Forever Giants? Not so much under Farhan Zaidi

Why fans need to get used to regular roster churn

By Mark Kreidler

Special to The Examiner

Sure, it’ll be a slow turn. That’s just the nature of fandom. The folks who’ve followed the Giants for decades, after all, have been accustomed to seeing players wearing the local colors for roughly … well, roughly forever.

Matt Cain, 13 years in the same place. Tim Lincecum, nine out of 10. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt — career guys, right? That’s how the Giants rolled.

So it’s going to be different. It already is. The horizon line has moved, and you’re just going to have to adjust to a new reality. The Farhan Zaidi era of stewardship is being marked primarily by careful, small-batch contracts.

You love a guy? Enjoy that. Root hard. Just don’t get too attached.

No one thought the Giants were going to sign Kris Bryant to the monster long-term deal he was seeking. Bryant’s agent found a market for that $182 million wish in Colorado, the same franchise that inexplicably dealt off Platinum-glover Nolan Arenado last year and now can’t find enough in the vault to keep Trevor Story around.

We could make fun of the Rockies for an hour straight, and we may do that once we get finished here. But the point with the Giants is that their posture on Bryant certainly wasn’t personal; it was strictly business.

That may sound axiomatic. Truth is, the Giants have done a lot of “personal” through the years. Players got rewarded for being part of the fabric of the franchise, or perhaps found themselves paid on the back end for being major contributors to World Series winners earlier in their careers. For some time, San Francisco was known as a franchise that took care of its own, which has powerful value with fans but can gum up the works when it comes to making hard decisions and controlling payroll.

This off-season has been instructive in that regard. Look at the deals: While right-hander Anthony DeSclafini received a three-year contract (at the very reasonable price of $12 million per), no other player was signed for longer than two seasons. Even lefty Carlos Rodón, who is smack in the middle of the Giants’ pitching plans, got a two-year deal.

Belt took a one-year qualifying offer to stay; Crawford signed a two-year extension. The pitching Alexes, Cobb and Wood, got two years apiece. Joc Pederson agreed to a one-year deal, a low-risk signing meant to account for the presence of the DH in the National League. Matt Boyd, one year as he makes his way back from flexor tendon surgery.

They will come and go, these guys, because the notion of long-term staying power is essentially being transferred from individual players to the franchise itself. In other words, for the Giants to consistently contend, Zaidi wants the payroll flexible enough to pivot very quickly — to make mid-season adjustments, trade-deadline moves.

It isn’t that the GM is afraid to chase big game. Zaidi was aggressive in his pursuit of Bryce Harper a couple of years ago, which would have required a staggering investment. But it’s closer to the way things really work around here to note that after front-line starter Kevin Gausman departed for Toronto in free agency (five years, $110 million) a few months ago, the pitcher set the record straight: The Giants never made him an offer to stay.

As recently as two weeks ago, the Giants were said to be in the chase for star outfielder Seiya Suzuki from Japan. In the end, Suzuki got five years and $85 million from the Cubs, numbers Zaidi just wasn’t going to give.

Because Major League Baseball’s post-lockout super-mixer of a market isn’t yet played out, neither should we assume the Giants’ roster is firm. On the other hand, “We feel pretty set on the position player side,” Zaidi said Thursday in Arizona. This may well be the crew.

And let us note the obvious: Many more baseball teams than not are likely heading down this road. Shorter-term deals minimize franchise risk, and it’s possible only a handful of the richest teams — Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, your occasional Texas Rangers — will be willing in the future to do what teams like the Padres (Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr.) did in the recent past.

What the Rockies are doing with Bryant, in the face of their posture toward both Arenado and Story, is something I can’t explain. But it’s at least possible Bryant will spend all seven years of his new contract in Colorado, which is, if nothing else, pretty fan-friendly.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, Posey is gone, Belt is on a one-year deal and Crawford has two seasons. For years, Giants fans have had the comfort of seeing the same guys wearing the uniform. Time to embrace the churn, and the competitive edge that may well come with it.

Mark Kreidler is a freelance contributor to The Examiner. Read more of his columns at https://markkreidler.substack.com

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