The staggering unpredictability of Major League Baseball means that predicting any part of it can make one look like the dumbest person to have ever lived (and, occasionally, like a terrifying oracle who must be destroyed by a thousand armies), but we’re all here for baseball because of the drama. Doesn’t matter if it’s coming from on the field or off, we really, really crave conflict and intrigue and bullpen carts
The bullpen cart is real, and it's magnificent. @UniWatch @Dbacks pic.twitter.com/G6MmRgY9jP— matt b (@mattkb) March 27, 2018
... magnificent. And dumb. But if we didn’t have the drama (which, admittedly, can only ever reach 80% of the drama of the NBA), then it wouldn’t feel like baseball. The arc of any season has its ups and downs, but each team handles it with their own set of characters and own set of people behind the scenes.
There’s a lot riding on this season of Giants baseball, more than we probably realize. The organization might have contingency plans and contingency plans for those contingency plans on top of five unthinkable options should things get really bad or good, and they’ll be watching events unfold probably to an even closer and finer degree than we’ll ever understand; that surveillance will be the key to decoding the season’s underlying storylines.
We all know the standings and performances will be the main headlines, but what’s really going on beneath the surface? That’s what’ll motivate the standings and performance outcomes. Here are my guesses for the season’s main storylines:
Planning for 2019
Every week, the Giants get closer to next season, and the outcome of each week will in tiny increments determine just exactly how they’ll be approaching it. If they survive April, then May and June feel more optimistic. If April is the disaster it feels like it’s going to be, then May and June feel like decision time.
Will the Giants rebuild or will they fight on? That’s the big question. This ownership group is loathe to invoke the R word, but they’re also real estate developers now, so stadium attendance can’t possibly mean as much as it used to. Whether or not the Giants will have anything of value to trade off in a rebuild is a matter for another article. And if the Giants are still somehow miraculously in the playoff hunt, there’s the pesky matter of the competitive balance tax they worked so hard to stay under.
It seems hard to believe that the Giants would stand pat if they’re “in it”, but we’ve also been led to believe that they don’t have a lot of financial flexibility as the season begins. But how they compete this year will determine a lot for next year: not just how the Giants make moves but how the fanbase engages with the team. A bad 2018 hurts 2019. An injured 2019 bleeds into 2020.
The best way to head into the skid, in my opinion, is through definitive action. A rebuild doesn’t have to be agonizingly long. Committing to resetting the competitive balance tax this year makes them players in free agency and trade this coming offseason, which could lead to building a competitive roster for 2019. But how they handle their developing players this season affects next season. Do Duggar, Shaw, Suarez, and Beede get into the mix for extended time and not just because of injury? What about guys like Mac Williamson and Austin Slater? Could the Giants even find themselves with a surprise development? And, if so, would they nurture it?
Every pitch inches the Giants closer to choosing a path, and the underlying drama of that makes it the biggest storyline of the year for me.
Commitment to the Dynasty
Does Bobby Evans keep his job if this team goes belly up? Do the Giants hold onto recognizable names even if the team is bad but the players are still pretty good? How long will the Giants stick with Hunter Pence if he repeats his 2017 season?
This isn’t just about everything falling apart and the Giants selling off famous players — what if things are going well and the Giants need a little help? Does the front office employ full measures (Carlos Beltran) or half measures (Matt Moore, Will Smith) to actually WIN NOW, CBT be damned?
... But, if we were to consider a tear down... who stays? Who goes? Madison Bumgarner, if he’s healthy and effective upon his return, would have one of the biggest bargain contracts in baseball. A frontline starting pitcher on a team that would have no business ompeting on a professional level (just going off of last year’s results)... if any other team held onto him, they’d be considered crazy. Yet, that’s the whole point: how serious are the Giants about fixing things if things need to be fixed? This will be the 4th straight season of simply trying to “reload”.
He’s under contract for one more season, but if this year is a repeat (or worse) of last year, does he consider retiring? And what if the Giants do very well? Couldn’t that be a high note to end on? And how will his health affect his season? He has absolutely nothing to prove at this point, so tracking how much love for the game he has left will be, to me, an interesting storyline to watch.
What vein of drama will you be following this season>?