The Giants will enter the 2018-19 offseason with a new general manager. This is good. The Giants need to go in a different direction. I don’t know what that direction is, but the new GM will. I’m confident he/she/they will know how build a powerful roster with almost no financial flexibility, a roster full of no-trade clauses, and a farm system that has ranked in the bottom 10 of baseball for years. Oh, and unless Larry Baer and Brian Sabean are willing to be patient, they also need to win now. None of this “trust the process” crap.
While Bobby Evans made some questionable moves as the Giants GM, the current roster situation isn’t entirely his fault. It’s not clear how much Evans was directed to reload rather than rebuild nor is it apparent how much Evans bought into it. The answers to that are probably “a lot” and “a fair amount.” What’s clear now is just how impossible that task was.
Evans didn’t have the luxury of a farm system that consistently churned out major league talent. The reload strategy essentially gave Evans two options to acquire players who were ready to contribute now: sign free agents or make trades. Considering what was being asked of him, and what his options were, I’m not sure Evans could have done much better.
This last offseason made abundantly clear that free agency is broken. It doesn’t work for the players, and it doesn’t work for teams. Well, it works for the teams that develop good players and underpay them for the best seven years of their career. But for the teams with lousy farm systems and seemingly non-existent player development who need to buy their players, like the Giants, it blows.
When Evans signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, it was done with the understanding that they were going to be good for a few years, and the last few years were going to be rough. In Cueto’s case, there was a very good chance he would opt out after two years and free the Giants from his decline. After Cueto’s first season, the best of his career by fWAR, it looked like an absolute certainty. Now he’s dead money until 2020.
Similarly, with Samardzija, he had two good years before he couldn’t stay on the field. Now his future is uncertain. It’s not that no one saw this coming. This played out exactly how it was supposed to.
If you’re hoping that the new GM signs Patrick Corbin to help get the Giants back on their feet, well guess what, Corbin’s going to be bad in a few years. If you’re thinking AJ Pollock or DJ LeMahieu can revitalize the offense, they’ve already shown signs of regression. This team could not have been fixed by free agency, and it won’t be fixed by free agency now.
I’ve already concluded that the trades Evans made were basically a wash. They hurt the Giants chances to win more than they helped, at least so far. The Matt Moore trade has obviously been a disaster, but it made sense at the time. I miss Matt Duffy, too, but he’ll never hit like he did in 2015 again. The Evan Longoria deal isn’t working out, but under the reload edict the options for third were to trust Christian Arroyo or sign Mike Moustakas.
Other than those two trades, Evans actually did pretty well. The team didn’t need Kyle Crick to have a good bullpen this year. They needed offense and Andrew McCutchen was the best hitter on the team before he was traded. Now, the Giants have a toolsy middle infielder who isn’t getting any playing time in a lost season. He turned Adalberto Mejia into Eduardo Nuñez and he turned Nuñez into Shaun Anderson.
It should be telling that Anderson is now the Giants’ best pitching prospect. To the Red Sox, he was the kind of prospect they were willing to part with for a utility infielder. To the Giants, he’s the future. It’s really indicative of the Giants’ actual problem: player development.
The early returns on David Bell’s work as farm director are encouraging. The Giants have actually gotten contributions from their rookies in 2018, but for three years, Evans had to reload a roster without reinforcements coming from the farm. That’s not just hard. It’s impossible.
Evans was doomed from the start, and it’s not because of his baseball acumen or lack thereof. In light of Sabean’s remarks about “timely hitting,” and Baer talking about a “next-gen” person, Evans was probably the smartest guy in the room. Evans isn’t without fault in building this roster just as he deserves credit for bringing three championships to San Francisco. Evans had to adhere to a philosophy of trying to put together a winning team and worry about next year when next year was here.
It’s been next year for a few years now. Removing Evans is the first step toward realizing that, but it will only be symbolic if they double-down on the reload strategy rather than focusing on player development. If Baer and Sabean don’t realize that, then the Giants are no better off then they were before firing Evans.