AT&T PARK — The changes started gradually, first on the field, when the San Francisco Giants traded free agent signee Austin Jackson. Then, they traded team home run leader Andrew McCutchen.
On Sept. 14, the front office axed seven-year strength coach Carl Kochran. On Monday, San Francisco announced that general manager Bobby Evans — in his 25th season with Giants — would be stepping down.
The organization is undergoing a transformation that will produce, as team president and CEO Larry Baer put it, the “next generation of Giants baseball.” For the current generation — including All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford — the change has thrown the club’s second straight losing season into sharp relief.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I think we all were [surprised],” Crawford said after San Francisco’s 5-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on Monday. “Obviously, something like that is part of the business side of baseball, but it kind of sucks that somebody like Bobby, or somebody behind the scenes like Carl loses their job because we didn’t perform as players on the field.”
The Giants sit at 72-85 with five games left in the season. Over the past two seasons, they’ve lost 183 games. This season, they’ve seen soft-tissue injuries to starters Johnny Cueto (Tommy John), Jeff Samardzija (multiple) and Dereck Rodriguez (hamstrong), Pablo Sandoval (hamstring) outfielder Steven Duggar (shoulder), utility man Alen Hanson and relievers Mark Melancon (elbow), Jose Valdez (elbow) and Julian Fernandez (elbow) and lost catcher Buster Posey to a hip injury.
Freak accidents — Joe Panik spraining his thumb colliding with Yasiel Puig, Mac Williamson’s concussion and broken hands suffered by Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Strickland and Evan Longoria — have contributed to the middling finish this season.
Evans’s big contracts — including Cueto, Melancon, Samardzija and outfielder Austin Jackson — haven’t worked out. His trade for Matt Moore didn’t pay dividends and cost San Francisco a popular third baseman Matt Duffy.
“I did have a chance to talk to Bobby,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “I got a chance to thank him for all his help. Bobby and I spent even more time together the last couple years, but he’s always been around and been very helpful. Twenty five years there, it shows you the continuity we have here in San Francisco, and he did a lot to help out in different areas. I know he wore some different hats here, and did a lot for the organization.”
Clearly, though, something hasn’t been working in China Basin. Though the Giants have posted a 3.45 ERA since June 1, and a 3.86 ERA for the season (13th in MLB), they have scored the second-fewest runs in Major League Baseball this year.
In a conference call Monday, vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and club president Larry Baer said the franchise will go in a new direction in terms of how baseball operations are run.
“I’ve known Bobby for 10 years,” Crawford said. “I talked with him when I got drafted and was working on a contract to play professional baseball. I was on the phone with him all the time. I got as close as you can to somebody in the front office.”
Right-hander Derek Holland — who allowed three runs over five innings on Monday — has been a bright spot for the Giants in an otherwise forgettable season. Evans signed the left-hander to a minor league deal in February, after a disastrous second half with the Chicago White Sox in 2017 when he went 2-5 with a 9.08 ERA. He hadn’t lost a game in 2018’s second half until Monday night, and even chipped in from the bullpen.
“I’m fairly new here, but I don’t really know what to say. I don’t want to speak on these guys’ behalf that have been here for a while, but I was just blessed with the opportunity to be here,” said Holland, who has gone 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA since switching sides of the rubber on June 20 against Miami. “I thank him for that.”
Holland, who will be an unrestricted free agent, said he wants to stay in San Francisco, but it will be up to the next general manager to make that decision.
“We’ve gone through a lot,” Bochy said. “This year, I think was much better, overall. I just think our approach to the game, we were hanging in there despite a lot that we had to deal with, both on the pitching side and on the position player side. I think, overall, the plan was pretty good. We go into the season, you hope everybody stays healthy and they have their normal years, we had a tough time doing that. Then the second half comes, and we had trouble getting runs.”