In my nearly four years of running this site, I’ve never done the old faithful of internet sportswriting: a mailbag. That’s partially because I consider myself a writer who just happens to cover baseball and the San Francisco Giants in particular rather than anything approximating an expert on the baseball side of things. And it’s partially because I spend my days drinking coffee and interacting in the comment sections of this website, so a formal mailbag just seems a little silly.
But with the Giants having not won a game in a week, it seemed like a fun time to use mailbag questions not as a platform for me to provide answers so much as a springboard to talk about some interesting things surrounding the team.
Not surprisingly, I got a ton of questions. Fairly surprisingly, only a few of them were the expected “Why haven’t the Giants fired Farhan Zaidi you boot-licking commie?”
So, thanks for that, one and all. This is going to be a two-parter because I wasn’t even halfway through the questions and had already written way too many words. So we’ll start with the questions in the comment section and in my emails, and then grab a few from Elon Musk’s hellsite. Check back tomorrow for the other half!
Do you think this year was successful, or a failure? Do you think that the state of the giants is a good enough spot for Ohtani or really any free agent to think that it’s a good place to sign.
We might as well kick things off with the grand, overarching question about the 2023 season. Was/is it a success, or was/is it a failure?
It certainly bears starting the obvious: there are 22 games remaining, seven of which are against the Rockies. If the Giants are able to locate their June selves, go 16-6, finish 10 games above .500, and win a playoff series, that question is fairly easy to answer. And if they continue their free fall and go 6-16 — which would be their worst record in the Farhan Zaidi era — that question becomes really easy to answer.
I think the best way to look at the season is the way we look at an uninspiring draft class a few days after the draft: it’s disappointing, but we can’t slap a big “failure” label on it for a few years.
We can slap a small “failure” label on it. If they finish .500 for the second consecutive season, right after winning a franchise-record number of games, and five years into a new front office ... yeah, that’s not good, and no one in the organization should pretend it’s acceptable. At the same time, this year has looked like a massive win from a farm development standpoint, and if in two years the Giants are perennial title contenders around a core of Kyle Harrison, Patrick Bailey, Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, and other young players, we’ll look back at 2022 as a successful, albeit painful, year.
As for free agents. With the exception of Shohei Ohtani, I expect every big free agent to follow the money (which Ohtani will also do, to an extent). I’ve heard people suggest that Cody Bellinger wouldn’t leave a good Cubs team for the Giants, but we’re literally only one year removed from Bellinger leaving a 111-win Dodgers team for a 74-win Cubs team. The year before that, his then-teammate Corey Seager left a 106-win Dodgers team for a 60-win Rangers team.
Ohtani will take convincing, though I think the Giants are capable of it. Everyone else? Cue the Jerry Maguire gif. You know the one.
Against The Giants asks:
...do you summon the will to write about a game like that, after a game like that?
This question was sent in through the comment section of Wednesday’s recap of the Giants sixth consecutive loss, five of which were inconceivably feckless. I’ve heard variations of this question/sentiment quite a bit over the last month.
I’ll admit that the will is sometimes hard to come by, because losses can feel deflating when you’re also a fan (which I openly am). There are times where an ugly game finishes and I immediately take a break to shower or do a crossword puzzle before I start writing, just because, as the kids say, I can’t even. But the other side of the coin is that, to be honest, bad games and bad teams are usually a lot easier to write about. There are more narratives, and more human emotions to dive into, and the writing is usually a lot better. And frankly, it’s fairly cathartic. Writing 2,000 words often serves as a nice salve for the burn of an ugly loss.
Was signing Joc a mistake? What about Conforto & Haniger?
Hindsight is always 20/20. If the Giants could go back and re-sign Brandon Belt instead of Joc Pederson, and throw a little extra dough into a prove-it deal for Cody Bellinger instead of Michael Conforto or Mitch Haniger, would they? Of course.
But things not working out doesn’t mean they’re mistakes. And truthfully, those moves have worked out better than the public perception suggests. Despite poor batted-ball luck and a recent loss of power, Joc has had a good season: he’s hitting 116% as well as the average player, and 125% as well against righties, per Fangraphs. He looks worse because A) the Giants need him to carry them, which he isn’t doing, and B) multiple injuries have forced him to play left field, where he should never be. And yes, because he’s a little overpaid, but since it didn’t impact the Giants ability to sign other players, I don’t think that’s even worth noting.
Similarly, Conforto prorates to a 2-WAR season which, while not the dream, justifies the price tag. Haniger’s been a disaster, but he’s only played 47 games, and the only time he looked healthy he was, not coincidentally, one of the team’s best hitters. You win some, you lose some. They’ve lost 2023 with Haniger, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he returns to his dinger-mashing ways in 2024 and 2025.
Why is Aeverson Arteaga your favorite player?
This question was posed in loving jest, but it is a good opportunity to talk about Aeverson Arteaga who, while not my favorite player, is certainly one of the prospects I’m most excited about.
Why? Well, he’s arguably the team’s best defensive prospect, he’s third in the system in home runs despite being a shortstop, and he’s flirting with league-average hitting while being 2.4 years younger than the average High-A player.
What’s not to love?
I Left My Heart in 2021 asks:
To all those good people in the cove
I’ve been thinking about the Giants’ decision to ‘re-tool’ and not rebuild in the Zaidi era. With a number of new teams emerging this year from long, gruelling rebuilds with highly ranked farm systems (Cincinnati and Baltimore being the prime examples), it’s easy to wonder where the Giants would be today if they’d have tanked hard in 2018, say, and just bottomed out for three or four years. Might they have as many highly touted prospects as those clubs? Would there be some emerging rookie superstars this season?
Of course, San Francisco is a way bigger market than those aforementioned clubs, with an ownership group that’s shown a willingness to throw ‘stupid money’ (per Grant Brisbee) at free agents like Correa and Judge. The front office does not have the same artificial financial constraints placed on them as the Rays or Guardians. Ultimately, that comparison isn’t really sensible.
Clearly, the Giants brass are aiming more for – and it pains me to say this – the NorCal version of the Dodgers. They hired Zaidi away from LA, for god’s sake. They believe they can emulate the Dodgers ability to consistently produce high-quality players through their farm system without high draft picks year after year while also signing and trading for big name players to supplement that talent.
My question is this: is this actually a realistic goal? Among their seven rookie hitters (min. 50 PAs) this year they’ve accumulated 0.7 bWAR, with only Bailey and Sabol playing above replacement level. So far the biggest name they’ve managed to lure into Oracle is one of Conforto, Haniger or Pederson, none of whom have lived up to their contracts.
So far the answer appears to be no. While you could reasonably expect those rookies to improve and make a bigger contribution in the coming years, none (apart from maybe Bailey) scream set-it-and-forget-it everyday players. As for free agent hitters, the upcoming class has been described as one of the weakest in recent years, excluding Ohtani.
Are there any signs that the Giants are on a consistently winning trajectory?
Keep up the good work.
So, lots of good stuff to get to here (and thank you for the kind words).
Let’s start with luring players, because it is at least worth mentioning that they lured Carlos Rodón and Carlos Correa, even if the latter fell through, and they certainly had the attention of Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper beyond just being used as a negotiating tool. And, to repeat an earlier point, money usually talks. The Rangers signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien after a 60-win season, then added Jacob deGrom a year later after a 68-win season. Forget the city, forget the weather, forget everything — money is usually the determining factor in “luring” players. And the Giants have money, even if they’ve been at times frustratingly selective about how to spend it. Or, to this point, how to offer it.
With that said, the Giants will never be able to fully emulate the Dodgers in that regard. Even if the Athletics leave Oakland and cede their territorial rights to the Giants, San Francisco can’t compete with Los Angeles in terms of media market. And while we may all adore the city, we have a very extensive history of rich 20-somethings preferring to live in LA. Heck, Farhan Zaidi has even been open that the Giants target local players in part because they’re easier to sign and re-sign. So the Giants can’t replicate the Dodgers in that regard, but if you look at the Dodgers world-beating roster over the last few years, I’m not sure they’ve actually benefitted much from that. Instead, they’ve done it with excellent drafting, excellent developing, heady signings and trades, and an acute understanding of when to re-sign players and when to let them walk.
Can the Giants do that at the level the Dodgers have? Absolutely. It won’t be easy, because these things take time, and because, frankly, the Dodgers are utterly exceptional at it. It’s kind of like asking if Logan Webb can win a Cy Young award. Does he have the potential? Absolutely. Does he have the blueprint? Absolutely. Is it an exceptionally difficult thing to achieve? Abso-freaking-lutely.
I think that is sometimes lost when people ask the Giants to catch up to the Dodgers. It’s not quite as simple as just spending more money, or having a few better draft picks, or revamping the coaching staff. The Giants aren’t just chasing a rival that’s ahead of them: they’re chasing a team that has spent the last decade being one of the best run and most successful teams in baseball history (in the regular season, ha, got their ass). Sometimes you’re in second place not because you’re inadequate, but because first place is really, really good. Just ask Karl Malone. Actually, don’t. If you get the chance to ask Karl Malone a question, ask why he impregnated a 13 year old and then abandoned her and the kid for 15 years. And also why he refers to himself in the third person.
Anyway, yes, I think the Giants can emulate the Dodgers success. But it takes a lot of skill, a lot of time to marinate, and, frankly, a lot of luck. The Dodgers three best players this year are a first-ballot Hall of Famer that they drafted back when they were run poorly and their PBO was employed elsewhere; a first-ballot Hall of Famer who just happened to be available in a trade in his mid-20s when the team was established enough to be able to part with top prospects; and a first-ballot Hall of Famer who left a great team because he wanted to play for his hometown Dodgers and didn’t even field contract offers from other teams. So it goes.
As for a full-on rebuild, I’ll just say that for every Baltimore Orioles there’s a Detroit Tigers team working on their seventh consecutive year of not being in shouting distance of .500. No amount of perfect scouting hires ensures that you’ll draft Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson instead of Casey Mize and Spencer Torkelson. The Giants certainly know this from experience: the same people that picked Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey in the first round of consecutive drafts later went six years of using first-rounders on Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, Christian Arroyo, Tyler Beede, Phil Bickford, and Chris Shaw.
Honestly, you mentioned the Reds and they might be a good example of what the Giants are doing, rather than what they could be doing. Sure, the Reds sat through a decade of futility before this surprising year (the last time they won a playoff game was when they had the Giants on the brink of elimination in 2012), but these are their five best players this season: Matt McClain (No. 17 pick), Andrew Abbott (second-round pick), Jake Fraley (seventh-round pick), Alexís Diaz (12th-round pick), and TJ Friedl (undrafted free agent). Their most exciting player, Elly De La Cruz, was an international signee. Being bad didn’t really help Cincy get any of those players.
Well, this answer got entirely too long.
Can you talk about the potential plan going forward for the Giants?? Like are we gonna play the rookies and let the season go? Does it make sense to do so or would it be better to pursue a playoff spot knowing that it’s an uphill battle? A pros and cons list would be interesting— Giants Fan Burner Account (@BurnerGiants) September 6, 2023
Great idea! Though before I do that, the logistical element does need to be discussed. “Play the kids” is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice. Because September rosters are now limited to 28 players instead of 40, getting kids on the roster means getting veterans off it.
Or, looked at more functionally, if the Giants want to get Heliot Ramos and Wade Meckler back on the roster, they’d have to get rid of two out of Mitch Haniger, Mike Yastrzemski, Joc Pederson, and Austin Slater. They can’t be optioned (I believe Yaz technically could be, but let’s be realistic), and good luck convincing any of them to take a phantom IL stint when they’re not only in the middle of a playoff stint, but trying to accumulate stats to help them earn bigger paydays. So if you want to play the kids, you have to either wait for someone to get injured, or designated someone for assignment, which is just voluntarily giving up on having a player next year, for barely any return.
I meant that to be the caveat before the pros and cons list, but I guess that’s just the list. The pros are you get to develop young players and get a better idea as to what next year’s roster should look like. The cons are that there’s no easy way to do it without causing serious damage, and it probably takes away a shot at the postseason.
Do you think we see Marco Luciano at any point in September?— Lincoln Boehm (@lincolnboehm) September 7, 2023
Probably not. Marco Luciano is still injured, though Farhan Zaidi noted on Tuesday that the shortstop is 7-10 days away from being ready to play again. By that time the Giants will only have about a dozen games left and, hopefully, will still be in contention. It’s hard for me to envision them throwing a fully unproven player onto the roster with no seasoning after being sidelined for six weeks. Hopefully Luciano will join AAA Sacramento for the final week of the Minor League season, and if the Giants are desperate — say if Paul DeJong goes 0-for-next-week or Thairo Estrada suffers another injury — then the equation possibly changes. Or if they’re fully out of contention. But otherwise, I doubt it.
who will/should go in the offseason and who will/should their replacements be?— maxfromvallejo (@maxfromvallejo) September 7, 2023
I’m not sure whether this is the good or the bad news, but the Giants don’t have many massive positional holes. There’s really only one position where you can point and say they need to get better at that position. They just need to get better, full stop. Anywhere. That can be frustrating, and it can make it feel like a fix is far away. But it also can be exciting and encouraging, and it gives the team the flexibility to pursue the best players rather than specific positions — as evidenced by last year, when they briefly agreed to a $350 million deal with a shortstop, despite still employing a franchise legend and having their best position player prospect playing the 5.5 hole.
On that note, it’s clear that they need to make an improvement at shortstop, especially since the dream should be for Casey Schmitt to be a third baseman who only plays short in a pinch. But the solution might be in-house. I’m all for giving Marco Luciano the starting job next spring, and adding a veteran — honestly, Brandon Crawford or Paul DeJong would fit the bill — as a contingency plan in case he doesn’t figure it out.
After that, I think it’s clear that the team needs more actual starting pitchers. But they have an awesome front three of Logan Webb, Kyle Harrison, and Alex Cobb, and probably feel decent about a fourth or even fifth starter emerging from the basket of Tristan Beck, Keaton Winn, Anthony DeSclafani, Carson Whisenhunt, and Ross Stripling/Sean Manaea, if they opt-in. But I think it would behoove them to see if they can emerge from the winter with Marcus Stroman, Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray, or Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
That will at least hold them over until Shohei Ohtani’s arm is healthy in 2025.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow! Thanks for the questions, everyone!