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.

July…Deadline…Fork in the Road

Hello. It’s been a while. We’re back (hopefully) for the remainder of the season.

So, let’s recap, real quick.
The Giants were ok, then they were terrible, then they got good.

What is happening?!

We are now 100 games into the season, and the team is 50-50, and because the NL is quite mediocre after the Dodgers (sorry Braves), the Giants are VERY much in the thick of the NL wild card race. (2.5 games out to be factual).

So, what does this mean?

  1. One thing it means is that the veterans are playing like their normal selves for the most part. Evan Longoria was lighting the world on fire before getting hurt. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt, have not been lighting the world on fire, but they’ve been pretty good for a few weeks now! Jeff Samardzija might be the best starting pitcher on the team (no, not really, but he’s been good). Mark Melancon is a fully functioning relief pitcher again. This what you should always have been rooting for because this makes all of these guys suddenly trade-able (more on this later).
  2. One other thing it means is that all of Farhan Zaidi’s crazy roster churning has started to pay off. Some of us may have known that Austin Slater was always the answer (wink), but no one saw Alex Dickerson, Mike Yazstremski, Zack Green, etc, coming. I’m getting more and more excited about the guys who show up now because the one’s who have been coming recently are doing good things.

And then what does this mean for the trade deadline, the rest of the season, and the future?

  1. It might mean they don’t trade Madison Bumgarner. Frankly, I’d be a little surprised if it happened at this point. It always felt like an inevitability, but there is something to be said for keeping him, giving him the qualifying offer, and re-signing him or letting him go and recouping a draft pick. In other words, there is still a way to loose Bumgarner and get something back.
  2. It might mean the buy, sell, or buy and sell at the deadline. You know they are going to make moves, there’s no way Zaidi sits on his hands. It’s going to be an exciting next 9 days. Pay attention!
  3. The number of guys the Giants could move actually goes up. Again, Samardzija is an interesting case. He might not bring much back, but if the Giants can get out from under his contract (or any other of their albatross deals) they will, and Jeff pitching well helps a lot.

What should happen?

  1. Trade Bumgarner ONLY if someone backs up a Brinks truck and says: “take whatever you want.” They don’t NEED to trade him, let teams come, drive the price up, and if there’s something they like, go for it. But this trade should not happen under pressure.
  2. Trade Will Smith. Look, I like Will Smith. I will go to my grave believing Bochy should have kept him in in Game 4 of 2016 Cubs series. But, his trade value is pure gold, cash it in.
  3. Trade Sam Dyson. See point 2 but even more so. The Giants bullpen has been a huge strength, and that was just reinforced by the Mets series, but I think the Giants can move Melancon to the 9th, Moronta to Dyson’s spot, bump some other guys around and still have a bullpen they can compete with.
  4. Trade Samardzija only if someone takes on all the money.

As fun as this team is right now, and believe me I’ve indulged the Bochy-riding-off-into-the-sunset-with-one-more-playoff-run fantasy, but it feels a bit like fools gold.

The offense has been better, but it’s still not great, and a far cry from the Dodgers/Astros/Twins/Yankees/A’s/Red Sox world.

The starting pitching is fine, but it’s not dominant, and it doesn’t feel sustainable.

The bullpen is great, but that’s where they can get better for the future, by trading away some of their weapons.

The one thing, though, that is awesome is that the Giants are going to be interesting for the next couple of months. And that, really, is all we could have asked for coming in to this season.

Weird

If we are all honest enough to look deep into our souls, we know that the 2019 Giants were never going to be competitive. I know this is rich coming from me, since I’ve written a bit about how the 2019 Giants could be competitive.

But, in many ways, this was always set up to be a year of transition…

  • From the previous regime (Evans/Sabean) to the new (Long live Farhan!)
  • From a hall-of-fame-manager to whoever comes next
  • From the championship core to the next championship core (knock on wood)

Which means that a careful watching of this season is less about wins and losses and how-many-games-back-are-we, and more about evaluating the current state of affairs and figuring out who will get to come along on the next ride.

In particular, there are a handful of assets you know Farhan is hoping to trade as soon as possible. This list includes:

  • Madison Bumgarner (sad face emoji)
  • Brandon Belt
  • Joe Panik
  • Any other pitcher
  • Brandon Crawford
  • Any other hitter not named Posey

[I truly believe the only guy not on the possible trade list is Buster Posey, although if he were come to the team and say: “Trade me to the Braves,” then I’m sure that could happen.]

All of which leads me to the weirdness. If Farhan is sitting up in his booth grinding his teeth into a fine sand, it’s not because the team is 15-20 and seemingly alternates between the inability to pitch and hit at all the wrong times, it’s because of the players mentioned on that list above.

  • Bumgarner: Madison has had a few good starts, and there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over his lowered velocity (not the first time that has happened in his career, btw). But, he’s also been quite good at other times. I don’t have any expectation that he is going to challenge for the NL Cy Young Award, but I do believe we’ll see him come around and his trade value go right back up.
  • Belt: Belt is continually and perpetually weird. This will go down as his defining characteristic as a player. I would love for him to be traded to a Colorado or an Arizona or a Milwaukee or a Philly, or anywhere that is not AT&T/Oracle, just to see what he would do there. If he does end up somewhere like that and he rakes, there are going to be so many pissed-off Giants fans, but I’ll be smiling because he is a good hitter and he deserves better results.
  • Finally, Joe Panik: He’s the greatest enigma on this team to me in many ways. I don’t know if it was the injuries earlier in his career. I don’t know if the analytics have chewed him up and spit him out. Maybe his game just isn’t suited for this era. But how is he hitting .208/.277/.307?? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

This is what makes Farhan Zaidi’s life complicated. When do you trade these guys? How do you get any semblance of value for them? How long do you give them to turn things around before simply cutting bait? It’s a maddening game of trade-value roulette, but it is the one thing that is making this season the least bit interesting.

Here We Go (More of the Same)

So, the Giants are 3-7, have scored a run in the first third of a game exactly one times, and have cracked the old five-run barrier once. They also ditched one of their opening day outfielders less than a week into the season and made a trade for Kevin Pillar (not against the trade, fyi).**

None of that is meant to be panicky or definitive proof that this team is going to suck just as much as the last two years, but all of that is meant to be some kind of proof that this team is going to suck just as much as the last two years.

The Giants are one bullpen meltdown away from being 4-6, and taking a series from the league-pummeling LA Dodgers (how annoyingly good is that team right now). But even, then, 4-6 doesn’t ring with confidence and good vibes.

The offense has been the ultimate perpetrator of the suckiness. A couple of thoughts about that…

  1. On the positive side, Brandon Belt looks great, Steven Duggar has been all we could hope so far, and it’s a miracle that Buster Posey is even playing right now given his offseason surgery. If he finds any kind of groove, that’s 3 pretty good hitters to build around.
  2. One the negative side, the outfield, overall, has been just as bad as everyone feared, Joe Panik looked so good in the spring, but is still struggling to get anything going, and the ultimate issue with this team is that everyone is horribly miscast. Posey is no longer a clean up hitter. Brandon Belt should never be the best hitter in any lineup. Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria can still contribute to winning teams, but as the 7th and 8th best hitters in those lineups.

There’s been a lot of frustration among some fans with Farhan Zaidi. The perception is that he has “done nothing” to make the team better. This is a profound misunderstanding of what he has been doing, which is making this team much deeper and more flexible. That will pay off over the course of the season.

Yes, Michael Reed and Conor Joe are not inspiring acquisitions (especially coming off the Bryce Harper letdown), but they are actually good moves within the larger context of the previous paragraph.

The Giants 40 man roster today is as good as it has been in a while.

The problem is that this team lacks elite talent in the lineup. The problem with the 2019 Giants isn’t Joe Panik, per se, it is Joe Panik in a lineup where the best hitter (by far) is Brandon Belt.


Which leads us to a brief thought exercise involving outfielders from contending teams. The Houston Astros were widely favored to win the World Series coming into the year. Imagine the Giants with George Springer and Michael Brantley in the lineup:

  • Steven Duggar RF
  • George Springer CF
  • Buster Posey C
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Michael Brantley LF
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Joe Panik 2B

That lineup is not going to be better than the 2019 Astros lineup, but all of a sudden it gets a lot easier to see a way towards competitive baseball.

The Red Sox are the defending champions, so imagine this:

  • Mookie Betts RF
  • Steven Duggar CF
  • Buster Posey C
  • JD Martinez LF
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Joe Panik 2B

This lineup is the one that gets me the most excited. That team would score some runs and be a lot of fun to watch.

Finally, I know Giants’ fans are not going to like this, but we have to do it since the Dodgers have been in the World Series the last two years against the other teams we’ve highlighted here:

  • Steve Duggar CF
  • AJ Pollock LF
  • Buster Posey C
  • Cody Bellinger RF
  • Brandon Belt 1B
  • Evan Longoria 3B
  • Brandon Crawford SS
  • Joe Panik 2B

Now, the point of this is not to say the Giants should acquire any of these players. We’re not playing fantasy baseball here. Nor is the point to criticize the Reed/Joe/Pillar acquisitions.

I’m trying to illustrate two things:

  1. The Giants severely lack elite hitting talent, especially in the outfield. (Some of the better hitters on the three teams mentioned above are in the infield!).
  2. If this current squad had two elite talents in the outfield, the infield makes a whole lot more sense.

So what does any of this mean going forward? For one it illustrates just how big of a job Farhan Zaidi has. The Giants may have these kinds of talents coming in Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos, but they are 1-3 years away, and none of these core infield guys will probably be here when they arrive.

Second, it means that if the Giants are going to compete in 2019/2020 they need some miracles, namely Buster Posey’s return to an elite, middle of the order hitter. This would truly be a miracle. I love Buster so, so much, but to expect an over-30 catcher, coming off hip surgery, to turn back into his 2012 MVP self is asking way, way too much.

Third, Brandon Belt must continue to hit and stay healthy. Again, this feels like a pipe dream but it’s our only hope (help us obi wan).

That’s all I got for this week. The tribute to Bruce Bochy on Friday was great and it’s going to be all the feels this year saying goodbye. More on this in a future post!

The Giants are home all week, Bumgarner goes twice, and this is as good a chance as any to assert themselves!


**Right after composing this post the news came out that the Giants have acquired Tyler Austin. Tyler Austin is a very powerful, right handed hitter from the Twins organization who will probably strike out a ton and frustrate many fans, but who will also hit a few tape measure shots towards the Coke bottle. He is not a help to the defense, but this is partly why Duggar/Pillar makes sense. To the point of this article: Austin provides the Giants with some desperately needed power potential, but he is far from “an elite talent.” If you want to get crazy, here’s to hoping that Tyler Austin has a Khris Davis like transformation by switching leagues and playing more consistently.

 

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!

Under Performing/Over Performing #sfgiants

As the Giants continue to perform the inverse of the path back to competition I described a few weeks ago, the search for answers continues. The Giants suckiness is starting to catch the attention of the larger baseball world and Ken Rosenthal weighs in today (arguing that the Giants are boring and lack chemistry).

While I admit to being a sucker for the chemistry argument, winning is always the best chemical ingredient in any team sport. The 2010 Giants were a long losing streak from becoming a dumpster fire. Can you imagine Brian Wilson’s schtick on a 95 loss team?

No, the problem here is not that the Giants are boring or that they don’t stretch together and make corny jokes or have a team catch phrase. The problem is that, nearly across the board, the team has underperformed. Let’s take a look:

Opening Day Lineup:

  • Denard Span: Span started the season with a minor injury, missing 3 of the team’s first 4 games, and then spent April 23 to May 10 on the DL. Not that anyone expected Denard to be a dominant presence, but his absence and suckiness has led to far more at bats for Gorkys Hernandez than anyone would have liked. There’s also the fact that Hernandez made the club essentially as a Span caddy (a damning reality all by itself). Overall: -0.6 WAR (remember that a 0 score is essentially an average player).
  • Brandon Belt: why was Brandon Belt ever hitting second???? This continues to drive me crazy, but at least Bruce Bochy gets credit here for creativity. Anyway, the #BeltWars continue (this is the raging difference of opinion about Belt that takes place on-line on a nightly basis). The haters look at the average and the strikeouts and the gumby shoulders and lose their minds. The lovers look at the giraffe pics and the 1.7 WAR for 2017 and say “see, he’s actually good.” And the numbers don’t lie, Belt’s been a productive player all year. I lean towards the Belt love, but because of his streaky nature, Belt is never a guy you want to build an offense around. Also, he should be HITTING CLEANUP. I will not stop staying this.
  • Hunter Pence: Pence continues to get hurt. He hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2014 (also the last time the Giants won the World Series). Weird to think that at that time he had played every day for over two full seasons and had developed an iron man reputation. But the injuries have made it hard for him to produce consistently, and this year it really looks like he can’t handle right field anymore. The other day I told my wife I thought he was done and then he hit a game tying home run off Jim Johnson. Baseball. Still, he’s at -0.5 WAR for the season.
  • Buster Posey: Buster is great. The end. 2.7 WAR. Also, HE SHOULD HIT THIRD. (Before we move on, though, Buster’s WAR ranks him 34th in MLB…that means there is essentially at least one player on every other team with a higher WAR than Posey. Another way of saying it: the Giants never face a team in which they have the unquestioned best player on the field).
  • Brandon Crawford: The fact that Crawford opened the season as the 5th hitter, and Buster Posey’s main protection, is (a) a testament to how much Brandon has grown as a hitter, and (b) a sign that we should have seen more clearly the reality that this team might struggle to score runs. Despite missing time on the DL, he’s still a positive 0.2 WAR, although that’s mostly due to his defense.
  • Eduardo Nunez: Eddy’s another somewhat divisive internet figure. He’s at 0.1 WAR, a figure depressed by his bad LF defense. But he also started this season off in a terrible slump, and while the 17 steals are nice, his “power” has diminished compared to his career high totals from last year. This is a major problem for the Giants, and a reason Ryder Jones is a getting look right now. The Giants have too many lineup spots where a home run is a lucky bonus, not an expected result. Outside of Belt and Posey, there’s almost no one else hitting for regular power.
  • Jarrett Parker: 0 WAR. This score is obviously due to the small sample size (21 ABs) and a long DL stint, but again, here we have foreshadowing. At his best, Parker was a so-so defender, who would hopefully hit around .250 and blast a few home runs. Good for a slightly positive WAR if everything fell right. It did not fall right, and the Giants have had a vortex of negative WAR all season in left field.
  • Joe Panik: Another curiosity…why was Joe hitting 8th? Why is he not hitting second every day? Panik is at 1.1 WAR for the season, a number that is depressed by his depressing month of May. Panik hit .301 in April, and is hitting .361 in June, but struggled to a .192 average in May. I can’t wait to see where he is at by the end of the year. My sense is that WAR should increase significantly.
  • Assessment: Underperforming. Some of this is injury related. Some of this is bench related (more in a moment). But a good portion of this is due to some redundancies and bad roster construction. No team should employ both Denard Span and Joe Panik as their regular 1-2 punch. This has more to do with Span than with Panik (who I love). The Giants need a far more athletic, powerful option in CF to get this lineup back to contention. Speaking of athletic, the other glaring issue is the corner outfield spots. That’s where the upgrade needs to happen.

The Bench: the Giants bench has been a mess of injury and under performance, just like the lineup, but worse in many ways. Nick Hundly who was supposed to be a nice source of veteran power at the back up catcher spot: -0.3 WAR and only 2 home runs. Gorkys Hernandez is at -1.2 WAR which seems high. Aaron Hill was at -0.9 WAR before getting cut. It goes on and on. The Giants, for so long, have been so good at creating a bench out of nothing, but this year the thing has failed miserably. Part of this is due to the strain that injuries have put on the roster, but the other problem is just gross underperformance.

We’ll tackle the pitching next week.

An Alternative History of the 2016 Post Season

A couple of articles are floating around that re-examane a trade deadline that saw two of the most important players in the World Series (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) move from the Yankees to this year’s finalists.

In these articles (like this one from Jon Heyman…you have to scroll pretty far down, fyi) it’s mentioned how the Giants never got far on the Andrew Miller front because of a refusal to include Joe Panik in any deal.

Knowing what you know now, should the Giants have entertained the idea?

Here’s how it may have happened:

  1. Joe Panik, along with some combination of Tyler Beede, Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, and Adalberto Mejia get sent to the Yankees. Let’s say, for the sake of argument: Panik, Beede, and Mejia.
  2. In all likelihood, the Giants do not also make the trade for Matt Moore, and probably not for Eduardo Nunez either. They may have acquired some sort of utility infielder (ala Gordon Beckham).
  3. The Giants would likely have used Duffy at second and Gillaspie/Beckham at 3rd. They may have called up Arroyo as well.
  4. While the Giants still would have had Matt Duffy, let’s not forget that while he came back and had a nice couple weeks for Tampa Bay he needed surgery (and missed the end of the season to get that surgery). Would he have missed the end of the season for the Giants? Would he have played through the injury? Would he have been diminished? Would he have hurt himself worse?
  5. This also means the Giants would have relied heavily on Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samadzija. But then who else would have started? Cain? Peavy? Ty Blach? That’s a far more uncertain approach (and don’t forget Moore is also around for the next 3 YEARS).

It’s not difficult to imagine the Giants actually winning more games in this scenario and potentially even holding on to the division lead (and subsequently avoiding the Wild Card and the first round date with the Cubs).

But here’s one more reality to swallow. Miller is getting a lot of press for his “fireman” role: coming in whenever needed (including the 5th inning last night). He’s been outstanding in this role, no doubt. Would he have been in this role with the Giants?

My sense is no. Part of what makes Miller, Miller, is that Terry Francona has Bryan Shaw, and more importantly, Cody Allen to fill in behind him. Miller may come in and put out the fire early, but then the Giants would still have had to trust Romo/Lopez/Law/Strickland/Casilla for more outs.

Think about last night’s game (World Series Game 3, a 1-0 Indians win) from the Giants perspective). Samardizija gets the team through 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings in a pivotal game 3 against, say, the Red Sox. Jeff gets into trouble in the 5th and with Big Papi looming, Bochy goes to Miller. Miller gets out of the 5th inning jam, and gets through the 6th as well, but then has to come out for pinch hitter Conor Gillaspie who gets a big pinch hit to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

What then?!?!?!? There’s still 9 more outs! Francona used Shaw and Allen to get those 9 more outs. Is there anyway you could imagine Romo/Lopez/Santiago/et al holding that lead? Maybe. But given what we saw for the last 2+ months of the year that seems unlikely. Which likely means, Miller would never have been used in the scenario by Bochy to begin with.

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and no one can know all the subtle permutation and butterfly effects that may have occurred, but I’ve heard/read many Giants fans lamenting not getting Andrew Miller.

Yes, it would have been nice to have him. The bullpen would have been better.

But it’s not quite that simple. A lot of things would have looked differently in this scenario, and several of those things would have been weaker/worse .

Would you take Miller (and Matt Duffy), but have no Panik, no Moore, no top pitching prospect, and probably no Perez/Smith?

Final thought: when the Giants made the trade for Will Smith he was touted as a “poor man’s Andrew Miller.” We’ll never know what really happened: maybe those first few bad appearances led to a lack of trust on Bochy’s part. Maybe Smith wasn’t up for the challenge. Maybe the transition from Milwaukee was too much. Maybe the Casilla issues and 9th inning instability meant guys like Smith were not able to settle into these kidns of roles. But, Smith never got used as more than a lefty specialist, and I can’t help but wonder how things might have looked different if the Giants really used him as an Andrew Miller type “fireman”.