The San Francisco Giants have met with Aaron Judge and made him an offer. If he accepts, the Giants will get better, to the extent that the team might not have to make any other big move this offseason, despite their stated intention. This thesis is thanks to a ridiculously early 2023 ZiPS projection from strong acquaintance of the site, Mr. Dan Szymborski.
ZiPS has an 83-79 projection going for the Giants based solely on the roster on hand. It includes all MLB transactions through 11-22-2022. That means a roster without Carlos Rodón, Brandon Belt, and Evan Longoria. Without the benefit of an Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa. With a full season of J.D. Davis and Joc Pederson as a DH, with Anthony DeSclafani back in the rotation. So what gives?
Well, “ZiPS is increasingly a fan of Kyle Harrison,” says Szymborski. It’s hard not to see this team performing better with a better defense behind the pitching staff and maybe that extra defense might be added, but for now, the Giants look like a team that’s — on paper — already above .500.
Which was also the case last year! ZiPS gave the 2022 Giants an 85-win projection. How’d they miss the mark? Bad injury luck and worse defense.
Right now is probably my favorite point in the offseason because it’s just before the mold begins to set that will determine the shape of next season. The signing bonanza will probably kick off next week at the Winter Meetings, but right now, we get to have a degree of dread and optimism. The Giants were a surprise team in 2021 but knew they were building up to something good. Not the actual 2021 record-good — a regular season outcome we can safely expect to never happen again in our lifetimes — but good. 2022 adjusted expectations to something more realistic, but it’s safe to say the team disappointed.
This 83-win early projection basically splits the difference: the Giants are already a decent team on paper and with a little luck will be about as good as they were last year or maybe even a little better. That’s with ~$125-$130 million committed. If they add an Aaron Judge and another batter or pitcher, that might up the projection closer to 85 wins, which means with a little luck push them into the 87-88 win zone and fuelthem deep into September hunting for the third Wild Card.
What’s great about ZiPS is that it’s a conservative projection with a decent degree of accuracy, which means it has to be fairly similar to what a lot of teams do for their internal assessment. The Giants know what they have, and it’s either as good or a little bit better than what ZiPS has projected. So it makes all the sense in the world to say that the team will be active this offseason, because 2022 was a disappointment from a marketing perspective.
And yet you can see from this projection that the organization is in good shape. The Giants have sloughed off a lot of talent the past two offseasons and they’re no worse for wear. The loss of Buster Posey and Decline of the Brandons have hurt them more than anything else, and it’s impossible to replicate all that through free agency. So, until the farm system starts producing stars, the Giants will just have to make do with their brain trust.
There’s definitely a low-hanging fruit quality when it comes to writing up preliminary projections within the first few weeks of a long winter, but I don’t think this one distorts reality in any way. If the Giants were worse than this projection, then they’d be in big trouble. Right now, I think it reflects the state of the organization: not a losing team, but in need of some activity to boost its winning potential. But the cynical part of me also looks at this number and thinks, “You know, this looks like a good excuse to not do as much as you might say you want to, because the reality is that there’s not a lot more that has to be done to make this team a solid contender.”
As this most recent postseason showed, the teams that spend the most don’t actually win it all and it has been such a repeating pattern that I’ve created and started to believe in a conspiracy theory that the Dodgers continue to employ Dave Roberts as their manager so that the Dodgers’ repeated (and hilarious) postseason failings is a way of manufacturing consent across the industry and sports fandom that spending a lot of money on teams actively works against the prospects of winning a championship, which has — unfortunately — become the only measurement of enjoyment for the majority of fans.
From an analytics perspective, the Giants are really just one or two players away from being the third Wild Card. Snatch that third Wild Card, and who knows?