Perhaps by sheer coincidence, the Giants’ front office went on a bit of a PR blitz this afternoon following the series finale in New York, and Larry Baer and Brian Sabean were slightly more frank than you might expect about the state of the team and the goals moving forward.
Larry Baer gave a phone interview to Tim Kawakami’s TK Show podcast (available exclusively through a subscription to The Athletic) and Brian Sabean spoke to John Shea for an interview in the Chronicle as well KNBR in an on-air interview. Again, I think it was a coincidence. Baer’s interview sounded like it had been recorded either Tuesday or Wednesday and Shea might’ve been able to catch Sabean because it was a day game with no batting practice. The KNBR interview was likely already on the schedule.
Still, it was an incredible coincidence that after falling down on their face in the course of a three-city, 10-game road trip that all but knocked them out of playoff contention, the Giants’ brass went public with their thoughts on the present season and what lies ahead.
The thrust of the headlines was that the Giants will not rebuild, which supports what they’ve been saying even going back to last season. Now, that might still upset some of you who consider yourselves to be Baseball Futurists and, in general, forward-thinkers, but I don’t think there’s only one way to fix a baseball team.
The two main examples cited in all three interviews were the Astros and the Cubs. On a profound level, neither of those teams are or even were the Giants. At the time of those teardowns, the state of those organizations were such that they had to rethink how they approached the game of baseball, as though they had no idea how to draft and develop players of any kind and were more concerned with front-loading through free agency.
You could accuse the Giants of being exactly the same, but I don’t think that’s true. After the Bonds era ended, they recognized that pitching and defense fit their ballpark best and retooled around that. It led to three World Championships in five years.
Certainly, the post-success Giants have been woefully behind in the areas of international scouting and even the drafting and development of premium talent, but they’ve had their successes (Lincecum, Posey, Bumgarner), and they’ve made moves (this past offseason’s coaching purge and adjustment) — and continue to make moves (their international development and signings this season) — behind the scenes to either catch up or retool the way they approach the game. That shows an organization capable of sober assessment and self-reflection, two qualities teams led by Jim Hendry and Ed Wade very likely did not have.
Also, the Giants don’t have many tank-helping assets to trade away like those teams did.
So, here I am defending the Giants’ front office for not being good enough at retooling on the fly. That is, after all, the position they’d rather be in. The commonality in both Baer and Sabean’s interviews is that the team believes they can “win and develop”. Baer used it as a refrain and sang those three words through most of his interview. That sounds consistent with the front office we’ve known for 20 years (really, it has been that long). The only wrinkle was his suggestion that in some years, the organization might lean more towards one or the other, but that they always enter a season believing they can do both.
That last bit was the PR fluff — it’s hard to imagine the Giants don’t think about things more than a year at a time — but it does suggest that they approach every offseason with the idea of improving the next team. Now, you Futurists might agree with that general idea but loathe the way the Giants have approached it, but here’s where your unchangeable, implacable beliefs might feel vindicated: the Giants are open to a major shakeup.
Here are four relevant exchanges from the Kawakami interview:
You have Brian Sabean and you have Bruce Bochy coming up on their deals at the end of next season. In your mind is it very clear that they both will be in place starting next season?
Yeah, where we are with them is obviously — I think their pedigree is sort of unprecedented and the stability we’ve had here is unprecedented in some respect, so yeah, what we wanna do is — they’re under contract for another, what, eighteen months or so, so that’s not something we’re thinking about right now.
Is that partly out of just honoring what they’ve done or do you believe that those two are the right guys for sure into the future?
No, I think that if they weren’t the right guys going forward — and, again, I’m talking about going forward through this year and next year — if they weren’t the right guys, I think they’d be — given what they’ve given to the franchise and who they are — they’d be the first to say, “Hey, look, this isn’t for me anymore”, but we’re going forward.
That’s a pretty clear line being drawn. You don’t need to speculate. The front office and Bruce Bochy will be allowed to play out their current contracts and then be reevaluated. It’s not even a dig at them and the team’s performance. Either Baer is preemptively saying that Sabean and Bochy will, for the good of the team, retire or step away willingly or he is calmly reminding the world that Sabean and Bochy are good dudes who know when to leave the party. Either way, the Giants are at least aware that the future is here.
Sabean backs this up in his KNBR interview, only he’s talking about this year’s team and where the front office goes from here:
I think what we’ve learned is that we were very respectful and if not doubled down on our core and for some reason, we couldn’t keep them on the field and for some reason they weren’t playing to their baseball cards this year. So, we’re more open minded than ever — whether it’s now or especially, going into the offseason — to shake things up; and, you know, guys are really playing for their place in the ‘19 team, in my mind, right now.
If that’s not startling enough for you, he continued:
I think we’ll be as resourceful as we can. If you put your finger on what our problem’s been: we’ve got [chuckling] a 1960s offense. We have the damndest time scoring on the road and, uh, when we face good or power pitching, we’re very inept. We don’t have a nose for the RBI... strike out too much — you can’t do that if you don’t hit a lot of home runs. And we have not, at all, been any form of consistent. Maybe a little bit more presentable to the eye at home, but, we’ve gotta become more dynamic. If that takes doing it with other players, we’re prepared to do that.
I really, really love pissy Brian Sabean. It’s not professional for a boss to publicly dump on his players, but at the same time, selfishly, after what will be 2.5 years of atrocious offense, it’s a relief to hear someone with some control over the situation not try to dress it up and call it pretty. The Giants are bad and they should feel bad, and it sounds like Sabean does.
[On a separate note, he sounded really tired or perhaps sick in his KNBR interview. Get well soon, Sabes. Need you healthy for the day the Belt and Bumgarner trades are announced.]
Here’s just a little bit more from Sabean about the challenges of fixing an unwatchable garbage offense:
How difficult is that [to add power]? How do you do it?
Well, it’s damn near impossible, because on the free agent market, you know, a power hitter is not necessarily gonna want to come here because they know the park factor. And, if you want to be a little cryptic about it: the people that have success here have to be pull hitters. They have to be right-handed pull hitters or left-handed pull hitters, and that’s very tough to buy. So, in reality, you either have to develop ‘em or you’re gonna have to trade for ‘em. Or, it’s Plan B and you go with another style of offense, which is more based on, you know, line drives, and doubles, and being able to run the bases. So, we’re open now to really anything we can to uptick this offense, because this downturn we’ve had starting with the second half of ‘16... really just isn’t acceptable. We’re gonna have to invent another way of doing it or reinvent ourselves again.
Dispute his assessment all you want, here’s yet another arrow in the quiver of the argument that the Giants will never pursue or sign a free agent power hitter. Their own park is in their heads and they let it influence their decision-making and behavior as they approach free agents.
This collection of interviews isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Baer name-checks Dereck Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez, Reyes Moronta, Steven Duggar (“perhaps a work in progress offensively”), Ray Black, and Chris Shaw (“we love his power; his bat should play”) as part of the future, and Brian Sabean expressed strong confidence that Posey will come back at full strength following hip surgery.
The only other tidbits I noted from this collection (reminder: you can sign up for a 7-day free trial with The Athletic; the Chronicle article is free if you haven’t used up your monthly allotment of article views; and the KNBR interview is online for you to listen to right now) that aren’t big enough scoops that I’d wreck the fair use in posting all this were:
- Sabean said that the recovery time for the hip surgery is six months, which means it might be tight, but that Posey should be able to resume baseball activities in time for Spring Training and the start of the season. I took that to mean he might not be on the Opening Day roster, but perhaps at some point in April or May. But maybe that’s just me.
- Baer addressed Samardzija within the larger context of how the organization is approaching the rest of this season heading into the offseason and 2019: “Jeff Samardzija? We don’t know. We think will come back strong next year. He’s had some rehab games... so it’s way too early to say about 2019, but I think we’ll go into it with a ‘win and develop attitude’ — it may have to lean more towards the development.”
- Baer confirmed it: “The other thing we know is that Johnny Cueto with Tommy John [surgery], will not be with us in 2019, but should come back strong in 2020.”
- The Mission Rock construction begins after next season.
- Larry Baer is in denial about the Giants needing to replace members of their broadcast team sooner rather than later.
The Giants won’t tear down their old house to build a new and nicer house. They will, however, remodel it — maybe add a room here, repurpose a room there — and change the way they live inside of it. Maybe take their shoes off at the front door, shift the lawn into something more eco-friendly and easier to maintain. Perhaps install a grey water system. And, basically, become the envy of their neighbors simply by being more confident in who they are as a family, and not because they followed the crowd.