The assignment: To preview the Giants and their chances for 2018 and the years after that.
The problem: There are no years after 2018. That will be the final year of Giants baseball. We’ll remember them fondly.
So if we’re talking about 2018, yes, this roster is kind of compelling. It’s not easy to go from a team that almost lost 100 games to a team you want to watch on purpose, but after a crafty offseason that saw them steer into the old, it looks like the Giants have done it. Will they win the NL West? Probably not. Will they contend? Probably. Will they win another World Series? Probably not.
Will they be more watchable? Yes, but only because it would be impossible to be less watchable than the 2017 Giants.
Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen will fill absolute black holes in the lineup, but that’s not their only value. It’s not just that both should be solid regulars with a chance for something more; it’s that both of them bring the kind of holy-crap-I’ve-respected-this-guy-from-afar vibe that was guaranteed to impress the hell out of the veteran players who were sleepwalking toward the end of last season.
If the Giants got some sort of underrated WARrior who provided sneaky value because of defense or baserunning, it’s possible the roster would have been just as good according to the computers, but don’t discount that players like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence got to shake off the cobwebs and say, “Andrew McCutchen? Evan Longoria? Those guys are ALL-STARS” without a trace of irony. They aren’t just players they’ve heard of. They’re players who would have topped a list of teammates they wish they had, and if you believe in the mental side of baseball, it’s kind of a big deal.
More important than those additions, though, are the subtractions. One subtraction in particular is the main reason for optimism in 2018, and it definitely flew under the radar. In a quiet move that didn’t get a lot of press, the Giants released the gremlin who tore apart the airplane from The Twilight Zone. He shouldn’t be around this season, and that should make all of the difference. Last year, he was clawing and digging through all sorts of fuselage and hamstrings, even taking a few minutes to concuss Brandon Belt, and it was impressive to watch. The second Giants fans had half of a reason to watch the team, the gremlin would strike without mercy.
Austin Slater was having a promising start to his career, and then the gremlin got him. Tyler Beede was going to make his debut in September, but the gremlin got him, just as it got Stephen Duggar before him. The gremlin stole doubles away from Brandon Crawford, and it pushed Madison Bumgarner off a dirt bike. It chewed on Johnny Cueto’s fingers until there were blisters, and it chewed on Mark Melancon’s elbow until it nearly fell off. There wasn’t a single player on the Giants who exceeded expectations, which is bad enough, but there also wasn’t a single player who met expectations, either. According to ZiPS, the Giants got less WAR from EVERY SINGLE STARTING PITCHER, RELIEVER, AND HITTER ON THE OPENING DAY ROSTER than projected. Every single one, from Derek Law to Jarrett Parker!
Gremlin did it.
So he’s gone, and that should make everything better. McCutchen and Longoria will make the lineup deeper, sure, but it’s the gremlin packing his bags that will make the real difference. Unless he’s hiding underneath a pile of towels in the clubhouse, waiting to pop out and chew our faces off, ha ha, but what are the odds of that?
There are justifiable concerns when it comes to the collective age of the lineup, as only Joe Panik is under 30. But those concerns should have more to do with ouchies and nicks and fatigue-based injuries and less with production declines. Other than Hunter Pence, the over-30 crowd is just over 30, with only Evan Longoria even getting to 32. While players get worse when they enter their 30s, on average, the research suggests that 30-, 31-, and 32-year-olds typically hold off the most serious declines. Which is to say that the 2018 Giants should feel confident that they’ve built a more productive lineup for this season.
Which is good, considering that there will be no 2019 Giants. Much less 2020 Giants. This is it, the final season of Giants baseball. What a ride, right?
If you’re concern-trolling the Giants because of how old their lineup is, ask yourself if you’re similarly pessimistic about Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Abreu, Kyle Seager and Justin Upton, Brian Dozier and J.D. Martinez. Are you expecting all of those players to crater this year because of age, or are you mostly expecting them to be the same players we’ve all become used to? They’re all 30 or older, and I don’t see why Rockies fans should be optimistic that Charlie Blackmon is on their team if the Giants are supposed to be worried that Andrew McCutchen is too old.
So I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that the health of the 2018 Giants is strong. Note that we’re talking about “health” in a metaphorical sense, as in the overall strength of the 25-man roster. If we’re talking about actual health, well, we have no idea, other than accepting the fact that a team filled with 30- and 31-year-olds is less likely to stay healthy than a team filled with 27-year-olds.
Hypothetically, if there were a 2019 Giants team, it would be filled with mostly the same players, just a little older and creakier, which would also describe the 2020 team. At some point, a little older and creakier will turn into definitely broken and unplayable, and all of the players who will fit that description are making millions and millions of dollars. It would be a mess even if the Giants had a strong farm system, which they most certainly do not.
The 2018 Giants, though, should be pretty okay. Considering what came before, and what would have come after, we’ll have to cherish this season as we would a beautiful snowman melting in the afternoon sun. Just be happy that we won’t have to pay attention to whatever was going to come in 2019 and 2020, though, because it sure would have been a drag.