One More Month

On to September! The Giants are more or less out of the Wild Card Race, and this final month will be about evaluating some guys for the future and saying goodbye to some all-time greats (I’m not crying, you’re crying).

Quick interlude: an amazing 3 paragraphs from that Pablo article:

But it might have gone unappreciated just how perfect the Kung Fu Panda was for the Giants in this particular time and, especially, for this particular place. For all the bitching, kvetching, whining and gnashing over the utter unfairness of the hitting dimensions of this 20-year-old ballpark, there are only two hitters who truly have mastered the art of hitting here.

One was Barry Bonds. The other is Pablo Sandoval.

Sandoval is a .305/.355/.484 career hitter here at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. Those are all far better marks than his .261/.314/.422 career slash line on the road. His batting average here is one point better than Jeff Kent’s. His 582 hits in this ballpark are second only to Buster Posey, with 643.

Now, let’s go back and review the trade deadline for a moment.

For the most part it is hard to argue with the approach. The Giants:

  1. Some how unloaded Mark Melancon’s contract. While they still have a good deal of money tied up in a handful of players, take a look at the Cot’s page and it no longer appears as daunting. It cannot be underestimated how important this move was!
  2. Acquired two players who could be important to future winning teams in Mauricio Dubon (who is with the big-league team now) and Jaylin Davis (who will likely be there soon).
  3. Did not trade Madison Bumgarner which feels really good and definitely keeps open the possibility he is around next year and beyond.
  4. Did part with Joe Panik, a move that has been hotly debated by Giants’ twitter for the past month.
  5. Did not trade Will Smith, arguably their most valuable asset.

What are my thoughts about this? Well, Farhan accomplished what we thought he would try to accomplish: creating more salary flexibility, acquiring players who would help future teams, but not trading everyone thereby throwing in the towel on the 2019 season.

Some fans are mad because the bullpen breakup has weakened the team, but this is a team that has over achieved all year long, they were likely to regress anyway.

If anything, I’m a little disappointed the Giants did not trade Will Smith. For a while the hot rumor was that it was going to take Smith to get Dubon from the Brewers. Instead, Farhan got him for Drew Pomeranz, which is like walking into a Tesla dealership and walking out only 10 grand lighter. Borderline robbery.

I’m not sure what else they could have gotten for Smith, maybe no one was willing to pay the price the Giants were asking, but it feels like a miss to me.

Nonetheless, this has turned out to be a very fun season, even if it is going to end up as a text book mediocre team.

Here are the top three positive developments (followed by a couple of concerns for the future):

  1. The Giants are interesting. They might not be good yet, but I’ll take interesting over the last 2 years any day.
  2. The Giants have promising young players: Logan Webb, Mauricio Dubon, Mike Yastrzemski, and many others are bringing a hope that we haven’t had for a few years.
  3. The Giants have a 20 home run hitter (congrats Kevin Pillar), and could have as many as 4! While that might not seem that impressive, the sign of a good team in 2019-2020 is a team that has several 20 home run players.

Concerns:

  1. The team still has a core of expensive players who have not been very good. In particular Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey, while all useful in their own ways (mainly defense) are no longer worth the money they are being paid. I’m not say these guys are washed up, need to be traded, etc, but it’s an issue. Belt might crack the 20 hr barrier and that’s nice, but he is simply not hitting like a $15 million first basemen. I love Buster Posey with a passion, but he will likely miss double digit home runs for the second straight season, an alarming trend. This is not to mention the money owed to Cueto and Samardzija and Longoria and a possible Bumgarner extension. None of this spells doom, but some of these guys will need to have a career renaissance or be moved on from before things really turn around.
  2. While I appreciate all the moves Farhan has made there is still no Cody Bellinger/Christian Yellich type player in sight. Obviously these guy don’t grow on trees, but for the Giants to truly compete in the present game, they are going to need an impressive middle of the order hitter. Maybe this is Heliot Ramos or Joey Bart, but until the Giants find that guy they are going to be a step behind everyone else.
  3. Which leads us to the final concern. I really hope Logan Webb will be good, but the Giants have yet to find the starting pitchers who will help lead the team into the future. The resurgence of Samardzija is great, the return of Cueto will help, and I’ll be the first in line for a Bumgarner extension. But the team needs to find some cheap, young guys who can help.
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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.

Fixing the Offense (Mission Impossible)

Quick review: the Giants went 4 and 3 this week. They actually won a series for the first time this year. And, they are 4 games out of first place (the first place Padres mind you…awesomely bad week for the Dodgers…haha).

There were a variety of positive signs: the Kevin Pillar trade looks pretty darn great so far. Don’t expect him to hit 4 bombs every week, but he can play, and really any kind of offense from him is a bonus to his defense. Speaking of that, the outfield is SO much better than the last couple of years. So much better.

Tyler Austin looks good so far and survived an injury scare, so we’ll continue to see him which is good news. The Giants are going to be creative in their usage with him. We’ve seen Belt in LF a bit and they will sub Austin out early and get Parra in there for the late innings. All of that seems smart to me.

Derek Rodriguez had a very nice bounce back start this week. Let’s chalk up his bad first inning against the Rays to opening day nerves. Jeff Samardzija has looked like an asset so far this season (no home runs given up yet!). And Madison Bumgarner is fine, everyone cool it.

But, there is context. There is always context. The Giants took 3 of 4 from the Colorado Rockies who are off to a historically, comically bad start. They also were missing two key lineup ingredients for this 4-game series. So, on the one hand, good on the Giants for taking the series from a struggling club. On the other hand, it sure wasn’t easy.

And now the Giants head out on the road, off to the east coast for over a week. In some ways this could be good for the bats. New hitting environments, better hitting environments, and the first time they’ll be away from the west coast.

However, they will be facing some teams with strong pitching (Nationals, Pirates), and then up to Toronto where they haven’t been in a while. It’s a weird trip, and this just doesn’t feel like a team that does well with weirdness.

At this early stage in the season, it’s hard to know what to make of the Giants. They can clearly pitch and their defense is improved. It feels like they should be better than 7-10.

But the the offense is offensive, and the question continues to be: is there any hope for improvement? It sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like they should be worse than 7-10.

The only hope, for now, is to tweak with the lineup, so here we go, a couple of fixes:

  • The big suggestion is to drop Steven Duggar back. At times, he’s looked like the Giants best player. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that he has struck out 23 times and only walked twice. That’s bad, and that’s especially bad at the top of the order. There’s clearly a ton of potential there, but he, and the team, would be better served stashing him lower in the order so that he can learn major league pitching.
  • The other big problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that there is no sun around which the other planets orbit. It’s so difficult to create a cohesive and dynamic lineup without an anchor.

Having said that, here’s my humble suggestion.

  1. Panik/Solarte
  2. Posey
  3. Belt
  4. Austin
  5. Longoria
  6. Crawford
  7. Pillar
  8. Duggar

There’s nothing particularly radical or amazing about this lineup, but it does two things, in my mind. It takes the pressure off Duggar, and it moves Posey out of the middle of the lineup.

[I know there’s debate around the two hitter these days. Some argue that this is the prime place to put your best power bat. Others like some speed there (not so much for stealing bases, but to not clog the base-paths, a potential problem with Posey). I like the relative balance, the OBP (such as it is) at the top of the lineup, rather than spread around, and then you have 4 guys who can run into a pitch in the 3-7 spots.]

There is no perfect solution as of right now. The fascinating thing, if you can call it that, will be watching how this team tries to squeeze 5 runs out of this lineup night in and night out.

Happy day off Giants, good luck on the east coast!

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!

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!

It’s Over…Now What?

It’s over. I’m not just talking about the season, I’m talking about this era of Giants baseball. You’ll need a subscription, but Tim Kawakami says as much in this article.

What do you think? Is there a version of the Posey/Bumgarner/Belt/Crawford Giants that is truly competitive again?

On the one hand the clear answer is: No. In 2016, the Giants reloaded, they brought in Cueto and Samardzija and they made some big moves at the trade deadline, and they did nearly take down the eventual World Champion Cubs. But, the reality is the Giants are 155-194 since the All-Star break in 2016.

On the other hand, the less clear answer is: Perhaps.

Why, perhaps? Well, for one, the Giants have not been able to stay healthy. And that’s not just an aging roster thing. Joe Panik gets hurt, a lot. Brandon Belt get hurt, a lot. Mac Williamson runs into a wall and loses another season. Everyone breaks their pinky. Madison Bumgarner falls off a dirt bike.

That stuff has to drive Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans absolutely nuts. How do you really evaluate this team and this organization. Here are a few conclusions:

  1. The Giants’ front office does not get enough credit for how well it has done developing players. They have not all panned out, but no one has all their guys pan out. That’s baseball. And it does seem like there is hope around the bend: Shuan Anderson, Heliot Ramos, Joey Bart, and several others provide a lot of excitement about the next wave. So, don’t let the failure of Panik/Belt/Williamson sucker you into thinking the Giants can’t develop players.
  2. The Giants have a knack for making great under the radar signings. There are so many to point out, but in just the last year I could point you to everyone from Todd Hundley to Pablo Sandoval to Alen Hanson to Reyes Moronta to Derek Rodriguez to Derek Holland. Expect more of that in the future.
  3. Now to the crux of things: the Giants need to plan for a team that is not built around Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. This is where it gets hard. Do you trade Madison Bumgarner? Do you try to sign him to a team friendly deal, and potentially tick him off? Do you let him go in free agency, pointing out that this is what the team should have done with Matt Cain, et al? Hard questions. And then the Buster Posey conundrum. He’s still a great catcher, but he probably needs to move to first base to preserve his body. So, do you trade Brandon Belt? Probably. And then, will he ever hit with power again? Right now, he’s basically Freddy Sanchez/Marco Scutaro, and while both of those guys are near and dear to our hearts, they are not middle of the order/franchise cornerstones. Is Buster Posey even worth it as a first baseman?
  4. The Giants need to find a cornerstone. Here’s where it gets tricky again. The formula for 2010/2012/2014 was (a) pitching, (b) bullpen, which is to say more pitching, (c) defense, which is to say pitching, and (d) an offense built around an interstellar force of a Catcher. Buster Posey was so valuable to the Giants because he provided first base/left field/middle of the order awesomeness but as a catcher. That meant that the Giants could get away with Aubrey Huff/Pat Burrell/Brandon Belt/Melky Cabrera/Brandon Belt/Travis Ishikawa at 1B and LF. I am extremely tempted by Bryce Harper, because I think the Giants need that kind of presence. But, the Giants themselves just retired Barry Bonds number recently and while that was a nice bit of nostalgia it was also a reminder that they never won a championship with that model of team building. Which leads to the final point…
  5. The real big problem, in my humble opinion, is that the Giants pitching has fallen way, way off from the glory days. I get that trying to recreate the golden has gotten them in trouble, but I continue to believe that pitching wins.

Whatever happens next, let’s not forget how incredible this era has been. What we witnessed from 2009-2016 was amazing and rare, and most of the other fan bases would kill for that era.

But, going back to the well again and again is tired. That well is empty. Time for something fresh. Will the Giants do it?