If you’ve been following the Giants for any length of time, then this past weekend’s series against the Diamondbacks should’ve put to rest any thought that the current roster can compete against the rest of Major League Baseball.
You might be wondering how this is possible and you might be wondering without considering the obvious: the Giants don’t have any good players.
But what about Buster Posey? Brandon Belt? Brandon Crawford?
It’s safe to say their time has passed. It’s not the fate of every 31-32 year old that his baseball skills jump out of his body when the clock strikes midnight on his 32nd birthday, but that would see to be case with this particular trio.
What about Madison Bumgarner? Or the bullpen?
Sure, the bullpen has been fine, but as you saw this weekend and as you’ve seen all season long, a decent starting pitcher and a bullpen isn’t enough to stem the tide of major league hitting.
I can’t accept it. I’ve seen this team win three world championships in five years. I’ve seen most of these players be the very best at their position.
So have I. But the last World Series was five years ago. The last playoff appearance was three years ago, same as the last time the team had a winning record.
The Giants have been bad for three years. They are 188-260 (.420) since July 15, 2016. That’s with Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. There is no rational way of viewing the Giants on May 27, 2019 as anything other than a bad team. That they’re a bad team with players who used to be good is the part of this that stings and confuses and feels a little bit scary, but it’s also the truth of the situation and this is baseball we’re talking about, not life or death, so we should be able to face this reality very easily.
The Giants have a roster of past-their-prime veterans mixed in with low-ceiling younger players and a curious mix of middle of the road mid-prime talents and a not-sure-what-it-wants-to-be coaching staff. That’s a recipe for a long road of losing. Or an even longer one than the road they’re already on.
What does that mean for any of us who still want to watch the team? It’s one of those situations that doesn’t have much hope. Even if you’re anxious to see how the new front office executes trades, it’s hard to imagine much of the current roster being swapped out for something better in the next year or so. They just don’t have much to offer, and they don’t have much of anything anybody wants.
So pretend the Giants moved to St. Petersburg after the 1992 season. No Peter Magowan, no Barry Bonds, no Jeff Kent, no Kruk & Kuip, no Oracle Park, no home run chase, and no World Series. Actually, for the purposes of this post, you’ll need to imagine that 2010, 2012, and 2014 happened, just to the Tampa Bay Giants.
Brian Sabean traveled east with the team and still became their general manager. Bonds — I don’t know — signed with the Yankees in the 1992 offseason. The Tampa Bay Rays toiled with the Giants roster that they had eventually building themselves into the same scrappy contender they were through the bulk of the Sabean era.
You watched from afar as Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Madison Bumgarner won world titles for a team that could’ve been in San Francisco. And you were pissed that it took the Giants leaving San Francisco to finally win.
After the Warriors became world beaters, wealthy San Franciscans wanted to replicate that success in baseball. China basin had been left undeveloped and the city was more interested in giving it over to wealthy developers rather than build affordable housing, so with that and Major League Baseball’s blessing, a new expansion franchise was born.
The San Francisco Tech Boys... San Francisco Dot Coms... San Francisco Bleep Bloops... something involving the tech industry. The bay area had largely moved on from baseball in San Francisco, though, and the A’s, despite revolutionizing the game, hadn’t been able to win since the Giants left town to claim 100% of the potential new pool of fans, so this Unnamed SF Expansion Franchise faced an uphill battle for interest.
The ownership group figured the best way to drum up interest was by adding recognizable names to their brand new marquee, so they made sure to target champions in the expansion draft of the 2018 offseason. Lo and behold, the Tampa Bay Giants chose not to protect some of their faces of the franchise and the new team had their first core group:
- Buster Posey, owed $69.6 million over the next three seasons and coming off of hip surgery, was a native son of Florida. A Florida State Hall of Famer. The NL MVP in 2012. It was unthinkable that he was available for the draft, but Tampa Bay ownership had just hired a new front office that abhorred the thought of paying professional athletes millions of dollars once they turned 30 years old, and Posey was going to be 32 in 2019 and, again, coming off hip surgery that had seemingly sapped all his power. The San Francisco Startups scooped him up with their very first pick.
- Brandon Crawford was a Gold Glove shortstop who was the NL’s starting shorstop in the 2018 All-Star Game. He was a native son of San Francisco, famously pictured next to a sign begging the Giants not to leave San Francisco. This would be his homecoming and the chance for the new team’s marketing department to really lean into the whole hometown hero angle. A 32-year old shortstop with declining defensive skills and a sub-.720 OPS owed $46 million through 2021 was a player Tampa Bay was only too happy to leave unprotected for anyone who wanted him.
- Brandon Belt was a mercurial talent whose strong offense skillset had plummeted in the first year of a 4-year $69 million extension. Although he was atop most of Tampa Bay’s offensive leaderboards, his $17.2 million AAV was one the Tampa Bay front office wanted to clear if possible, and the San Francisco Googlemeisters knew they’d need somebody who could hit home runs and be their primary RBI man.
- After these three, the Tampa Bay Rays knew they had the new San Francisco team on the hook, so they agreed to trade Madison Bumgarner and Evan Longoria for some of the prospects San Francisco grabbed elsewhere in the draft. Bumgarner’s velocity and peripherals had been in decline for two seasons, ever since an unexpected gator mishap during an off day in 2017. Evan Longoria was set to turn 33 for the 2019 season.
- The new SF team added veterans like Mark Melancon, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Joe Panik into the mix as well, and claimed Will Smith, Tony Watson, and Sam Dyson with their other picks.
- The last bit the team needed was a figurehead. They found the deposed Bruce Bochy, who after managing in San Diego bounced around once or twice before seemingly retiring, and convinced him to come out of semi-retirement for one final tour of duty.
Everything the team did was designed to generate interest for their inaugural season. A lot of the players were in decline, but the organization was hopeful that with a fresh start in a new city, the thrill of baseball returning to the city by the bay, and the brains of Farhan Zaidi and his new front office these players could surprise the baseball world and be competitive.
What the fans got instead was a roster of past-their-prime veterans mixed in with low-ceiling younger players and a curious mix of middle of the road mid-prime talents and a not-sure-what-it-wants-to-be coaching staff.
The inaugural season of the San Francisco Seagulls didn’t hit that 75-win mark Farhan Zaidi projected and they weren’t competitive very far into the season like he’d hoped, but they were a baseball team that existed, making no lasting impression beyond their losing, and providing very little hope that 2020 would be any better.
This is the story of every expansion team. None of them begin life fully formed. They’re starting from scratch, scrambling to find talent to fill their roster(s) from every corner of the Earth. A lot of that talent winds up being more experience-heavy than tools-heavy, and that’s just the reality of being the new team on the block. No preexisting team will simply give away its young talent — the expansion team has to find it on their own.
Sometimes, they can be good as soon as their second season, as were the Arizona Diamondbacks. They won 100 games in their second season and the World Series in their fourth. The Marlins were bad for four years before winning it all in their fifth. The Rockies were a playoff team in their third season.
It would take the real Tampa Bay Rays 11 seasons to reach the playoffs, but once they did, they went all the way to the World Series. There’s no one path forward for any expansion team, but no matter what the situation, it always starts with losing. Lots and lots of losing.
The real Giants are in the same position as an expansion team. They have no identity, no talent on the horizon, and no guarantee that they’ll be competitive in the near future. Now that reality has sunk in, the real work can begin.
Which, again, is lots and lots of losing.