The 64-98 San Francisco Giants decided to go for it in 2018. Why it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
The San Francisco Giants have had a plenty busy offseason. Like many teams, the Giants didn’t exactly splurge on the free agent market, but they did splurge on trades.
Saddled with a high-priced roster that finished 64-98 in 2017, San Francisco did the totally conventional thing that all 64-98 teams do—they went all-in on winning.
All told, San Francisco sent out six players for Longoria and McCutchen.
Krook, Adams, Arroyo and Span went to the Rays for Longoria while Kick and Reynolds were sent to Pittsburgh for McCutchen.
While the moves sapped an already thin farm system of depth and talent—as well as added significant cash to the payroll—the moves actually make sense for San Francisco.
In other circumstances, the Giants should have rebuilt as a team that finished last in a division behind a juggernaut that isn’t slowing down any time soon (the Dodgers), two breakout teams on the rise (the Rockies and Diamondbacks) and a club that is miles ahead of San Francisco where rebuilding is concerned (the Padres).
That being said, coming off a down season, San Francisco’s roster wasn’t exactly conducive to a rebuild.
Few Trade Chips
However, even those three wouldn’t bring back full value in a trade. Posey was a 4.3 fWAR player last season, but is a 30-year-old catcher who is making $22.177 million in each of the next four seasons, per Spotrac.
Bumgarner, who is still just 28, could probably bring back a hefty haul of prospects, however he was coming off a 2017 that saw him limited to just 17 starts and a 4.07 xFIP in 111 innings. With just a $12 million club option for 2019 remaining on his contract for next season—according to Spotrac—the odds were that his trade value wasn’t at an all-time high.
Lastly there’s Panik, who in a vacuum would seem to be a quality trade chip, what with a lifetime 9.6 fWAR and a .345 on-base percentage in 1,818 plate appearances spread over four seasons.
He also, per Spotrac, has two years of controllability via arbitration remaining following the 2018 season.
Still, the second base trade market hasn’t exactly been robust lately and there aren’t as many teams with needs at second base as say in the rotation or the bullpen.
Other than that, however, San Francisco likely (and this is all speculative mind you) wasn’t going to get top value for the team’s myriad of high-priced veterans.
Money, Money and (wait for it) More Money
According to Spotrac, Johnny Cueto is making $21 million a year through 2021, while Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford will make $17.2 and $15.2 million respectively each season through the same season.
Per the same publication, Jeff Samardzija has a $19.8 million salary annually through 2020, while Mark Melancon will take home $13 million in 2018. He has $17 million player options for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Of that group, just Samardzija and Belt registered an fWAR over 2.0 at 3.8 and 2.3 in 2017. Crawford’s fWAR finished at 2.0 last year, while Cueto, Melancon and Pence failed to top a 1.3 fWAR mark.
Additionally, Belt (29) is the only player of the aforementioned who is under the age of 30.
Because of the respective contracts and ages of the above group, the Giants were likely better off keeping them and going for it.
Had they attempted a complete tear down like the White Sox or Tigers, San Francisco (hypothetically speaking) probably wouldn’t have received the prospects necessary to kickstart a rebuild.
Each rebuild needs an impact, or potential impact, player or two to build around.
With the exception of perhaps Posey—although perhaps not given his salary and age— San Francisco was unlikely to get the kind of serious prospect capital the organization needed in return for trades for their veterans.
It’s also conceivable that the Giants would have had to eat some serious cash in order to trade some of their better players.
Because of that, San Francisco’s thinking in pushing the proverbial poker chips to the middle of the table and going all-in with the hand that they have make sense.
It makes even more sense when you consider that the Giants’ current farm system isn’t going to provide a significant number of solutions anytime soon.
The New Additions: Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria
San Francisco paid a steep price to acquire the duo, including sending out highly-regarded infield prospect Christian Arroyo.
Arroyo on his own wasn’t likely enough to keep the Giants’ competitive window propped open longer in the future. So trading him makes some sense, especially with shortstop and second base blocked in the Bay Area.
Essentially swapping the unproven Arroyo out for the experienced Longoria at third base fits the Giants’ win-now modus operandi.
What’s more, outside of the infielder and Heliot Ramos, there isn’t much potentially impact talent in the farm system.
With Ramos being just 18 and having finished 2017 in Rookie-Ball it’s possible that the outfielder would have reached the Majors when Arroyo’s initial controllability was winding down or had expired all together.
Given the state of the farm system, the Giants were faced with either going all in with the current group or starting from scratch with a teardown that would have started on a long, long, long rebuild.
Rebound seasons are nothing new for the organization.
Three times since 2009, the San Francisco Giants have gone from a non-playoff team to a World Series winner. One of those instances came in 2014 on the heels of a 76-win campaign.
San Francisco also went from an 84-win season in 2015 to an NLDS berth in 2016.
Circumstances are obviously different, but much of San Francisco’s core remains the same in Posey, Crawford, Bumgarner, Belt and Pence.
What’s more, some bounce-back seasons from a number of key veteran players could push the Giants back into the Wild Card discussion.
The rotation will be in strong shape if Bumgarner is healthy and a 3-5 win player again and if Cueto can pitch the way he did in 2016 for the club (5.5 fWAR, 219 IP, a 1.09 WHIP and 8.11 K/9).
Pair the duo with Samardzija, and the Giants could make some noise. The pitching outlook would continue to improve if Mark Melancon can rediscover his past form.
New Additions on Defense
Not only will both Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen lengthen San Francisco’s lineup, but the duo should help beef up the defense at AT&T Park.
Last season, Giants third baseman finished the year 19th in terms of defensive runs above average (0.8) and also ranked 18th in both DRS (-2) and UZR/150 (-1.6).
Longoria is second in defensive runs above average since 2008 when he debuted, and finished last year worth 5.3 defensive runs above average, a 5.1 UZR/150 and a +11 DRS.
Meanwhile, McCutchen will move to right field on a full-time basis.
The former All-Star wasn’t exactly a Gold Glove-contender as a center fielder in each of the last two seasons, with less-than-stellar DRS (-28 in 2016 and -14 in 2017) and UZR/150 (-23.2 in 2016 and -5.4 in 2017) outputs.
However, he showed well in an 115.1 stint in right field for the Pirates last season, chipping in with a +2 DRS and a 1.4 UZR/150. His -0.5 defensive runs above average wasn’t ideal
The San Francisco Giants in 2018
The reality is that even if everything goes to plan, the Giants might not have enough to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West crown—realistically speaking, few teams have the firepower to match the Dodgers stride for stride over the course of a whole season.
Still, if everything clicks, San Francisco has more than enough talent to make a play for a Wild Card berth.
In the event of a Division-Round appearance, with a Bumgarner/Cueto/Samardzija three-headed monster leading a playoff rotation and an offense headlined by Posey, McCutchen and Longoria, the Giants could be a dark horse team come October.
While 2018, and even 2019 if things work out, could be successful for the Giants, the aftermath might not be.
Of San Francisco’s top nine hitters in terms of fWAR, four were 30 or older, two were pitchers, and two are no longer with the team.
One of the four was Hunter Pence, who is playing on an expiring contract this season.
Longoria and McCutchen will certainly help, but both are over 30 at 32 and 31 respectively.
McCutchen, like Pence, will become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2018 World Series, per Spotrac.
All told, according to Spotrac, the Giants will be paying Posey, Cueto, Samardzija, Belt, Crawford, Longoria and Melancon (if he opts into the final two years of his contract, per Spotrac) a grand total of $127,377,777.
The respective ages of those players during that season? 32, 33, 34, 31, 32, 34 and 34.
That’s all without mentioning a potential long-term deal for Bumgarner, who has a club option (per Spotrac) for the 2019 season before he becomes a free agent the following offseason.
At that point, Bumgarner would be 30.
All that being said, if all those players stay healthy and productive, the Giants could conceivably contend into the future.
But, that’s a big if.
Even in the event that the group of high-priced San Francisco veterans stay on the field and productive, the Giants could be hamstrung in terms of filling out the rest of the roster to contend.
The Tigers’ top-heavy financial model worked for a while, but eventually regression and injuries reared their ugly heads—as they often do— and helped induce a rebuild.
Thanks to an all-in offseason, the San Francisco Giants are aiming to jump back in to contention after a 64-win season.
With a thin farm system heading nowhere fast, San Francisco’s decision to go for it in the present makes sense.
A rebuild is eventually coming in the Bay Area, but the Giants are going for it now with their contending window slightly open as opposed to choosing to slam the window shut and then trying to pry the window open again when their core might not be as effective or successful.