starting pitching than they do about their lineup. The formula, for the better part of a decade, has been excellent starting pitching, a solid and versatile bullpen, and then hope the offense can score at least 4 runs. But this 2018 team, all of a sudden, has flipped that formula, and the Giants have a lot of questions about the pitching.

Which is why Johnny Cueto is the most important player for the upcoming season. In 2016 Johnny Cueto had 144 ERA+, started the All-Star Game, garnered Cy Young and MVP votes, and I would sacrifice a baby goat to spend a day in the alternative universe where the Giants close out game 4 in the NLDS and Cueto gets a shot at the Cubs in game 5.

2017, Cueto came to camp late because he was caring for his ailing dad. He was out of shape, dealt with blisters and injuries, and saw his ERA+ plus drop 50 points down to 92, all of which “froced” him to pick up his option and now serve the next 4 years with the Giants.

I don’t believe Cueto needs to be as good as he was in 2016, but he needs to be way closer to that than what he produced last year. A very good Johnny Cueto makes everything about the 2018 Giants more stable and competitive. He takes pressure off the bullpen, off the back end of the rotation, and once again gives the Giants a 1-2 punch in their rotation to go up against anyone else’s best.


The second most important player on the 2018 Giants is Buster Posey. It’s unfair to single Posey out for anything that went wrong in 2017. He was easily the Giants’ best player.

But much like Cueto, great Posey (vs. good Posey) is what will move this Giants’ lineup from good to really good.

The magic number, for me, for Buster is 20 home runs and an OPS+ of 140. I have him (finally) hitting third in this lineup, and if Posey is hitting the ball with authority all over the field, everything opens up for everyone else.

Plus, there’s the symbolic nature of: this is Posey’s team. He needs to play that way.


The third most important player for the Giants this year is Mark Melancon. It’s generally not a good sign for a closer to appear to so high on a list like this, but so it goes for the Giants.

Melancon is critical because as we all know far too well, the primary issue with the Giants’ bullpen the last two seasons has been rampant instability. When Melancon has been healthy he has been the physical embodiment of a stability. From 2011 to 2016 he pitched in over 70 games 5 of 6 seasons. His ERAs from 2013 through 2016: 1.39, 1.90, 2.23, 1.64.

Giants fans have no idea how good this guy really is. Melancon’s strength has never been that he was the nastiest guy in the 9th inning. There’s always been someone who threw harder or had a better slider or whatever. But, for calm, clean 9th innings, Mark Melancon is your guy.

If he comes anywhere close to his 2013-2016 form the Giants bullpen gets better by leaps and bounds.


Which leads us to MIP #4: Will Smith. Melancon is one notch higher because his stabilizing impact has farther reaching impact, but the Giants will need one more guy in their bullpen to really step up. Smith’s injury early in the spring last year was the first bad omen of 2017.

(I also believe that if Bochy had of taken the training wheels off him in 2016 we’d have made it to that mythical game 5. But then, maybe the reason Bochy wasn’t feeling so good about Smith is that his elbow was barking.)

Smith will be ready for Spring Training, and will likely to be ready to go full-bore by May 1st. If Smith can establish himself as a versatile bullpen weapon (ala Jeremy Affeldt) by June 1, the Giants will really be on to something. A steady Melancon and a weaponized Smith takes so much pressure off Bochy and the rest of the bullpen amrs in ways that are difficult to quantify.

Let’s put it this way, if the Giants are going to have to lean on Hunter Strickland and Sam Dyson in the late innings in 2018, things are not looking good.


I’ve struggled with this 5th spot. At this point you can almost throw a dart at the rest of the roster and make a pretty good argument for whoever you hit.

I’d like to say Brandon Belt because if he has a good year, suddenly the Giants lineup gets longer and deeper and much more dangerous. Plus there are some long-term benefits to a big Belt season (see my post on Bryce Harper).

I’d also like to say Steven Duggar, because his emergence at the big league level as a solid contributor will go a long way towards allowing several guys (namely Austin Jackson) to settle into their ideal roles.

Don’t forget about Brandon Crawford who needs to be healthy for the Giants defense to be at its peak.

Finally, a good argument can be made for Andrew McCutchen because he probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the lineup. If he recaptures his MVP level performance the Giants will have pulled another one over on the Pirates.

But, I think, at the end of the day, Evan Longoria gets this final spot.

For one, Longoria is here for a while. There’s a very good chance that McCutchen is a one and done player. If McCutchen flames out, oh-well-moving-on. If Longoria flames out, gulp!

Two, Longoria will most likely serve as the “protection” in this lineup. He’ll hit behind Posey and Belt and those guys have never had someone like Evan Longoria hit behind them. At least not vintage Evan Longoria. His presence should make life so much easier on them.

Finally, one of the selling points of Longoria was his glove (gold glove last year) and his durability. If all the Giants get from Longoria is that (glove and an everyday presence) they will make up significant ground from last year.

But, if he can approximate even 2016 production levels the Giants will have their best third basemen since Matt Williams.


So there you have it. The 5 most important players for 2018. What would your top five look like?

Futurecasting #sfgiants #2017 #2018

The Giants are terrible and nothing is good. We get it, this story has been writing itself all year.

One quick look at some numbers…The Giants nearly pulled off a .500 month for the first time all year. They sputtered again in the final week of August and finished 13-16 which is also what they did in May. That record, and the .448 winning percentage associated with it, represent the high points of the season.

So yeah, pretty terrible.


All that remains is trying to figure out how to get out of this mess and what next year might look like.

The big news of recent days is that it seems 99% certain that Johnny Cueto will opt into the remaining four-year on his contract.

The problem is I started writing this post before that news broke, so hang with me.

There are two options to move forward that involve Cueto opting out. In my opinion, this is the best case scenario for the Giants as it creates way more flexibility for the team to address various concerns.


Option 1 (Cueto Opting Out)

Option 1 involves using the money that Cueto would have taken to address the lack of right-handed power and pitching depth.

  • CF Span
  • 2B Panik
  • C Posey
  • 1B Belt
  • LF Justin Upton/JD Martinez
  • SS Crawford
  • RF Pence
  • 3B Panda/Arroyo

Obviously there are variations to play on here…Does Sandoval come back? Do they eat the contract on Pence or Span to create more space for better player?

However those details shake out the fundamental move here is adding right-handed power to the lineup via the LF position.

  • Bumgarner
  • Samardzija
  • Moore
  • Stratton/Blach
  • Veteran (there are a whole bunch of cheap veterans the Giants could add here for depth)

In addition they may have money to apply to the bench or bullpen, depending on how they shape the roster.

But, essentially, this would be a Cueto for Upton swap. Anyone else down for that?


Option 2 (Cueto Opt Out)

Option 2 involves going young and getting more long-term flexibility.

  • CF Duggar/Hernandez/Parker
  • 2B Panik
  • C Posey
  • 1B Belt
  • RF Pence
  • SS Crawford
  • LF Slater
  • 3B Arroyo

This option also involves finding a way to get rid of Denard Span. I believe there are some teams (maybe a Twins reunion) that would take Span if the Giants ate a lot of the contract. Not having to pay Cueto could help make that more palatable.

  • Bumgarner
  • Samardzija
  • Moore
  • Stratton
  • Blach

The Giants could still use some dollars to get a cheap veteran, but again the theme here is youth.

This may not be super inspiring, but part of the reason for the approach is (a) turn the roster over and let some young guys play to see what you have, (b) clear some money so that the Giants could go big game hunting in 2018 when Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, and, most importantly, Bryce Harper will be free agents.


Option 3 (Cueto Opts In)

  • CF Span
  • 2B Panik
  • C Posey
  • 1B Belt
  • RF Pence
  • SS Crawford
  • LF Slater/Parker/Cheap Free Agent/JD Martinez
  • 3B Arroyo/Sandoval

It seems to me that if Cueto opts in the Giants are stuck with internal options, cheap veteran flyers, or making a significant trade. Perhaps Panik to Pittsburg for Andrew McCutchen. Perhaps they go crazy and indulge the Giancarlo Stanton rumors. Maybe there is something else up their sleeve that none of us are expecting.

  • Bumgarner
  • Cueto
  • Samardzija
  • Moore
  • Blach/Stratton/Veteran

This is, undoubtedly, the best option for the Giants 2018 rotation. However, there are a lot of question marks here and the roster gets incredibly inflexible for a couple of YEARS.


Final Thoughts:

  • This post is intended to paint in broad strokes, none of these options should be construed as a deep dive into the various moves the Giants can make.
  • I like Brandon Belt and have been a proponent of his for a long time, but his contract is really looking like an albatross. For all the contracts handed out, it is hard to argue with many of them. Posey, Crawford, and certainly Bumgarner, all look like steals. Matt Cain backfired but never in a way that hampered roster building. Cueto’s deal is weird and hence this post, but if he is even 80% of what he was last year the rest of the way that ends up being a deal. All that to say, the one that really hurts is Brandon Belt. He is going to have to be very healthy and perform well above career averages for the Giants to not deeply regret that deal moving forward.
  • The reality is the Giants are going to do everything they can to compete in 2018, which means option 2 is the least likely outcome here, and I get it, to a certain extent. No matter what direction they take, I just hope they take it with conviction. The Giants went all in on a pitching and defense approach in the wake of the Bonds-era and they did it with conviction. I don’t know that they have the same level of conviction now (it seems to be more driven by general competitiveness and keeping people buying tickets). Hopefully they can get that back soon!