The San Francisco Giants were never meant to be a great baseball team in 2023. The full court press made by ownership and the smartest front office in professional sports was that the team had been put together so cleverly and wisely that it would, at worst, be pretty good. With nearly a quarter of the season played, it is hard to know if they’re on track or off the rails.
This morning on Pitcher List, Steve Drumwright generated a list of four managers who could be on the hot seat. Gabe Kapler is #2. He spends the bulk of his writeup setting up the entire history of Kapler’s Giants career and then three sentences saying why he could be on the hot seat. I’m not writing a post about Gabe Kapler being on any hot seat, I am trying to point out that things are not quite right for the Giants, and Drumwright’s first sentence in the final graff helps my point:
The Giants had hoped to rebound and be a contender this season, but something is definitely off.
Former Giants beat writer Henry Schulman was always fond of saying that you shouldn’t start measuring a team’s season until after the first 40 games of the season. For the Giants, that will be at the end of this weekend’s series in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. I’m jumping the gun a bit because the Giants just got their brains beaten in by the rebuilding Washington Nationals and didn’t look competitive for much of 27 innings.
They would need to sweep the Diamondbacks to be at .500 through 40 games, but I think the most optimistic view is a split, in which case they’d be 18-22. That’s when a lot of fans would be able to squint and see a path forward for a team that’s struggling but still has a decently high floor. I might even be one of those people — hell, I had been in the prior two weeks.
This week, though, the vibes have been off. That Nationals series was a bust. The Giants called up Casey Schmitt, which was cool, but against the model the Giants had been using. Like the Logan Webb extension, it felt a bit less like reasoning and a lot more like marketing. Attendance has cratered. Were it not for the Schmitt family in attendance, there would’ve been no cheers for the Giants in their home park this week.
It feels a lot less like baseball and a lot more like experimentation, as though the team is in year two of a five-year rebuild. To be fair, Baseball isn’t a game known for providing much in the way of certainty. The Giants could start a five-game winning streak tomorrow; but that feeling of perpetual transition will still be in effect.
Maybe it’s having Brandon Crawford on the roster still that perpetuates the feeling. Maybe it’s that player development pipeline — though it has started to show flashes of excitement — still feels like a long way from refreshing the roster with league average (as in not replacement level) players. Or perhaps it’s just that the roster doesn’t really stack up against the rest of the division. The payroll is nearly at $200 million and it just doesn’t look like an efficient use of money.
Does that put Gabe Kapler on the hot seat?
Well, yeah. That’s part of a manager’s job. It’s way down on the list, but it’s there.
32. Be the fall guy.
Is there a scenario where Farhan Zaidi, the brilliant shark that he is, fires Gabe Kapler because Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling, most of the bullpen, Mitch Haniger, and Michael Conforto stink? Yes. That’s not difficult to imagine. Let me put it another way: it’s as easy to imagine as it is to imagine the Giants going on a run to get back to even. The seeds of the action(s) are apparent to anyone who’s been watching the team.
Now, what gives me pause is that the Giants’ coaching staff is so vast and diverse that it seems almost like an ecosystem. Would Zaidi be willing to zap the Kapler Reef? Depends on who would be the next guy up and what all the shuffling could mean for the balance they’ve created. Also, I think things would have to get a lot worse before this becomes a true consideration.
The Nationals jumped Anthony DeSclafani, who had been great heading into Monday’s start, and then the Nationals blasted Sean Manaea, which literally everybody had been doing. That’s just bad luck leading to a series loss. The Giants lineup is similarly unlucky in the crappy performance it’s getting from nearly half of it, but until the farm system begins to generate more position players, that’ll be the status quo — unless something positively lucky happens and a bunch of vets who have not played very much the past few years suddenly get hot.
Some people will only focus on the positives and ignore the negatives, and others will weigh the positives against the negatives. There are plenty of people out there who think the Giants are playing everything perfectly because until the farm develops prospects this is the best they can do. That’s one extreme. The other extreme is that people are so impatient that they think any sign of imperfection is a sign the whole thing is rotten and must be discarded.
It’s too early to know one way or the other, right? I think the calmest thing to do is wait and see what happens in games 41-81. Half the season will be enough to know how far along the Giants are in year two of their shadow rebuild (that is, rebuilding in the shadow of 2021) and if what we’re seeing now is the best they can be. For all we know, the Giants are playing exactly to their internal projections.
Still, it’s reasonable to have strong feelings. The smartest front office in the history of professional sports has failed to generate an entertaining product through the first quarter of the season despite a roster with some merit.