The clouds have broken for many Giants fans. Enough time has passed to heal some of the wounds left by the dreadful 2017 season, and adding big names in the meantime has allowed for positive thoughts to creep in.
The heart of the lineup actually has starpower: Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria may not have the youthful promise of the team’s biggest rivals, but it’s a marked improvement over last year. However, if San Francisco intends to “compete this season” — the front office defines that as vying for a championship; a realist would be happy with a Wild Card berth — the team can’t be content with the moves it’s made so far.
Fortunately for the most fortunate fanbase in Major League Baseball, a worthwhile addition is still out there.
Lorenzo Cain is an unrestricted free agent, is capable of playing the expansive center field at AT&T Park and can provide some pop. Because you’re out of your mind if you think the lineup as it stands is a final product that can contend in the increasingly tough NL West.
In 2017, Cain hit .300/.363/.440 with 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases. Those might not be the most sustainable numbers — he’s only hit more than 10 homers twice in his seven-year career — but the Giants have proven agreeable to gambling on exciting players on the wrong side of 30.
He won’t be cheap, of course. Spotrac estimates his market value at $17.2 million for 2018. That would put the Giants over the collective balance tax threshold. But you don’t put together a roster like this one, stubbornly refusing to let the championship window close, and then not go all the way because of money.
“The threshold, again, is a target, it’s not a mandate,” Bobby Evans reiterated in a conference call introducing McCutchen on Tuesday.
The Giants don’t have a choice. By refusing to burn it down and rebuild, they’ve backed themselves into a corner. They have to put a winner on the field. As currently constructed, that isn’t happening.
Cameron Maybin or Austin Jackson hardly make sense because the discount the Giants could get on them doesn’t outweigh the fact neither is nearly as good as Cain: Maybin and Jackson combined for 1.8 WAR last year; Cain contributed 5.3 himself.
Settling on Jarrod Dyson would be a confusing decision as he’s never played more than 120 games in a season during his eight-year career, and Gorkys Hernandez is already on the payroll if all they want is a fourth outfielder who can play reliable defense.
And it’s premature to count on Steven Duggar to take over center field on Opening Day. He hasn’t played in the pros yet, and we saw last year the pitfalls of celebrating promising prospects before they’re ready. Just ask Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Christian Arroyo how ugly it can get when a franchise intent on competing goes into the season without a concrete plan at your position.
When asked about the team’s plans for the rest of the offseason, Evans showed his hand by bringing up the Giants’ philosophy, unprompted, on Duggar.
“A number of people have asked us about Duggar,” he said, “and we’d love to get him more time at the minor-league level. But this is the time of year you’d rather have Duggar in the backpocket, if you can, and work on other things and see what we can do to bring in a center fielder to give Duggar more time.”
If the team fancies Duggar a future everyday contributor, take the financial hit and go over the tax threshold by signing someone who can realize the organization’s dreams of winning now. If Duggar forces his way into San Francisco from Triple-A Sacramento, he’ll still be able to get his shot because it’s clear that counting on Pence to play an entire season is a misguided notion.
Pence hasn’t played a full season since 2014, and it would be ridiculous to expect him to reverse that trend during the season he turns 35. So, there will eventually be at-bats and games available for Duggar, Hernandez or whoever spells Pence in left.
McCutchen can bat first — his second-most common position during his career — and be followed by Cain, Posey, Longoria and the rest of the lineup. That puts Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik in less-prominent slots that better fit their skillset. All of a sudden, the Giants have the makings of a major-league lineup.
With the addition of Cain, the Giants can completed an offseason that reinvigorates the fanbase for the long haul.