The Giants found themselves at the bottom of a garbage can on a garbage scow last year, sailing a sea of garbage on their way to Garbageland. It was enormously dispiriting, and coming into this year, it was reasonable to expect that they couldn’t improve enough to make the playoffs. So here’s me saying (essentially) that it wasn’t worth it to trade part of their future to the Rays for Evan Longoria, and here’s me after the Andrew McCutchen deal with the Pirates (essentially) saying, “Oh, there go the Giants again, chasing that contention dragon, those silly fools who are behind the times.”
But here’s the thing: it’s better to be a Giants fan than a Rays fan or a Pirates fan, and it’s not close, and it’s because they try. The Rays, coming off a year where they were barely below .500, traded the face of their franchise because, welp, time to start that rebuild. The Pirates, coming off a bad year that wasn’t nearly as disastrous as the Giants’ year, traded the face of their franchise because, welp, time to start that rebuild. Then, after the Giants poached those two franchise players, they used every cent they could spend and still stay under the luxury tax to get Austin Jackson and Tony Watson, and hey, instant contention, maybe, unless it all blows up, which, like, 40% chance, max.
That was a lot of commas in one sentence.
This is the part where I acknowledge that the Giants are a much richer team than either the Rays or Pirates, and that is absolutely a big factor here. But it’s not like either of those teams is actually poor. What they are is poor in baseball terms, which only means they have an excuse to be cheap. Every baseball team has tons of money, and they can choose to spend it on the product on the field, or they can pocket it. Revenue sharing and huge TV deals (Tampa’s new deal is worth $50 million this year and will average $82 million over its lifespan, while Pittsburgh is lagging behind, though when their deal is up in a couple years they will get a windfall) have lined the coffers of every major league team, and the Rays and Pirates both are choosing not to spend it on the field, while the Giants are making a better choice.
Both the Pirates and Rays could be choosing to compete this year, and instead they’re choosing not to. The Giants had plenty of reasons not to try to compete this year, but they’re giving it a shot anyway. There’s more than a big market involved in that decision. If you want to be cynical about it, you could say it’s because they want to be seen as a team that competes, because that brings in fans, and then they make money. If you’re feeling more generous, then it’s because they want to be a team that competes, because being a bad baseball team sucks and nobody wants to be a bad baseball team. Either way, it amounts to the same thing: the Giants want to be good and they’re going to try to be good.
That shouldn’t be an uncommon thing in baseball, but here we are. There are incentives set up in the sport (higher draft picks, protected draft picks, more money for draft picks, etc.) that encourage teams to be really bad, and the Giants are saying, “Nah, we’d rather not.” Even if I am skeptical about how well it can even work this coming year, and if I am very skeptical about trading away some of the better prospects in the system coming off a disastrous year, there’s still something really admirable about that. I mean, I’m gonna watch this team a lot this year. I am glad that it’s likely to be watchable.
So yes, there are long term concerns. But the long term is just made up of a bunch of short terms, and for now, I’m happy that one of those short terms looks a lot better than it would if I was a Rays fan. That may be cold comfort in a couple years, but it’s pretty dang warm today.