The 2019 season is right around the corner. That faint buzzing sound you’re hearing is me whooping and hollering in excitement.
If you’re not joining me with overflowing enthusiasm for another 162 days of baseball well . . . you’re probably wise to be making that decision.
The San Francisco Giants won 73 games last year, and 64 the year before. On the bright side, those win totals are consistent with one of the best teams in sports, the Golden State Warriors. On the less bright side, the Giants play 80 more games each year than their soon-to-be neighbors.
So if you’re falling off your stool not because you’re excited, but because you’re already drinking away the misery of a season that hasn’t even started yet, I don’t blame you.
I’m not here to tell you the Giants will be good. I’m not even here to tell you that they might be good (though they might!). I’m just here to remind you that there are still a lot of things worth celebrating, and a lot to be giddy about.
Here are 10 of them.
10. The growth of Steven Duggar
Duggar is kind of a funny player, in that there’s a lot of hype surrounding him if you’re a Giants fan and yet . . . there isn’t much hype elsewhere.
Steamer and ZiPS both project Duggar to play the bulk of the season, and the more bullish of the two only has him at 1.0 wins above replacement. That doesn’t exactly align with an excited fanbase.
Part of the excitement stems from the fact that the Giants haven’t had a quality defensive centerfielder since . . . I dunno, insert your preferred pop culture reference here. I mean, look at this dude!
Takeaways: It might take David Peralta some time to come to terms with this F8. Also, if Steven Duggar hits, he's going to be a star. pic.twitter.com/9DbmGG28Av— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) August 5, 2018
Steven Duggar would like to be the opening day center fielder. pic.twitter.com/pNhxS3pv09— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) March 25, 2018
Duggar also has speed, in an era where speed is necessary but the Giants never got the memo.
He may not evolve into a great player or even a good one. But a centerfielder with that type of defensive potential is always exciting to watch.
9. The last remnants of a mini-dynasty
This one isn’t just exciting - it’s also depressing. Two for one!
The Giants aren’t good anymore, and they’re unlikely to be good this year. But they still employ a lot of the players responsible for the team having won three World Series since Clayton Kershaw debuted.
Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford are still here, still playing, and still playing well. Joe Panik is a big part of the team. Bruce Bochy will trot out the lineups one final time. Pablo Sandoval will probably even play a little.
Those players aren’t the backbone of a good team anymore, and they won’t be ever again. But they’re still a poignant reminder of what this team has accomplished. I can’t see Posey behind the plate without remembering him running to the mound to embrace Brian Wilson, and then Sergio Romo, and then Bumgarner. I can’t see Pablo Sandoval tap his bat on the ground and lean back without seeing Justin Verlander mouth “wow” as another home run flew over the fence. I can’t watch Belt take a late-inning at bat without queueing up his 18th inning dinger for the next commercial break.
Like I said, that’s depressing, too. But it’s happy. There were good times, and we’re reminded of those good times every time these players take the field.
8. The flailing Dodgers
Yes, the Giants missed out on Bryce Harper, but you know who else did? The Los Angeles Dodgers. They also missed out on Manny Machado.
Now, it goes without saying that the Dodgers are very, very good.
It also goes without saying that the most likely scenario this season is that the Dodgers fall short. Again. And we get to watch it.
7. Positional versatility
Farhan Zaidi is going to need more than a few months to turn this club around, but you can already see his fingerprints on the roster construction.
There’s Levi Michael, who can play all around, and Pat Venditte who can throw with both arms. Pablo Sandoval is even checking in on the outfield.
It’s still Bochy’s team to manage, but he’ll be given a more versatile lineup, and encouraged to experiment with that versatility. The Giants are modernizing, and that’s fun to watch.
6. Buster still ain’t having it
Lest it be lost in the dreary standings, Buster Posey is still an exceptional baseball player. Sure, he’s unlikely to ever contend for another MVP. But he’s still a treat to watch, in part because he represents all the splendorous minutiae of baseball.
Sure, Posey is fun to watch out of the corner of your eye. But he’s especially fun to watch when you’re looking closely. When you see the timing and balance that allows his amazing eye to play at the plate. The designed check swings to stay alive in a two-strike count. The eyes on the opposing batter as he waits for the moment to discreetly give a sign to his pitcher, and the subtle slide he employs to frame a pitch without catching the attention of the umpire.
The home run numbers are down, but the detailed excellence that allowed Posey to thrive in the first place is still on full display.
5. The unexpected blossoming semi-youngsters
It’s been repeated more often than your favorite broadcaster’s favorite aphorism, but Dereck Rodríguez was one of the true bright spots during the 2018 season.
Part of what made Rodriguez’s 2.81-ERA season so special was that it was wholly unexpected. Rodriguez was an afterthought of an offseason signing, never supposed to play in 2018. Instead, he pitched 118.1 innings and led the starters in ERA.
Odds are, someone will follow in his footsteps.
Maybe Tyler Beede’s impressive spring carries into the year. Maybe Mac Williamson picks up where he left off in his pre-concussed 2018. Maybe Joey Bart flies up the farm or Abiatal Avelino shocks everyone.
We don’t know who will exceed expectations, but someone likely will.
4. Kruk and Kuip and Jon and Dave
Turn on your TV. Go ahead, turn it on. Or your radio, if you prefer.
Find a sporting event, and tune in. Any sport, big or small. Any broadcast team, regional or national.
It won’t be as good as any combination of Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper, Jon Miller, and Dave Flemming.
They’re the gold standard, whether you like the friendly banter and campfire stories of K & K, or the articulate and joyous analysis of Jon and Dave.
It doesn’t get better.
3. Bruce Bochy using all the LOOGYs
In case you missed two major pieces of offseason news, Bruce Bochy is retiring after this year, and MLB is making a bunch of horrific rule changes.
One of them is to implement a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. That rule is antithetical to the school of Bochy.
Thankfully, it won’t be put into place until 2020.
Which is as fitting as it gets.
Bochy will manage with the goal of winning, but in the back of the mind he’ll be thinking of sticking it to the crusty grumps in the league office who want to alter a nearly flawless game. And every time he brings in Tony Watson for one batter (which probably isn’t a good idea, but whatever), you’ll be able to see the steam flying out of Rob Manfred’s ears.
I’m here for it.
2. Bring on the trades
Perhaps this team surprises all and is in the hunt for a playoff berth as the second half of the season begins. That’s exciting!
In all likelihood they won’t be - and that’s exciting, too! Because if the team can’t field an exciting product on the field, they’ll almost surely field an exciting one off of it.
At the helm of the Dodgers a year ago, Zaidi traded for Manny Machado. And Brian Dozier. And John Axford. And . . . a lot of other players.
The Giants won’t be in the same July position as the Dodgers, but the philosophy doesn’t change just because the loss column does. Zaidi will be aggressive in his pursuit of a greener future, and the way he utilizes the team’s trade assets will be fascinating to watch unfold.
This team will look a lot different in a year, and we get to see that transformation live.
1. It’s baseball
The grass is green and fresh. The sun or the lights are bright. You can smell the garlic fries, whether you’re in the bleachers or on your couch.
Baseball is beautiful. Baseball is fun. Baseball is poetic.
No matter what Rob Manfred wants you to think.
It’s baseball. It’s 162 games of glorious, magnificent, magical baseball.
And it’s almost here.