The 2018 San Francisco Giants, to this point, have been at once deeply upsetting and remarkably … well, remarkably good.
There were plenty of questions after an offseason that saw them load up on veterans: Would the Giants’ home-grown all-stars bounce back after terrible seasons? Did Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria — whose acquisitions werea clear sign that there would be no ground-up rebuild — have enough left in the tank to lift the team out of the doldrums?
Before we even had a chance to start answering those questions, Madison Bumgarner went down, Jeff Samardzija’s arm went dead, Joe Panik tore a thumb ligament and Johnny Cueto saw Dr. James Andrews.
But wait, there’s more — Mac Williamson got a concussion, Brandon Belt is sidelined after an emergency appendectomy and those aforementioned veteran bats are both hitting .250. Hunter Pence wishes he could see .250 from where he’s sitting. Yet, the Giants are hanging around at 30-31, just 2.5 games out of the NL West lead.
Nothing the Giants did this offseason could be viewed as securing their future. They want to compete now. This is a franchise that sells too many tickets and giraffe hats to rip things down to the studs and start over.
The organizational philosophy has centered around acquiring veteran position players while building pitching from within. It’s tougher (and more expensive) to acquire a top-line starter than it is to put together a pretty good lineup from spare parts — World Series contributors like Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, for example. While picking Tim Lincecum and Bumgarner in 2006 and 2007 certainly made an impact, it was a 2008 acquisition that changed that philosophy: John Barr.
The Giants’ scouting director arrived the year San Francisco selected Buster Posey in the first round — the first time they’d used their top first-rounder on a non-pitcher since Todd Linden in 2001. It may have been a case of simply selecting the best available prospect, but it sure looks like a subtle strategy change.
The 2008 Giants roster was also old — of the nine players with at least 300 plate appearances, six were 30 or over. Unsurprisingly, that year was the Giants’ last 90-loss season until 2017.
In Barr’s first four drafts, the Giants managed to add Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Joe Panik — damn near an entire infield of guys who have all made at least one all-star team.
With the second pick in this 2018 MLB Draft, the Giants took another ACC catcher who hails from Georgia.
Joey BART (whose last name will heretofore only be written by me in all-caps for Bay Area synergy) may be the safest choice in this year’s draft. He’s the rare college catcher who called games himself, and he’s a physical monster at 6’3” 225. The 21-year-old had 16 homers in 57 games and an OPS over 1.100 in his junior season, and would seem to be as close to Major League-ready as a prospect can be.
This has naturally raised questions about the future of Buster Posey, but the implications are broader. The Giants, in their reload-not-rebuild mentality, have assembled a roster with just one regular position player under 30 in Joe Panik (two if you count Mac Williamson). This team needs young hitters.
In his media scrum after the first day of drafting, Barr made a point of saying that the Giants “don’t draft for need for what our big league club is,” because who knows what the Major League roster will look like by the time BART and second-round pick Sean Hjelle — a 6-foot-11 pitcher out of Kentucky — are ready. He’s not being entirely honest, though.
Two years after his draft day, Posey was on the major league roster on his way to a World Series title. The Brandons were up the season after that. This can happen pretty quickly.
This is not to say that BART’s eventual arrival at AT&T Park (see what I did there?) will displace Gerald the Great — in fact, I think this selection implies that the Giants see Posey and BART playing together. With Posey aging, you can work the kid in as the veteran plays more first base, use BART as a transition plan while also allowing him to learn from a future Hall of Famer.
It’s not a perfect analog to 2008, but there are enough similarities to take note. This is the MLB draft and we really don’t know anything about these guys, and there’s still plenty of work to do, but any baseball fan who’s been paying attention can understand the Giants looking back to the strategies that got this run going to try to generate another.
This team believes it can compete now, and they may be right — the fact that they’re in position to make noise despite a wrecked roster over the first 60 games is nothing short of incredible. The returns of Bumgarner and Panik will help, and Cueto and Belt are on the way.
Even if injuries and age turn 2018 rotten, the Giants are setting themselves up to rebound quickly. A second-straight 90-loss season — and therefore, another high draft pick in 2019 — would just make this even more like 2008, though that doesn’t guarantee anything.
This is rebuilding — the Giants way.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.
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