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Can the Giants do anything at this point?

The Giants, as we know, have completely blown up their offseason. Although they did manage to sign Michael Conforto, Ross Stripling, Mitch Haniger, Taylor Rogers, and Sean Manaea, it's hard to expect that they will be contenders. But in both 2019 and 2020, the Giants managed to get hot when they were least expected to do so. Neither of those years was expected to be one of contention, but the Giants jumped into the NL Wild Card race in both. I think the reason they ultimately failed to make the postseason both times is simple: they did hardly anything at the Trade Deadline.


Let's go back to July of 2019 for a moment. That month, the Giants transformed their outlook from no hope to a highly realistic chance of grabbing the final NL Wild Card spot. They figured out how to score runs and win games. Prior to their hot streak, they had had the full intention of trading ace starter Madison Bumgarner and closer Will Smith. Bumgarner had not been effective in the first half, but he improved at about the same time the rest of the team did, suddenly making him very valuable.

But the potential trades of MadBum and Smith remained a difficult decision for Farhan Zaidi until the end. He was getting considerable offers for both, and had to weigh the Giants 2019 Wild Card chances against the importance of preparing for the future. Ultimately, he decided that the Giants had a chance and hung on to his potential trade chips. Although his assessment was correct, the attempt at a Wild Card run was doomed to fail if meaningful additions were not made to the roster. And the only guy the Giants ended up acquiring at the deadline was Scooter Gennett, whose OPS was a ridiculously low .497 (baseballreference.com, n.d.)*. With the Giants, he posted .644 (baseballreference.com, n.d.)*, but this was still unimpressive.

Now, from an end-of-July perspective, it probably looked like the Giants could do it with the roster constructed as it was, because they were already on a red hot streak. However, for a team that had played poorly over the first few months, it would certainly be highly questionable whether a month's great performance was sustainable. As it turned out, the Giants ended up failing when it mattered most; in the August series against the Cubs in which they were swept in three games. A playoff push was the right call, but it required more aggressiveness at the Trade Deadline. And, to say that the farm system was vital to an all but certain championship run in the future would require some visible current evidence.

After the 2019 failure, 2020 rolled around. The Giants, once again, were not expected to be contenders. But after the season was shortened due to COVID, the playoff bracket was expanded, making it a good choice for every team to attempt to contend. After all, you'd be likely to make it even if you had only a 30-30 (.500 win pct) record. The Giants had another terrible start to the season, but boosted themselves into contention after they got the hang of things. Their turnaround included a rebound from Kevin Gausman, who had not pitched very well at the beginning.

But did the Giants proceed correctly at the Trade Deadline? No. Once again, they apparently trusted their hot streak to be enough. And this time, the battle went on up to the last game of the season, and the Giants lost it. They were one step away from making the postseason; in fact, two runs away, and didn't do it.

Now, from an analytical perspective, we can imagine how this could have been changed. The addition of talent means the addition of runs, which translate to wins. Of course, not all runs neatly fit into a Pythagorean expression of the outcome, but I find it interesting that three of the final five games of the 2020 season were lost by one run, including the Friday game against the Padres in which Sam Coonrod surrendered a walk-off three run home run. (As a side note, Coonrod was so obviously struggling with command that he never, ever should have remained in the game long enough to lose it. Though the only other real option, Wandy Peralta, was certainly no guarantee to succeed in this clutch situation, it was worth a try.) The point is that the Giants missed the postseason by a small step that maybe could have been taken. And it's possible that they would have moved up to the first Wild Card spot instead of the second.

Looking into 2023, it seems that the Giants best bet is to hope that they can put together a hot streak and break into contention, defying the odds. In fact, with the extra playoff spot, they would be in a spot to make a push if they can as much as reach the Trade Deadline with an average record. The obvious plan would be to make August and September the key months. But this will not succeed unless they mean business at the Trade Deadline. In 2019, they barely did anything when they were on an extreme hot streak. In 2022, they barely did anything because they had gotten extremely cold and didn't see too much of a chance. These are almost completely opposite scenarios, but they had the same result: the loss of the postseason. 2023 needs to be better.

But as of right now, while they are waiting for the season to start, the Giants would benefit from making whatever good trades they can. One good idea might be Padres closer Josh Hader. Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson is another intriguing possibility.

I want to share an idea that may come as a surprise to some, but which I believe is good in regard to a focus on winning close late inning games. Believe it or not, I want the Giants to acquire pinch runner Terrance Gore. Whether the Mets will keep or release him remains to be seen. I believe that on the whole, Gore is undervalued.

As a player with the capacity to change a game and score the critical run as a pinch runner, Gore should be playing at times other than September and October. And when he plays, he certainly should not sit on the bench for the entirety of most games. I believe that he is worth a major league contract if it would take that much to sign him, and that he should be viewed as a possibility to pinch run for any player slower than he is (which is, in all probability, everybody else). Of course, the overall quality of the player he would replace must be considered and the decision weighed, but I believe that over the course of Gore's professional career, there have been multiple good pinch run situations in which he has been right there on the bench and remained unused.

Now you might wonder whether Gore's presence on a roster is efficient in terms of roster management. I understand the concern, but remember that teams used to play with a 25-man roster, and that they got along just fine. So it should not come as I shock that I wonder whether it would be valuable to have the 26th spot as a special designation. Over the course of a season, a speedster may change the outcome of more games than you might think.

The other obvious focus the Giants must have, and this ties into my mention of Josh Hader, is the bullpen. Specifically, it must be prepared to sway the outcomes of close late inning games in the Giants direction. In 2022, the fatal cold streak before the deadline occurred in part because it was not.

So there are still things the Giants can and should do. There must be a plan to contend in 2023; otherwise, they will quickly lose significant fan interest.

*References:

Scooter Gennett. (n.d.). Retrieved January 2, 2023

from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gennesc01.shtml

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