The Giants held their yearly press conference on Tuesday, and if you missed it, I can give you a summary in 1,000 words:
Yeah, same. I’ve watched these press conferences for the last several years. There have been happier ones.
The difficulty with these press conferences is that all four of the people with microphones in front of them can’t really say what the specific problems and preferred solutions are. It’s almost comical. It’s completely understandable why they can’t — it’s strategically advantageous, really — but that doesn’t mean it’s great for finding answers.
Here, I’ll give you an example of something Bobby Evans might have wanted to say.
Hunter Pence ... look, we respect this guy and everything he’s done for the franchise, but he’s slower across the board. He needs to start earlier on fastballs to catch up to them, which leaves him more vulnerable to breaking balls, and his defense is a step slower, too. If you lose just a fraction of your quickness, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but the major leagues are filled with players who are just a fraction better than their peers. When you lose that, you might be cooked.
He’s a great Giant, but he might be cooked.
I don’t know if any of that is true! Especially when you consider that Pence hit .289/.361/.457 over his last two months, which is pretty sweet in any ballpark, much less AT&T Park. Their internal evaluations might suggest that squeezing one more year out of pence might work, even if it’s as part of a left-field platoon.
But they can’t say anything like what’s in that fake blockquote.
BAER: Would we go over the CBT (Competitive Balance Tax)? Sure. We’ve done it before. And we’d do it again to get J.D. Martinez, who is a hunk of burning home runs and would fit this team perfectly. I would drive him to the park myself. Every game. Pull up, let him sit in the back seat, and drive him to every game. He could spit at me from the back seat. I wouldn’t care. Do whatever you want.
BOCHY: Yeah, I can confirm that, uh, if Martinez showed up here and punched me in the berries to impress his, uh, lady friend, I’d be okay with that. He can do that sort of thing here. He can run up giggling and shave a patch of my head with an electric razor and put it on Instagram, that’s fine.
Nope, not possible. Just can’t say that sort of thing. It’s officially forbidden, and the Giants would get in trouble for talking about players still under contract with another organization.
What the Giants can do is hint at their priorities. And over and over again, from Bobby Evans to Bruce Bochy, they hinted at two things that caught my eye:
- That it makes more sense to fill their holes through trades instead of free agency, because the latter features older, declining players by design.
- Outfield defense is the ultimate priority. Power is nice, but outfield defense is more important.
While I agree with the first one, I’m not sure if I’m ready for the pain. What would it take for the Giants to acquire Billy Hamilton, for example? Which players or prospects would I have to say goodbye to? Would I be prepared for “The 2017 Giants, now with Billy Hamilton,” which doesn’t sound exciting? Could the Reds throw Adam Duvall into the deal, just for funsies?
But I agree with the second one, wholeheartedly. I had this open in a tab because I was going to build an entire column around it.
It’s not just that the Giants are bad, which they are. It’s that they’re the worst by a huge, incredible margin. The difference between this year’s outfield defense and an even average defense would be something like four or five wins. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re building off the Giants’ expected record (67-95), you’re suddenly at 90 losses, which makes getting to 72 losses less ridiculous. Not realistic just yet, but less ridiculous.
What ... what if they somehow got an above-average defense in center?
So I agree with the idea that the Giants had the 98-loss teams of defensive outfields, and it’s the easiest, most feasible place to start with the roster. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for J.D. Martinez or Khris Davis clomping around a corner outfield spot. But start with the defense. That’s like ... doing the dishes before you focus on the bags of trash you just threw in the garage instead of paying for service.
It’s going to be hard to pay for defense this year. Lorenzo Cain is a fabulous defender right now, and I would like to pay for his defense from 2014 through 2017. But that’s not what they’ll get. They’ll get his defense from 2018 through 2022. Aaron Rowand was worth about a win with his glove, on average, for the four seasons before the Giants got him. Then he wasn’t. From Steve Finley to Dave Roberts to Rowand to Denard Span, maybe the universe is telling the Giants that over-30 center field free agents aren’t the best idea?
That’s before you get into the part where they’ll lose their draft picks if they mess with the high-priced free agents. And because the Giants were so bad, that second-round pick is almost like a first-round pick. I’m not ruling Cain out, but the Giants should be careful.
It’s more likely that the Giants will strike early with a trade, and the good news about power-hitting, Gold Glove center fielders is that the Giants aren’t getting any of them, so don’t worry about it. They’ll focus on plus defenders like Hamilton or Kevin Pillar. They’ll be creative, I’ll guess, looking for someone who can play Triples Alley better than anyone since Andres Torres, if not even better. That’s the priority.
The dingers? They won’t be forgotten. But the Giants will focus on the more important stuff first, and Jeff Samardzija will thank them for it.