clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

In defense of playing the veterans

It may be frustrating, but it’s not bad.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

These days, there’s a certain routine with the flailing Giants. There’s a ritual.

At some point in the afternoon, the lineup card for the day is released, and it features one or two (or three or four) veterans starting, while youngsters at the same positions practice their Big League Chew technique from the dugout.

There’s a Gregor Blanco, where you’d wish to see a Chris Shaw; a Joe Panik where you were seeking an Abiatal Avelino.

This can be upsetting. It’s okay to be upset. I, myself, am frequently upset that the Giants higher-ups allocate so many plate appearances to veterans in a year where postseason hopes have long since faded in the rear view mirror.

And yet, in many ways, it’s entirely defensible. And while we so often chide the Giants for not having a long-term view when they opt to bench their prospects, such a move is also emblematic of a significant long-term view - one that has helped the Giants achieve a lot of success in the past.

Pretend you’re Bryce Harper.

I don’t like this exercise, because it makes me feel old, ugly, and sorely lacking in talent. And I’m not even very old.

You’re Harper, and you’re watching the suitors for your upcoming free agency as their seasons wind down. You see Brandon Crawford, who you hung out with at the 2018 All-Star Game, but you notice he’s on the bench, not on the dirt. You see Brandon Belt, who you compared beard oils with at the 2016 All-Star Game, and he’s sitting on the bench, stuck on 14 home runs.

You ask your agent what’s up with that. They tell you the team isn’t playing their veterans, because they’re out of the playoff race. You ask your agent if the Giants would take that approach with you, should you opt to call San Francisco your next home. They tell you that, yes, if the team has a disappointing season, you’ll spend September watching the game you dedicated your life to playing, from the sidelines, and your Topps card will have a home run and RBI total representative of only 500 at-bats.

Harumph, you say.

Except you say something way cooler, because you’re Bryce Freaking Harper.

Here’s what we don’t know: If chemistry, workplace ambiance, and employee happiness make baseball teams play better baseball.

Here’s what we do know: That chemistry, workplace ambiance, and employee happiness are factors that all employees consider when picking a job, and baseball players are employees.

We know that Mike Leake, who spent many years pitching alongside Johnny Cueto, before a short stint in the Bay prior to Cueto’s free agency, raved about the atmosphere of the Giants.

We know that Ryan Vogelsong, while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, helped sell Mark Melancon on the orange and black because he couldn’t stop talking about how great his former organization was.

We know that Pablo Sandoval, when ditched by the Boston Red Sox, only had one place in mind to continue his baseball career - the place he admitted knew how to make him feel like home.

Nevermind the fact that Cueto is out for all of 2019, and Melancon is overpaid, and Sandoval shouldn’t have a big role next year. That’s beside the point, because other players have emotions, sentiments, and desires as well.

Bryce Harper does. Manny Machado does. Clayton Kershaw does.

When Hunter Pence smacked a stately home run on Tuesday, it did more than just put runs on the board.

It gave the team a jolt of energy, a splash of excitement, and one fleeting, vital vial of joy. Just watch the bench reaction. It’s not a normal bench reaction.

It also granted Pence confidence, while serving as a showcase for any team interested in taking a flier on the eclectic, lovable, powerful outfielder next year.

Moments like these are why Pence signed a long-term contract with the Giants. When he was nothing but a rental, playing for his third MLB team, he saw that this was an organization that, even in a down year, would let him play the game he loved, add numbers to the back of his baseball card, and feel like part of the team. A team that, even when he struggled, would give him the opportunity to right the ship.

So yes. There’s a benefit to finding more at-bats for the Austin Slaters and Aramís Garcías of the team. But there’s also a benefit to fostering a sense of community and family within a clubhouse, so that all players are included, and given their opportunities.

The next free agent who signs with the Giants will, without question, mention the reputation of the organization, and the things they’ve heard about the team’s clubhouse.

This is all a part of that.

It is a long-term plan.