The rascally Bill Hanstock messaged me a teaser question this morning:
Hey, Grant, you know what's the only thing worse than watching the 2014 Giants?
No. No, I do not.
Watching the 2015 Giants
That's a joke that is good for slapping knees and chewing on souls, both. And the truth of it absolutely stings. Here's a list of what should be better with the Giants next year, the pieces of the team we can realistically expect to improve:
- Brandon Belt
Even that's in question, considering how awful and persistent concussions can be. Assuming full health, though, I would expect more production out of the Giants' collective first basemen next year. That's the good news.
That's all of the good news. Now let's look at the things that should get worse:
- Tim Hudson
- Ryan Vogelsong
- The bullpen
- Third base (without Pablo Sandoval)
- Left field (considering that Michael Morse was actually good for a couple months)
And things that should stay the same, more or less:
- Buster Posey
- Hunter Pence
- Brandon Crawford
- Angel Pagan (he'll never be healthy for a full year)
- Madison Bumgarner
- Second base
- Tim Lincecum
I have no idea where to put Matt Cain yet, but those ones up there I'm pretty sure about. It's possible that both second base and the bench should be on the should-improve list because it's hard to imagine them getting worse, and you can move bullet points from one column to the other as you see fit. But the general point stands: You will get a longer list by looking for the things that are likely to stay the same or get worse.
This ignores that the Giants still get the offseason to make improvements. After the historically miserable 2011 offense scored three runs, the Giants added Melky Cabrera and dusted their hands off. "All fixed!" And the dangedest thing, it really was all fixed. Buster Posey came back and won the MVP, and the Giants were so good, they could survive Tim Lincecum's plummet. But everything we know suggests the 2015 Giants won't have as many things go right as the 2014 Giants have. Everyone will be older, and the young players aren't exactly young enough to expect substantial improvement.
I think this is why I've been getting progressively cynical as the season's gone on. Well, there's also the sustained losing after artificially inflated expectations. That part stings. But the fuzzy future is lurking behind those losses, making everything even more uncomfortable. The Giants are still so danged close to the playoffs -- just a half-game out, everyone! -- and that creates a sense of urgency, a heavy, stone door closing as we reach back for our fedora. There's still a chance this stupid team can actually make the playoffs, and it's probably the best chance they'll have for a while.
Andrew Baggarly wrote this recently:
Just look at what they face this winter, with roughly $125 million already committed to a payroll that probably won't go above $170 million: re-sign or replace Pablo Sandoval (with the clear thrust being to re-sign him), re-sign or replace Michael Morse in left field, re-sign or replace Ryan Vogelsong and/or Jake Peavy, find an everyday second baseman or try to patch it internally, and re-sign or replace Sergio Romo. Plus do it all with arbitration salaries due to Belt and Crawford.
All true. The Giants will have about $50 million to get or retain a third baseman, left fielder, second baseman, and starting pitcher(s). They will not restock the roster with All-Stars. The improvements will be incremental, most likely. If they're improvements at all.
I'm not writing off the 2015 Giants, mind you. Oh, goodness no. Look at this lineup:
1. Rowand - CF
2. Renteria - SS
3. Sandoval - 3B
4. Huff - 1B
5. DeRosa - LF
6. Molina - C
7. Bowker - RF
8. Uribe - 2B
That's Opening Day, 2010. We had absolutely zero idea what the team was going to look like by August, so how can you pretend to know what a team will look like after the next offseason? You can't. Next year at this time, we might be like, "Well, of course Ty Blach is an All-Star pitcher. He's outstanding. And good thing the Giants got Josh Willingham so cheap because it's been a while since they had someone hit 50 homers."
I'm not optimistic, though. There are a lot of things that worry me about this team for next year, and that's why I'm taking every loss this year harder than I normally would. They're here. They're so close. They're still statistical favorites for a playoff spot, the dopes. Every sweep by the Dodgers or Royals makes the dream slip away just a bit more. Not just the dream of this year, either.
That's why this season has done more damage to drywall around the Bay Area than the previous, lousy one. Last year was a blip, a glitch, something easy to explain away. This year's team is an omen, and I'm scared at what the omen portends.
So win now, meatheads. See what the Royals did over the last two weeks? Do that.