In a bent way, this Giants season is going to prove terribly useful. It may not be the most fun the franchise or its fans have ever had, and it won’t ring the bell the way 107 wins did last year. But it does bring the front office and the C-suites face-to-face with a tough truth — and the sooner the better.
Here’s the thing: The Giants take care of their own. It is one of their most admirable traits as a franchise, but also potentially the most problematic. And those forces are in conflict right now, in real time.
That the team hit the All-Star break at 48-43 is a testament to the great April the Giants logged; they haven’t had a plus-.500 month since. Dogged by sub-par defense, relying on a lineup that has been in near-constant flux, they’re asking their pitching staff to do too much, too often. It’s not sustainable.
Injuries happen. But more injuries happen, generally speaking, with an older roster than a younger one. Giants GM Farhan Zaidi knew he had an older roster when the season began. He needs a younger one now.
Of the legacy names from S.F.’s ring-bearing years last decade, only a couple remain. Buster Posey delivered one of the great walk-off pieces in 2021, with a .304 batting average and an .889 OPS – but those numbers held up in part because Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler limited Posey to just 106 starts, carefully parceling out his greatness.
With the Brandons, Crawford and Belt, the Giants haven’t really had that luxury. Crawford’s recurring knee problems landed him on the injured list last week for the second time this season, and he’s having a miserable offensive year. Belt, who has battled chronic knee pain for years, made his own IL trip for that malady, along with a COVID-related stint. He has logged only 200 at-bats.
Crawford is 35, Belt 34. Evan Longoria, the Giants’ 36-year-old third baseman, missed six weeks with ligament damage in his finger to begin the season, then pulled an oblique in early July. Second baseman Tommy La Stella, 33, has appeared in barely a third of the team’s games.
It goes like that, and yet these are San Francisco’s preferred starters in the infield.
So what can Zaidi do? Normally, with a team that’s in contention for the playoffs (and thanks to the expanded wild-card format, the Giants certainly are), the immediate move is standing right in front of you: the trade deadline. At this writing, the GM has about 10 days to creatively affect the S.F. lineup, either by shoring up an area of need or swinging for a blockbuster acquisition.
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But there’s a problem: For reasons both frustrating and completely understandable, the Giants just aren’t likely to move either Belt or Crawford aside — or Longoria, for that matter. (He’s been solid when healthy.) That leaves Zaidi to work in the margins, which is incredibly tricky to do.
This is a tradeoff that almost any fan base anywhere would gladly accept. Posey has three World Series rings, Crawford and Belt two apiece. They were mainstays on the teams that made franchise history, each a huge part of outsized successes. There’s no tragedy occurring here.
But it gets difficult, doesn’t it? Posey’s decision to stop playing after last season caught the front office a little flat-footed, but he went out on a high note — and, so significant to the franchise, he retired having never played for any team but the Giants. It’s a chapter written.
With Crawford and Belt, you get the feeling that a determination has already been made to let the two decide on their own when it’s time to go. Again, very honorable. But Zaidi gets paid to evaluate the product on the field and, often, decide that very thing: when it is time for someone to go, or be minimized.
These opposing forces really are in effect. Zaidi has noted more than once that the Giants play in a market in which rebuilding isn’t thought of as an option, and he’s not wrong. But if your legacy names are out of the conversation, it means trying to retool on the fly without all your bargaining chips.
Sometimes that’s going to look like adding Joc Pederson. Sometimes it is going with Joey Bart until someone has to call a timeout, or simply platooning a few positions while you wait for the farm system to develop its best prospects to the highest level.
To do that is normal, of course. To do it and not stop striving for the post-season is a different animal altogether.
The big-big picture is kind to franchises that find ways to make and then keep special players, and the Giants have done their share. But this is a sport that absolutely fights the concept of a clean getaway by anyone, ever. The bill always comes due. Zaidi is looking at the check.