For the first time since 2008, the San Francisco Giants have posted three consecutive losing seasons. Their improbable improvement from last year is mildly encouraging.
The four-win improvement from last season could be considered a feather in Farhan’s cap given the downright terrible performance of franchise staples Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Virtually everything positive in 2019 came from a Farhan Zaidi move.
While anyone paying attention over the last three years knows that this team has been short on appealing characteristics, this year ended with a much different tenor. Instead of trotting out the same fading champions for 162 games, the new team president’s commitment to roster churn netted some interesting pieces and even glimpses of a brighter future.
Early acquisition Kevin Pillar was one of the most exciting defensive outfielders in baseball and put together a career-best offensive season. Zaidi found Mike Yastrzemski on the trash pile, and now the Giants have a professional left fielder.
Donovan Solano, Alex Dickerson, Stephen Vogt, Mauricio Dubon — all Zaidi moves, all successful to varying degrees. His willingness to pull the plug on struggling players (see: Connor Joe, Joe Panik, Scooter Gennett, etc.) was an equally refreshing change of pace.
When Zaidi was hired, he expressed his desire to replenish the Giants system while trying to play “meaningful baseball as deep into the season as soon as we can.” It would not be unfair to say the Giants were never really a potential playoff team, but they played a lot more meaningful baseball than expected. In the meantime, there was a massive influx of talent at the lower levels of the organization.
The Giants started the season with Bleacher Report’s 27th-ranked farm system; by the end of the draft they had ascended to 22nd, and Zaidi’s trade deadline machinations sprung them into the top half of the league at 14th.
So, what now? For a fan base more familiar with playoffs than prospects, the concept of a rebuild is anathema. It should be noted, though, that stinking out loud without accumulating young talent in the process (see: 2017-18) is a far worse course.
In the spirit of that philosophy, Zaidi has an opportunity to finish remaking this Giants roster in the coming offseason with a few key moves.
Step 1: Clear out some cobwebs …
Buster Posey. Evan Longoria. Johnny Cueto. Jeff Samardzija. Brandon Crawford. Brandon Belt.
All six are 31 or older and scheduled to make $15+ million next season, with all but Samardzija under contract through at least 2021. Longoria and Samardzija may have the most value given their 2019 performances, but the most obvious candidate for a new home is Belt.
He would have been a much more appealing pickup somewhere around 2016, but he remains a competent first baseman who might benefit from hitting in a friendlier ballpark. If Zaidi convinced the Braves to pay Mark Melancon, he should be able to find a taker for Belt.
With top prospect Joey Bart promoted to Double-A and on track to make his big-league debut next season, and Posey pretty ingrained in the franchise, moving Belt seems like the best way to open up a spot for Bart (perhaps in an alternating 1B/C platoon with Posey).
The Giants likely couldn’t (or wouldn’t) move on from all six of their overpaid, underproducing veterans, but moving a couple of them would open up some spaces for younger players to get in the mix.
Step 2: Retain Madison Bumgarner
The scuttlebutt on Mad Bum is that he’d like a payday after spending his last eight seasons on a team-friendly deal, but I still believe he’ll be the most affordable quality starter for San Francisco’s purposes.
Bumgarner is 30 and his ERA has ticked up each of the last three seasons. He’s also probably the third-best available starting pitcher — after 29-year-old stud Gerrit Cole and 33-year-old Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has a 2.21 ERA over his last 44 starts.
If the Giants don’t want to spend huge money on another starter (reasonable, given how much cash is committed to Cueto and Samardzija), they certainly won’t do better than Mad Bum. Throw in the emotional resonance of retaining a World Series hero and it seems like a no-brainer.
A starting rotation built around Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija doesn’t sound so bad if they’re all healthy, and a competition between the likes of Dereck Rodriguez, Tyler Beede and Logan Webb for another spot sounds fun. The Giants could fill out their five with a reasonably-priced option in the range of Rick Porcello or Wade Miley.
Step 3: Embrace the youth movement
Zaidi has already done this to a much larger degree than the previous regime. Kevin Pillar and Mike Yastrzemski are 30 and 28 respectively, but by Giants standards they are infants.
More to the point, guys like Mauricio Dubon (25), Chris Shaw (25) and Jaylin Davis (25) should get a real look next spring. I’d expect Dubon to be the Opening Day second baseman, and if Shaw or Davis could seize the third outfield spot it would be an influx of youth not seen in these parts for nigh on a decade.
There’s more on the way, too — outfield prospect Heliot Ramos got the Double-A call-up alongside Bart this fall, and both could show up on the Major League roster some time next year. Sean Hjelle, a 2018 second-rounder, has an outside shot to compete for a spot, and fellow pitchers Seth Corry and Jake Wong have shown some promise.
The more of those guys ascend in 2020, the better.
The Giants remain a work in progress, but that in itself is progress after two years of bouncing on the basement floor. In addition to everything else, Farhan has to find a quality manager who can aid in the team’s development and ignore the pressure of following Bruce Bochy’s three-title act, and frankly, I have no idea who that is.
I’m not telling you that the Giants are playoff contenders next season; I wouldn’t even bet that they’ll eclipse .500. But 2020 should provide an extended look at a group of players likely to be on the roster the next time San Francisco does play in October, and that’s a far cry from the recent past.
The decline is over, and the climb can begin anew. Hope springs— or rather, hope floats — again in McCovey Cove.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives in Oakland with his wife, son and an aging Shih-Tzu/Schnauzer mix. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, 2p-6p every weekday evening alongside Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto. 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.