Here is a statement from the San Francisco Giants that I just made up:
We are going to try to compete in 2019.
Emphasis is mine. I mean, the whole thing is mine, since I just made up that quote. But you get the point. The team’s goal entering the offseason is to try and compete in 2019, and try is indubitably the operative word here.
One of the myriad problems with trying is that the Giants are locked in to the overwhelming bulk of their roster. As Bryan noted the other day, the Giants have most of their positions filled. Even worse yet, the Giants have most of their positions filled with good players.
Yes, the fact that the positions are filled with mostly good players isn’t a silver lining; it’s the opposite. The antithesis of a silver lining. The inverse of a silver lining. The reverse version of a silver lining. I don’t know what this is called, and I want to avoid using the phrase “poopy lining”, so I’m just going down the list of synonyms for opposite and trying them all. You get the point.
The Giants having good players means there are limited areas for improvement. Of the eight non-pitching positions, the Giants are essentially locked in to six of them; only the corner outfield spots remain vacated for next year. And while it’s fun to imagine a world where the Giants salary dump Evan Longoria so they can add Manny Machado, or trade Joe Panik and magically procure an above average second baseman somewhere along the way, it’s pretty safe to say those things aren’t happening.
The team may spend a good amount of money on left and right field. May. But even if they signed Bryce Harper, cloned him, and signed him again, it probably won’t be enough if the team ends up running back the rest of the cast. They’re 10 games back in the NL West, and fading fast, so it’s going to take more than just two key free agents to slingshot back to the front of the pack.
It’s going to take internal improvement. So let’s look at those six position players (because, let’s face it, it’s the offense that needs to improve), and see how they’re trending, so we can see just how likely some future improvement is.
Catcher: Buster Posey
Age at start of 2019 season: 32
Three-year fWAR: 3.8, 4.2, 1.9
Three-year bWAR: 4.9, 4.1, 2.3
Three-year wRC+: 114, 127, 105
Posey is already starting to trend downwards, and that’s before you account for the hip surgery he just underwent. There is, of course, always the slim chance with surgeries that it gets a player to healthier than before, and momentarily reverses some aging, but it seems we know what Posey is for the next year or two: a notably above-average catcher who is nowhere near MVP level anymore.
First base: Brandon Belt
Age at start of 2019 season: 30
Three-year fWAR: 3.9, 2.2, 2.0
Three-year bWAR: 4.6, 3.0, 2.4
Three-year wRC+: 136, 118, 110
It’s fair (and sad) to wonder how much Belt’s injuries have impacted him, as he always seems to struggle when coming off the DL. It’s also fair (and sad) to assume that the best days of Belt are well in the rearview mirror. Still, if there’s a player on this list who would bounce back to a 4.5-WAR year without it surprising me too much, it’s Belt.
Second base: Joe Panik
Age at start of 2019 season: 28
Three-year fWAR: 1.8, 1.9, 0.0
Three-year bWAR: 1.3, 1.3, -0.1
Three-year wRC+: 86, 103, 77
With every day, Panik’s 2015 All-Star campaign looks like more and more of an outlier. Still, given his glove and aesthetically pleasing swing, it’s easy to envision him getting back to the 1.5-2.0 WAR level.
And, yeah. That’s kind of the Giants problem right there, isn’t it.
Third base: Evan Longoria
Age at start of 2019 season: 33
Three-year fWAR: 4.5, 2.5, 0.3
Three-year bWAR: 3.9, 3.6, 0.8
Three-year wRC+: 123, 96, 89
Trending: Downwards, and rapidly
Longoria having a bounceback year shouldn’t surprise anyone. The problem is, at this point in his career, a bounceback year only brings him to the 2.0-WAR range. And then he’ll still have three more years left on his contract.
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
Age at start of 2019 season: 32
Three-year fWAR: 5.3, 2.1, 1.8
Three-year bWAR: 4.9, 2.2, 2.0
Three-year wRC+: 104, 85, 93
Crawford is perhaps not trending downwards as much as most of the others on this list. He basically repeated last year’s performance, and his glove and swing suggest that he can do that for another year or two. But, forgive me if I’m repeating myself, the 5-WAR days are in the rearview mirror, and that’s kind of the problem here, isn’t it.
Center field: Steven Duggar
Age at start of 2019 season: 25
Three-year fWAR: N/A, N/A, 0.6 (in just 41 games)
Three-year bWAR: N/A, N/A, 1.1
Three-year wRC+: 131 (AA), 109 (AAA), 86
Hooray! One player trending upwards! We have no idea how good Duggar can be, but it’s nice to know that it’s most likely that one of these players will be better in 2019 than they were in 2018.
With the exception of Duggar and Panik, all of these players have guaranteed contracts that pay them a lot of money. For the most part, the contracts are perfectly fine. But we’re looking at a whole bunch of 2-3 WAR players paid like 2-3 (and sometimes 3-4 WAR) players. That’s fine. Teams need those. Teams need a lot of those.
But they need them to supplement the 5-6 WAR players. The Giants don’t have any of those players, and, due to the cavalcade of 2-3 WAR players, they barely have any space - on the field or in the bank - for the 5-6 WAR players.