I’ve seen the future. The baseball future. Of the Giants. Not the, uh, world future of, y’know, the environment or, like, what happens to all the animals or any of us. Just, like, the baseball standings. And maybe some stats.
Anyway, I’ve seen the future. A very limited and narrow view of the future. Just 731 days from now. Two years, if you want a more generalized reference point. But I think counting down the days is less agonizing than considering the magnitude every single day.
The Dodgers roll the Giants again and again and again and again. Two years.
Nah. The Dodgers roll the Giants again and again and again and again. 727 days.
Yeah. That’s the stuff. That’ll do nicely.
How do I know the Giants will be good again come May 1, 2021? Well, it’s not simply because they’ll have to be, but because everything being put into place now is building for that specific moment in time. Also, and perhaps foolishly, I still believe that the Giants will maintain their franchise streak of never having more than four consecutive losing seasons.
After a 12-18 start to 2019, the Giants have had just two winning months out of their last sixteen. They have had the worst offense in baseball since then, the pitching and defense overall have been mediocre with moments of “Hey, not bad!” sprinkled in.
They have one of the worst farm systems in professional sports. The fans have left them. Free agents want nothing to do with them. They’re the slowest team in baseball. The oldest team in baseball. The worst team in the National League.
No, seriously. Since the second half of 2016:
SF 179-247 (.420)
MIA 180-245 (.424)
CIN 183-243 (.430)
SDP 184-243 (.431)
You’ve watched them play. You know the deal. This isn’t going to turn around overnight, even if you believe that Farhan Zaidi is a wizard who can magic the Giants into the playoffs in just one offseason. That was always a highly improbable proposition. Farhan knew that when he took the job.
Back in 2013, Zaidi had this to say at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT:
You can build a 75-win team just based on sound analytical principles, and you can do that year in, year out even with a $50 million payroll. The question is how do you get beyond that point?
One way is to add at the top of the roster with stars, which for us [remember, at the time, he was Oakland’s assistant GM] just isn’t an affordable strategy. The other way is to manage from the bottom and take players who are liabilities - even small liabilities - and say what does it do to the collective team at the end of 162 games if we can shave some of this off the bottom in terms of productivity. Whether it’s a backup catcher, or a utility infielder or the ninth or 10th bullpen arm you have who will be up and down all year. Really optimizing those positions for us became an important part about building a competitive team.
But at the press conference that introduced him as the President of Baseball Operations for the next five years, Zaidi wasn’t going to sit there and say the Giants will be bad for the next couple of years while he rebuilds the team.
And given the state of the current roster, he’s going to have a tough time overhauling or tweaking it to get to even 75 wins and in alignment with “sound analytical principles”. There are just too many known quantities on the roster, few of which are improvable and even fewer movable.
Trade everybody! the surly fan demands. Surly fan, count the days. We’re 731 days from almost an entirely new roster. Yes, we’ll see the departures of some bullpen arms this year, and maybe even Madison Bumgarner or Joe Panik, but nobody on this year’s team will matter for the next good Giants team. Everything that’s being done to improve the 2019 team is to get it to 75 wins. That’s the reality.
And while another year of player development and another offseason of margin moves and free agent signings might setup the 2020 team to be better — to say nothing of Johnny Cueto’s return to the rotation — even next year has to be viewed as an experiment.
Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey won’t be the core of the next good Giants team. The 2019 and 2020 versions of these players are the stewards of 2010-2014 legacy. Or, they’re living museum pieces. They are not the future of the franchise. After Bruce Bochy’s final year as manager, their run of success will have a bow tied around it. Next year will be all about preparing for the next wave, helping out where they can teach, and platooning when they get in the way.
Belt, Crawford, and Posey are all signed through 2021 (Posey has an option in ‘22), while Longoria is signed through 2022. That holy trinity has no trade clause protection (Belt’s is limited to 10 teams; Crawford and Posey have full no-trades). Longoria does not. Mark Melancon and Jeff Samardzija’s deals are up after next year, Johnny Cueto’s ends after 2021.
Some of these players will be traded, some of these players will play out their contract, and maybe one will be released before their contract ends. None of it will be pretty in the short term. Watching Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford play out their last days in a Giants uniform won’t look good, but maybe the talent that comes back in a Brandon Belt trade creates a new happy memory in 2021 or beyond.
The specifics aren’t too important, because it’ll all be pages in a big book of bad baseball. That’s what we’re in for while the team remakes itself. The road will be nothing but frustrating at first, but then there will be flashes of promise. There will also be flashes of greatness, too — a Brandon goes on a hot streak; Buster Posey makes an All-Star team — but we’re on the wrong side of the bell curve of competition, excitement, and raw talent.
Again, it won’t all be bad, just mostly bad in the beginning. The first thirty or so days of the season were not pretty. The next thirty probably won’t be very fun, either. Let’s see where we are in 60 days, though. Consider where you and the team will be 365 days from now. Consider where we were 365 days ago! I was here:
I’m running through the streets every night screaming with my pants off because the Giants are playing decent baseball. 15-14 is not terrible! It’s a far cry from any point last season! The bar was set so low and yet I can’t find a reason to feel down about the Giants’ semi-stumble through the first month of the season.
So, start the countdown. 731...