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Connor Joe and the outfielders who made history

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We will forget the specifics but remember the idea behind the great right-handed corner outfield churn of 2019.

Tampa Bay Rays v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Stat line

8 games, 16 PA, .067/.125/.067, -46 OPS+, -0.2 fWAR

2019 might have been the last year of the Giants’ dynasty and the last year of Bruce Bochy’s tenure, but it was also the Year of Connor Joe. We will remember Connor Joe because he became the face of Farhan Zaidi’s attempt to radically remake the Giants in the only way he could after just four months on the job: by insisting upon a veteran-less answer to the roster’s open questions.

Zaidi traded for Joe a week before the end of Spring Training, setting him up to be the Opening Day left fielder. He knew him because he’d been in the Dodgers’ system the year before, smacking a .935 OPS across two levels at 25 years old. The Giants needed to get younger and more selective at the plate, and he looked like a quick and dirty upgrade.

But it did not go well. Oh no, it did. When Connor Joe wasn’t being fooled at the plate he was barely mustering contact. Somehow, he put 10 balls in play, averaging a meager 81.4 mph exit velocity. He was not good in any facet of the game. Zaidi said:

When you have a Rule 5 guy or out-of-options guy, you need one of three things to keep the situation live. You need immediate performance and immediate returns, or you need your team playing well where you can buy that player a little bit more time, or you’re in a full rebuilding mode and you’re willing to work your way through that. Unfortunately, none of those apply in this case.

He said this after the Giants DFA’d Connor Joe to fit the newly acquired Tyler Austin on the roster (whom we’ll get to shortly) and, as you’ll see, the front office never revised their criteria. They would go on to use many, many players in The Churn.

As for Joe, he managed to get his first major league hit (a bloop single) and give us this memorable image:

Magnify and enhance!

Role on the 2019 team

He was the clever man’s gamble that didn’t work out. The Giants couldn’t show they were tanking but they didn’t want to spend any money on players to once again patch over their many roster holes, so they looked for cheap stopgaps. Joe caused more problems than he solved and the Giants would go on to employ a lot of bad and forgettable outfielders in 2019, but there’s something about Joe that made him the mascot of The Churn’s downside, unfair as that may be.

It probably has something to do with his Dodger roots.

Role on the 2020 team

He’s someone else’s problem now, but figure he’ll torment the Giants within the next three years while playing for some other team.

Just how Farhan was he?

You can’t be a zero Farhan player because Farhan Zaidi is too smart to employ guys who can’t serve some function in his proprietary algorithm. Joe looked good on paper, but none of his minor league skills translated and the Giants didn’t have time to wait for him to catch up . . . not when there were already so many other players they were waiting on.

Who were these other guys? Let’s take a walk down memory lane . . . and then try to forget.

Stat lines

Aaron Altherr: 1 game, 1 PA, 1 strikeout
Tyler Austin: 70 games, 147 PA, .185/.279/.400, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 17/57 BB/K
Michael Reed: 4 games, 0-for-8 with six strikeouts
Joey Rickard: 26 games, 54 PA, .280/.333/.380, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4/17 BB/K

Roles on the 2019 team

You could only really say that Rickard was slated to be a fourth outfielder. He was also the only player to have any utility, homering and generally looking like a capable backup in the final month of the season.

The other guys were acquired in hopes of being a one-dimensional power threat, defense be damned; or, as in Altherr’s case, an interesting guy the team would like to have if he could sneak through waivers and be stashed in Triple-A (he couldn’t; the Mets claimed him).

Michael Reed was one of Zaidi’s twin outfield adds before Opening Day. The Connor Joe-Steven Duggar-Michael Reed outfield went 3-for-30 with a heap of strikeouts in the first four games of the season.

Tyler Austin didn’t homer until his 16th game with the Giants but hit .323/.417/.419 in 36 plate appearances before a two-homer game in Colorado. After that game, though, he hit .128/.226/.330 in 106 plate appearances. Six home runs, sure, but very little else. He looked overmatched at the plate.

Roles on the 2020 team

As of this writing, the Giants still hold the arbitration rights to Joey Rickard, who is neither a luxury nor an albatross, but whose meager projection and strict utility as a backup player might make him expendable on a full 40-man roster.

Beyond him, none of these guys are the Giants’ problem any longer. Reed was hurt most of the season and after just four games in San Francisco wound up playing just 15 games in Triple-A Sacramento (.226/.317/.358). He elected free agency at season’s end.

Farhan-o-meter

Without Connor Joe, Michael Reed, and Tyler Austin, there wouldn’t have been Mike Yastrzemski or Alex Dickerson. And what if that Joe-Duggar-Reed outfield had been decent at the start of the year? Do the Giants even bother to trade for Kevin Pillar?

Connor Joe isn’t a punchline. He’s a symbol. He represents the worst of minor league to major league skill translation but also the best of us. Each and every one of us who watches baseball but was never a professional ballplayer views every roster as a fantasy baseball team. That’s all these new front offices are doing. Connor Joe represents the late round gambles on guys who can make you look like a genius if they work out.

The real Connor Joe was the moves we made along the way.