It’s Not Over…Yet #sfgiants #weekinreview

Of course it’s not over yet, but what an interesting week in Giants-land. There was a little something for everyone: Bumgarner started the healing journey, the triumphant return of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, bad Brandon Belt and very good Brandon Belt, bullpen meltdowns, and some big home runs (and the arrival of Big Mac).

All of which boils back down to the damning-by-faint-praise tagline for the 2018 season: at least it won’t be boring!

In Praise

  • I named Johnny Cueto the most important player to the success of the 2018 Giants, and, so far, minus a short DL stint for a twisted ankle, he has not disappointed. One earned run in 26 innings! 23 strikeouts to four walks! He sure looks like vintage Cueto and that is VERY good news.
  • Jeff Samardzija returned and while he did not set the world on fire, he was good enough for the win, and it was certainly a start to build on. He’s got a tough assignment this week versus the Nationals and Max Scherzer, but it still feels good to have him back.
  • Chris Stratton has been awesome as well. In fact, the entire rotation had a nice showing this week. Stratton is demonstrating that the Giants were not foolish at all to trust his ability to easily replace Matt Moore’s “production” (by the way, it has been an ugly start to 2018 in Texas for poor Matt Moore).
  • Tony Watson continues to be the star of the bullpen, and while he did get touched for his first run this week, is there anyone else you trust as much coming out of the ‘pen right now? And, who was the last guy you trusted this much coming out of the pen? Affeldt in 2014? Romo in 2012? It’s an interesting thought experiment.
  • Evan Longoria is going to be just fine, thank you.
  • Brandon Belt is as streaky as they come, and yet there is something about this current streak that feels a bit more like a “finally” moment. I do believe that if he can stay on the field he will hit 30 home runs this year and put some of his doubters to rest.
  • The Giants won a series! I talked about this last week and I stand by it. This team needs to keep grinding 2 out of 3 and winning more series if they want to compete.
  • Finally, as much as we all love Hunter Pence, it’s going to be hard to deny Mac Williamson. I wrote, a while back, about his natural ascendance as the next system guy to make an impact, but injuries and lack of opportunity held him back. I love this comeback story and I am buying the new approach as being major league worthy.

In Critique

  • Is the Hunter Strickland show over? Folks will be pulling for Watson to take over the closer duties, but I do believe he is better suited coming into big situations like he did yesterday against the Angels. I think the best set up, for now, is to press on as is and hope Hunter can get back to the calmer innings we saw earlier. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any answer yet to when Mark Melancon may return. This will be an interesting week given Strickland’s history with the Nationals.
  • The offense continues to be sporadic and inconsistent. The positive signs are certainly the increased power, and they do continue to face some outstanding pitching. It would be great, though, to see more consistent 4-5 run games.
  • In particular, the Giants inability to get hits with runners in scoring position is very weird. They have the lowest production in the majors in that stat category, and I have to believe it will normalize. It may simply be a function of facing some of the top pitching staffs in the game, again that’s a task that doesn’t get easier this week, but one trend that has to level off at some point.

Looking Ahead

  • The Giants have another tough week, although all at home! They start off with 3 against the Nationals who are off to a similarly up and down start. The Giants will have to face Scherzer on Wednesday, but get to avoid Stephen Strasburg in this series. Again, it will be interesting to see what happens should there be a show down between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland. My prediction: Giants take 2 of 3, but lose the game in which Harper takes Strickland deep.
  • There’s a day off on Thursday, and then 4 games in 3 days against….wait for it…the Dodgers. It seems like that’s who the Giants play every other series this season. Here is a tremendous opportunity to do some damage in the division. The Dodgers have not been playing well, but have turned a bit of a corner recently, and are actually back to .500. This is a big week for them as they could build some serious momentum or continue to tread water. If the Giants can sweep or take 3 of 4 it could slow that train down significantly. My prediction: they split the series, which is a let down, but a 4-3 week would actually be quite welcome as the Giants wrap up a tough first month.
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Bryce Harper

The hot rumor from yesterday is that the Giants are likely to make a run at Bryce Harper next off-season.

First, let’s temper any enthusiasm this might engender.

  • Several teams are going to go after Harper next winter.
  • All the big $ teams will be in play to some degree.
  • The frontrunner is currently the Cubs with the Nationals a close second.
  • This contract is going to be absolutely insane (I’m going with somewhere between 10 years, $350 million, and 12 years, $500 million. Insane).
  • Finally, John Heyman is not a Giants’ beat writer, comes from the national perspective, seems to enjoy linking the Giants to every free agent, and almost is never right (or always right because of his widely thrown nets).

Which raises an interesting question for me: do the Giants seem to fail at signing the big names because they aren’t really that interested (and the interest is manufactured by national writers like Heyman looking to fill column space and get some clicks), or is there a real issue here with not being able to close these deals?

That’s a question for another post. For now, let’s indulge some sweet, sweet Bryce Harper fantasies.


Could/Should/Would this happen?

Let’s start here: the Giants have worked really hard this offseason to get under the competitive balance tax (the “cap”). If they stick to this plan it will prove to be a very wise move when it comes to signing a Bryce Harper type mega-contract. The reset will allow them to go over the threshold again, but with a fresh start. The CBA will be redone in a few years and who knows what that will look like. At least the Giants will be in good shape for a couple of years, and potentially really good shape depending on how the next negotiation goes.

While much has been made of the amount of money the Giants already have tied up in future contracts, they might actually be in decent shape to do this deal and extend Bumgarner, and, here comes the real crazy part, continue to get younger! This is where this off seasons moves really begin to make sense.

Next winter the Giants will say goodbye to Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen. That’s almost $33 million in AAV (average annual value) contracts gone right there. They also will likely say goodbye to Nick Hundly, and a few other small contracts, so let’s say that’s another $3-5 million off right there.

So, saying goodbye to those 3-5 players more or less creates room for Bryce Harper. Since this is an entirely optimistic post, let’s say he signs for the 10 year/$350 million deal.

But then, the Giants also extend Madison Bumgarner for, say, 10 years, $300 million. The press conference would champion how the team has the most expensive player and pitcher together for the next decade!

If going $30 million into the tax is too much for the Giants to handle, they will be in a much better position to trade a couple of players next offseason.

If this is your preferred vision of the future, you need to root for Brandon Belt to be healthy and have a good year. Brandon Belt for 3 years and $45 million might look pretty good to a few teams after the winter of 2018 dust settles.

Also, root for Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon. They will both have 2 years left on their current deals, and again, those deals may look pretty good to some teams come January of 2019.

I’m going to say the Giants move Samardzija and Belt next offseason (thanks to the emergence of Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede), which would mean that they would still have flexibility to add a few other pieces if need be.

Now, here’s where I really want to go with this post. The Giants always get slammed for going after veterans and this offseason is no exception. But, if Harper is the long play, this offseason’s moves are quite brilliant in their ability to stabilize the franchise and make the team competitive in the short-term (and it is very important to the long con that the Giants have a good 2018…Harper is not coming to a non-contendor/rebuild), while enabling them the flexibility to go big and kick open another decade long window of competitiveness by getting better and younger at the same time.

For the sake of example: the 2018 opening day lineup vs 2019 opening day lineup by age:

  • Panik 2B…27                        Duggar CF…25
  • McCutchen RF…31              Posey C….32
  • Posey C…31                          Harper RF…26
  • Belt 1B…29                           Longoria 3B…33
  • Longoria 3B…32                 Shaw 1B…25
  • Crawford SS…31                 Slater LF…25
  • Pence LF…34                       Crawford SS…32
  • Jackson CF…31                    Panik 2B…28

Average age of 2018 starting lineup: 30.8 years old
Average age of 2019 starting lineup: 28.3 years old

Then there’s the potential, come 2020, for that lineup to get even younger with the addition of Heliot Ramos, who would be 20 years old for that season’s opening day.

Furthermore the pitching staff would get younger, most likely, with the subtraction of Jeff Samardzija.

This is obviously looking too far ahead, because who knows what will happen, but the main reason this rumor is interesting to me is not because I love Bryce Harper so much, but because if the Giants pull this off, it sheds a whole new light on the moves they’ve made in the past couple months.