The Giants are the new Phillies. This is something of a baseball truism now, an easy description that doesn’t require a lot of explanation. The Phillies were great and then they spent money to stay great, and it didn’t work out so well. They became old and busted, and their big contracts strangled them. They stopped competing and haven’t been over .500 since. Look at your future, Ebenezer! Look at it and tremble!
I’m pretty sure that comparison is bunk, though. It’s almost as if it’s hard to make direct comparisons for 25 different players across a six-year span ...
The first point to make is that it wasn’t the contracts of Ryan Howard or Jimmy Rollins that sunk the Phillies. Even if they had all sorts of money to spend on different free agents, they would have been a bad team. Take away Howard’s contract and give them the five best free agents from the 2012-2013 class. They still stink in 2013. The Phillies stunk because they got old and bad, not because they got old, bad, and expensive. The farm dried up. Their All-Stars crumbled.
Actually, Grant, that sounds exactly like the Giants.
Quiet, you. There is a little more context that needs to be included, here. In 2013, the first season the Phillies were awful, Ryan Howard was 33. Jimmy Rollins was 34, as were Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Cliff Lee. Roy Halladay, rest in peace, was 36.
In 2018, here’s how the Giants line up in comparison: Brandon Belt will be 30. Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, and Andrew McCutchen will be 31. Evan Longoria and Johnny Cueto will be 32. The only player who will be as old as the youngest member of the 2012 Phillies core will be Jeff Samardzija, at 33. This is before we acknowledge Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik, who are still in their primes.
If this seems like pedantry, I promise you that it isn’t. There’s a reason why I’ve been sharing relatively optimistic ZiPS projects over the last couple weeks. It’s because there really is a difference between a 32-year-old player and a 34-year-old player. It’s a substantial difference. You have to factor in relevant details like the Giants being soul mosquitoes who couldn’t do a single thing right, but it really is too easy to make a big deal about the roster’s collective age. 32-year-old baseball players don’t have to crumble into dust automatically. The Giants were supposed to get waxed by the 2010 Phillies, and they had a bunch of 31-year-olds.
So that’s the first point: It’s too easy to be overly dramatic about the collective ages of everyone on the Giants. Yes, in three years I’ll guess that two out of the eight starting position players on the 2018 Giants will be above average. For next season, though? I’m only mildly worried about advancing age, and it has more to do with injuries than decline.
The second point is that the 2012 Phillies weren’t so bad. They finished 81-81, scoring slightly more runs than they allowed. It was the 2013 Phillies that were awful, but that ‘12 team still had one more run in them. They just didn’t add a ton of players who helped that next year. They signed Jim Thome, Jonathan Papelbon, and Juan Pierre, but that trio didn’t project to be as valuable as Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria next year. They were nice, complementary additions, but it’s reasonable to assume that with some much more impressive reinforcements, they could have moved further over .500.
And the age. Don’t forget about the age.
There are other differences. Some combination of Utley, Rollins, and Halladay will make the Hall of Fame, so the normal aging curve didn’t apply to them. The 2011 Phillies were excellent and the 2017 Giants [checks] weren’t. It’s always going to be an imperfect comparison when you go through history and match old teams against modern teams*.
* Except that time I did it with the 2012 Giants and the 1985 Royals, which was absolutely brilliant.
But I’m just a teensy bit tired of the easy comparisons between the Giants and the Phillies. The Phillies were older, and there was a little less urgency after 2011 because it was harder to see the edge of the cliff.
No, if you want a comparison, allow me to present the 2016 Tigers. After having a surprisingly awful season, they didn’t give up. They redoubled their efforts and signed Justin Upton because he fit them perfectly. They signed Jordan Zimmermann because he was exactly the pitcher they needed. They still had Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, who were 33, but that’s not that old, so they figured they could get one more great year out of them, and they were right. They made targeted aggressive moves to reload a lousy team because they figured there was no way that everything could go wrong the same way again.
And they were right. They won 86 games and stayed in the postseason hunt all year.
Then they fell off a cliff last year and exploded at the bottom, like the stock footage that plays after Toonces crashes the car. The Tigers are ghastly now, and they’ll be ghastly for years. This is what’s going to happen to the Giants, too.
For now, though? I’m expecting 86 wins and a postseason hunt. If that doesn’t sound exciting, note that it’s what I expected from the 2014 Giants, too. They only won 88 games, after all.
I’m not thinking “2013 Phillies” when I look at the 2018 Giants. I’m thinking “2016 Tigers.” While that’s not very encouraging from a long-term perspective, it’s a helluva lot better than what this team offered last year, and considering that this isn’t the kind of roster that would allow the Giants to instantly revamp their farm system like the White Sox did, I’ll take it.
(Still gonna get ugly, though. Still gonna get ugly at some point.)