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Massive doomsday mailbag, Part 2

More questions. More non-answers.

Farhan Zaidi and Bryce Eldridge smiling together Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Yesterday I did a big ol’ mailbag about the San Francisco Giants, full of great questions and total non-answers.

Today it’s part two!

I definitely understand the sentiment of these questions, and they’re very common questions among the Giants fanbase right now. I’m also not sure how fair or accurate they are.

I think Farhan Zaidi has been miscast as being dishonest because people think he’s promised big moves. In reality, media members and insiders have predicted big moves from the Giants, and Zaidi has said they’ll be aggressive. And while it’s hard to see it sometimes, I don’t think he’s been dishonest.

In free agency the Giants were aggressive, and they were ready to “make a splash,” which is a quote I truly can’t remember whether Zaidi ever uttered, or if it got misattributed. The largest known offer of the MLB offseason was $360 million. The Giants made that offer, and they also made a $350 million offer to someone else.

Fans are justifiably frustrated by the lack of trade deadline movement, but I’ll be honest: there isn’t a single move made at the deadline that I would have done if I were the Giants (which includes the move they did make, acquiring A.J. Pollock). You can be aggressive and ready to make a splash all you want, but if the right opportunity doesn’t present itself, you only have two options: come away empty-handed, or make a poor move out of desperation. Personally, I’d prefer the former.

As to the second question ... the Giants are willing to spend big, they’re just exceptionally picky about how to do so, which is frustrating. But they had as high of a bid as the Yankees did for Aaron Judge, the winning bid for Carlos Correa, and a bid that was California tax laws away from being the highest for Bryce Harper. I would be surprised if an unwillingness to match the max offer is what keeps them from landing Shohei Ohtani in the coming months.

It’s still a fair concern. There’s a middle ground between bargain bin contracts and $300 million superdeals, and, with the exception of extending Logan Webb, the Giants have completely avoided that middle ground for some time now. We’d probably all be a little happier if the team had dove into the contract sphere that landed the Cubs Marcus Stroman and the Mets Kodai Senga.

Another great and common question that I think misses the point a tiny bit.

I don’t think there’s a disconnect between the how the Giants view players at the MLB level vs. the Minor League level. I think this is just how development works: you let prospects do everything because there’s no harm in it. If they’re good enough, they get to keep doing everything at the MLB level. If they’re not good enough — and most aren’t — then they don’t get to.

Or, to use a concrete example, every pitcher starts as a starting pitcher. Camilo Doval was a starter when he was a teenager before getting signed. Ryan Walker was a starter in college. Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn came up through the Minors as starters and, if they can prove it at the MLB level, will stick around there.

It’s the same with hitters. I know it’s hard to believe — I say that with neither snark nor sarcasm — but the Giants don’t like platooning. They want everyday players — just the reality is that most players never develop to where it’s more valuable to play them each day than play them based on matchups.

But J.D. Davis and Wilmer Flores and Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto and Thairo Estrada became everyday players, for better and sometimes for worse, because they were good enough that platooning didn’t gain an advantage. But it does for almost every other player. Joc Pederson has a .503 OPS against lefties this year ... Luis Matos’ mark is .831.

Players get developed as complete players, but most of them are never good enough to see the Majors. And of the ones that do, most are never good enough to be complete players.

This is a fascinating question, and I’m warning you now that my answer is going to be unsatisfactory.

Because my primary answer here is “I dunno.”

I don’t know enough about the inner workings of coaching staffs, and the type of in-season work they do (and, importantly, can do) to know how to parse blame when a season shifts halfway through.

This season certainly does not look good for the coaching staff, or at least those involved in the offense. But I generally think more blame lies in the hands of the players who aren’t playing well, and the decision-makers who thought they would play well, then with the coaches who couldn’t get them to play well.

Or, to use a functional example: if the Giants reversed their season, and hit horribly for the first half and really well for the second half, how differently would we view the hitting staff? And would it actually be a sign of them being any different?

Either way, the Giants rank 22nd in the league in hitting, per Fangraphs, and have spent a few months out-futiling their cross-town neighbors, who are purposely futile. It’s not good, and it doesn’t reflect super well on anyone.

I think probably both. The reports coming out of Philly weren’t great when the Giants hired Gabe Kapler, and there have certainly been a few notable flaps during his time in San Francisco. But plenty of Giants have signed claiming they heard great things about the organization and coaching staff, and that doesn’t happen if people hate the skipper.

I suspect players who play well (like Kevin Gausman) and are into advanced metrics (like Carlos Correa) will view Kapler as a selling point, and they’ve essentially said as much publicly. And I suspect players who don’t play well (like Alex Wood) or who disagree with the analytic-approach the team is taking (like Zack Littell) are less on board. But that’s just a guess.

Ultimately though? I don’t think it really matters. If players are taking that into consideration when signing (or not signing) in free agency, it’s almost surely more about the advanced analytics and the mathematical coaching decisions than the actual managerial personality, and if Farhan Zaidi fired Kapler he’d hire someone else who would enact the team’s chosen analytics and decision-making.

I actually think the Giants are in a pretty decent situation with all of their players who have options. As the old saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract” so, with the exception of Mitch Haniger, they should be golden there.

All five of those players have a history of being good, and will project to be good next year. If they’re not, the Giants will probably be a lot quicker to part with them than they were this year — partially because there’s less dead money, partially because they’ll have more trade value, and partially because the Giants youngsters will be in a much better position to pick up the slack if veterans are sent packing.

But those players might surprise Giants fans. And as always, context is necessary. Giants fans were angry that the team didn’t give up an exciting prospect at the deadline for a few months of Lucas Giolito. You know who has an identical ERA to Giolito this year? Anthony DeSclafani. Ross Stripling is still only a year removed from posting a 3.01 ERA as a starter. Sean Manaea has been a quality option for the last few months. Michael Conforto has been a disappointment but still comfortably above-average bat. Mitch Haniger has been a disaster who we should reasonably expect to bounce back.

My guess is that some of those players opt out, and some opt in and have pretty decent seasons. And if they don’t, my guess is that the Giants will be pretty quick to trade them. If Lance Lynn and his 6.47 ERA was enough to get the Dodgers to part with something of note, I’m sure Stripling and his 2024 ERA will be, too (that’s ERA in 2024, not an ERA of 2024.0).

OK, I chuckled.

I don’t think the Giants hate Heliot Ramos, but I do think it’s abundantly clear that they’re not high on him, and I think it’s just as clear why: he chases outside of the zone, he swings and misses a lot, and he makes a lot of contact straight into the ground. These are fair concerns, and they’re concerns that they believe will be exploited at the Major League level against better pitchers and more in-depth scouting reports. A lot of times good Minor League players are good because they have a few things they’re very good at (in Ramos’ case, hitting the crap out of the ball), and can just skate by on one or two skills because the not-MLB talent they’re facing can’t handle it. And then when they face players who can handle it, they’re left helpless (we see this a lot with pitchers who have one great pitch and can overwhelm A-ball hitters with it, but then get to AAA or the Majors where they can’t overwhelm people with it, and they have no other weapons).

All that is good and well, but I think I speak for the entire fanbase when I say that the biggest problem with the Giants offense is a lack of hard contact. Not too many strikeouts. Not too few walks. Not bad approach (though they’re struggling with all of those things). Just hard contact. The Giants are 13th in the Majors in barrel percentage and 21st in average exit velocity. Ramos is first and second on the team, respectively, in those two categories.

Perhaps it’s time to break from their mold of preferred skillsets and try the thing that actually seems to work.

I absolutely do not. While I think it’s fair to categorize Farhan Zaidi’s tenure as underwhelming, I think it’s also been skillful. Maybe compare him to Luis Matos ... the results aren’t great yet, but the vision excites you. Or at least, it excites me.

The goal since Zaidi took over has been to build a Dodgers-esque core of quality young players developed through the system, which gives you a baseline of .500 or so to build off of through free agency and trades. It’s easy to criticize the Michael Conforto and Anthony DeSclafani moves of the world, but the reality is the Dodgers make those exact same moves: they just place those dudes on a team that has superstars and a strong core.

The Giants haven’t accomplished that goal yet, for a variety of reasons. Some of it is that they lost a year of early development to the pandemic. Some of it is bad luck, including the fact that three of their five first-round picks in the Zaidi era have had major injury setbacks. Some of it is that it’s really hard and takes a really long time. And some of it, yes, is that they haven’t been as good as they should have been.

But right now Zaidi is flirting with us and we’d be smart to at least go on the date. The early returns suggest the 2020 draft class — his second with the team — just might be one of the best in Giants history. We need a little time for it, and subsequent classes, to show what they have before concluding that Zaidi is the problem. I remain very optimistic. Good process usually yields good results and, for the most part, the Giants are operating with good processes.

I’m less convinced about Gabe Kapler. I do not think they should fire him, or even consider it, unless there are unreported things going on behind the scenes. He deserves graces for 2021, and I’d like to see how he does with the up-and-coming youngsters.

But if the team is disappointing next year, Kapler’s seat will probably get toasty. And it should.

It is, unfortunately, a fairly thin cast of free agent hitters. The best one not named Shohei Ohtani is, by far, Cody Bellinger, who has Giants written all over him: a versatile defensive star who doesn’t need to be platooned, has a ton of power, and limits strikeouts? They’ll be all over that, as they should, but will they be willing to pay the $300 million or so that it would take to land him? I’d prefer Bellinger to Carlos Correa, but that’s just me.

After that it’s slim pickings. Matt Chapman would look great in a Giants jersey, but do the Giants want to break the bank for a 31-year old single-position player who would block Casey Schmitt? J.D. Martinez would be a fun Joc Pederson replacement, though I can’t imagine the Dodgers would let him leave. Teoscar Hernández would look damn good in the Giants outfield.

I’m curious to see if the trade market develops. Usually star players aren’t available in offseason trades, but there are exceptions. Will the Padres give up on their wildly-expensive experiment, accept that they won’t re-sign Juan Soto when he reaches free agency after next season, and dangle him? Will Fernando Tatis Jr. materialize the rumors of his disappointment with the clubhouse and ask out? If either of those things, would the Padres trade within the division?

Also, since Ohtani is almost surely leaving Anaheim, will the Angels — who haven’t won a playoff game since Buster Posey’s debut season, despite employing two of the best players in MLB history at or near their prime for the last half-decade — decide to start over and give away Mike Trout, who might be nearly free for anyone willing to take his final seven years and nearly $250 million?

The answer to all of those questions is probably no, but they could provide excitement. As for players the Giants could trade, it all depends on how teams view certain players and prospects. One thing that Farhan Zaidi has excelled at, is finding teams that value players poorly and capitalizing — such as when he convinced the Mets to trade J.D. Davis for Darin Ruf, an older and worse version of Davis on a shorter contract, and then made the Mets throw in three intriguing prospects.

I mean ... what do you do with the bras thrown at you on stage, Doug? Throw them away?

Sometimes I think you don’t even care about the environment at all.