While the rest of Major League Baseball trends younger (and, therefore, cheaper), the San Francisco Giants have decided to go the other way.
It’s a zig-while-everyone-else-zags strategy that just might be crazy enough to work.
On Friday, when the Giants introduced Evan Longoria to season ticket-holders and the local media, team president Larry Baer laid out why the 32-year-old third baseman was a “perfect fit.” Chief among them was how he’ll be around for a long time, as well as the other primary members of the team’s core.
Longoria has five more years on his contract, Baer reminded. Buster Posey, 30, has four. Johnny Cueto, 31, has four years left on his deal. Jeff Samardzija, 32, will be in Orange and Black through the 2020 season. Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford — 29 and 30, respectively — also have four years remaining in the Bay Area.
The Giants are all-in on this group for the long haul — save for Andrew McCutchen, who could end up being a one-year rental should he move on after 2018.
But after the abysmal 2017 season, it seems the stakes are higher than ever for the Giants to figure it out sooner than later.
“It’s tough to win only 64 games. It really is,” Longoria said. “That’s a tough year. Of all the years, [the Rays] had some bad years, that’s a bad year.”
If San Francisco can’t buck that trend this year, there’s no telling how much worse it would get in the years to come.
And, rest assured, the team’s braintrust knows it isn’t falling in line with the way the rest of the league is viewing roster building.
“The game has changed in the last few years in the amount of power in the game,” Bobby Evans said. “It’s changed how successful clubs had been with the younger players. The way clubs value their farm system, their draft picks. It’s all changed. But baseball is always changing so that’s no surprise.”
And so if the rest of the league is looking to innovate, the Giants are going to try to find value in the veterans who fall through the cracks.
It’s a high-risk game: But if the young guys can complement the core, who is to say it won’t work?
That’s the plan for this next season in the back of the rotation and in the bullpen, Evans revealed.
“We feel confident we have the makings of our fourth and fifth starters with [Ty] Blach and [Chris] Stratton really leading the way as we go into the spring,” he said. “We also want to allow [Andrew] Suarez and [Tyler] Beede to show us what their sense of timing is to contribute because we believe they’re both going to help us at some point.”
It’s going to take a lot of pieces falling into place simultaneously for it to really work. Baseball’s contract system is structured to make teams pay for the best players’ decline while rewarding front offices that draft and develop their young guys. The Giants benefited incredibly from playing the game well. But they’re trying something new now, and the days of prioritizing “homegrown talent” appear to be numbered as keeping the championship window open becomes the focus.
The free agent market has been slow moving this winter. The teams claim it’s because some of the bigger names haven’t signed, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan strongly suggests in a recent column it’s collusion to drive down prices on the most expensive players. Whatever it is, the Giants need to nail the final days of the open market to fill the remaining holes on the roster. Right now, that’s in center field. Later, it’ll be getting one or two more arms to fill out the back of the bullpen.
“I still think there will be some late choices there for us,” Evans said. “… There are still guys available and we’ll still focus more on center field right now.”
Evans has adhered to a strategy so far this offseason, and it’s been relatively fruitful, but his work is far from over.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.