Last season was not fun. It was, perhaps, the least fun I’ve ever had following a Giants team. For years and years, I used the 2008 season as a shorthand way to refer to a team that was devoid of fun, except that was the year Pablo Sandoval busted out. Tim Lincecum won a Cy Young. It was a ball pit filled with kittens compared to last season. Before that, the bad seasons usually came with a side of Barry Bonds.
Last season had almost nothing. Buster Posey being his steady, possible-future-Hall-of-Famer self was the highlight. Everything else got sucked into the wheat thresher, often right when you started to get used to it finally being one of the good stories. Say, Christian Arroyo is hitting .400 in FOOOMP INTO THE THRESHER. Hey, Austin Slater is sure hitting line drives all over the FOOOOOMP.
The biggest problem facing the Giants going into the offseason, then, was a doozy. It wasn’t the lineup. It wasn’t the defense. It wasn’t the bullpen.
It was the apathy.
Oh, man, how the apathy must have terrified them.
When the sellout-wink-wink streak finally ran out of winks, that was the first sign. It was soon after that when the Giants realized that it was really, really hard to get people to care about this team. After giving up a pair of first-inning runs on a windy Tuesday night, the crowd was less than boisterous. I was at home, usually, being less than boisterous. This was the case with blown leads, fly balls caught on the warning track, and double plays hit at exactly the wrong time. There were so many reasons not to care about the 2017 Giants, and they kept providing more and more.
The goal of the offseason, then, was to combat the apathy. The goal was going to be to make a team that people actually wanted to watch. The problem was that free agent spending was going to go only so far. Eric Hosmer wasn’t going to impress your dad. J.D. Martinez is a well-known slugger to baseball nerds, but he’s not exactly the kind of athlete who’s going to get rich through Samsung or Amazon ads. Lance Lynn is not a proven apathy-buster, and it probably would have taken the Giants $80 million to pretend that he was.
The Giants could have spent scores of millions and still had the cloud of apathy hanging over them. This was an imperfect market for a team trying to make their fans care again, even if that team didn’t already owe more than $100 million in 2020 to players in their 30s. Which they did. How in the heck were they supposed to get people to care without spending $200 million on players that fans might not even care about?
They started the offseason by trying to take the easy way out. That sounds glib, but it’s not like “trade for the young and marketable 59-dinger man-mountain” is a plan that needs a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation. The Giants knew that was going to be an easy way to get people to care, and for those two weeks when it was possible to get Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani? Oh, baby. What a coup that would have been.
Once that all collapsed, though, it sure looked like the Giants were doomed to a Jay Bruce and Eduardo Nuñez offseason. Or Jayson Werth and Jarrod Dyson. Maybe just Lorenzo Cain. There was always the lurking possibility of Mike Moustakas, too. Imagine “The 2018 Giants: Now With Mike Moustakas!” on a billboard near you. Imagine whipping out your phone to buy tickets because of it.
And yet the Giants somehow made the team compelling again. That’s not just me guessing at the mood of the masses. It’s based on the enthusiasm at FanFest. It’s based on what happens whenever I wear a Giants hat.
RANDOM STRANGER: Hey, what about those Giants, eh? McCutchen ... Longoria ... it could work, right?
ME: Yes, this is of particular interest to me, because I’ll have a telev ...
RANDOM STRANGER: Sure, they’re a little past their prime, but they should still have enough juice left in them for next year.
ME: Right. Like I’m planning to say on my TV show about the Giants, it’s ....
RANDOM STRANGER: Looking forward to this year.
And it really makes me appreciate the nifty magic trick this all was. The Giants didn’t have a lot of money to spend if they wanted to get under the luxury tax threshold, and even if they blew past it, there were no guarantees that they would get Darvish and Martinez. A spend-spend-spend-to-impress strategy might have allowed them to get Lorenzo Cain and Moustakas, and those two players aren’t exactly the kinds of players who impress the masses who were planning to stay away.
But Andrew McCutchen, though? Heard of that guy. Won an MVP. One of the best ambassadors for the sport playing today.
Evan Longoria? Heard of that guy. Made some All-Star teams. Was the best player in his team’s history.
I have no idea if it will work. By May, Pablo Sandoval might be starting at third and hitting .230 because of an injury, and McCutchen might fall into the same production void that he did the last two springs. If the Giants are 40-48 by the All-Star break, the apathy will be thick enough to spread on a sandwich. Nothing will prevent that.
But they figured out a way to make people care again without committing $200 million to free agents who weren’t that exciting in the first place. They made an effort that’s at least a little fun on paper, and the moves fit with the they-can’t-possibly-be-this-hurt-or-awful strategy that they’re employing with Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Mark Melancon, and Hunter Pence. It’s easy to look at the Giants’ roster and think, “Hey, I’d actually watch this team on purpose!”
That was the only goal of the offseason, and I’m still a little stunned that they were able to do it. No idea if it will work. No idea if I’ll be right back here complaining in just two months.
The job was to make fans care again, though. And it doesn’t hurt that they probably made the players care even more, too. From here, it looks like the Giants did a pretty good job, and I’m still surprised there was a way to make it happen.