Giants need a new plan in 2018

The Mercury News - - Sports - Di­eter Kurten­bach Colum­nist

No one around the Giants knows ex­actly what’s gone wrong this sea­son.

Sure, ex­ec­u­tives, coaches, and play­ers can point to problems — de­fense, poor hit­ting, key in­juries, spo­radic pitch­ing suc­cess — but no one can pin­point ex­actly how all of those things came to­gether to form this sea­son from hell.

This week served as a painful re­minder of how much things have fallen off the rails for the Giants this sea­son. Their op­po­nents, the

Dodgers and Di­a­mond­backs, are so far ahead of San Fran­cisco in the Na­tional League

West stand­ings that the Giants are barely able to see them in the hori­zon.

At first pitch Satur­day, the Giants sat 39.5 games be­hind the first-place Dodgers and 29.5 games be­hind the Di­a­mond­backs.

Add in the Colorado Rock­ies — who re­side in the sec­ond Na­tional League wild-card spot, 24.5 games ahead of the Giants — and it al­most seems out­landish to think that the Giants would be able to make the post­sea­son next year.

You can’t fin­ish in fourth in the Na­tional League West and make the play­offs, af­ter all, and what in­di­ca­tion have the Giants, who are well-po­si­tioned to lose 100 games for the first time since 1985, given that they’re go­ing to be able to jump the Dodgers, Di­a­mond­backs, or Rock­ies next sea­son?

The Giants de­served the ben­e­fit of the doubt from fans for this sea­son. Bad things snow­balled and good things rarely ma­te­ri­al­ized. It’s a sea­son that ev­ery­one wear­ing black and or­ange will want to for­get.

And be­cause the Giants de­served the ben­e­fit of the doubt, tough con­ver­sa­tions were put on hold.

But if the Giants find them­selves dou­ble-digit games out of a play­off spot again next sea­son, those tough con­ver­sa­tions will need to come to the fore­front.

And it’s hard to see them re­sult­ing in any­thing other than dras­tic changes.

Giants man­ager Bruce Bochy has been in the game long enough to have been part of some stinkers of sea­sons, but he called this Giants’ cam­paign “the most dif­fi­cult” of his ca­reer be­cause of the team’s pre­sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions of com­pet­ing for a ti­tle.

There was no rea­son to be­lieve any­thing dif­fer­ent head­ing into this year.

The core of this Giants team won three cham­pi­onships — it was as close to a dy­nasty you can have in this mod­ern era of base­ball — but this sea­son has raised a fair ques­tion: is this core’s best base­ball be­hind it?

But even with that ques­tion loom­ing in the back­ground, the Giants don’t have much of a choice but to run the same core — Posey, Bum­gar­ner, Craw­ford, Pence, Belt — back out there again next year.

“We still have to build off the core,” Giants gen­eral man­ager Bobby Evans told me Satur­day. “It’s re­ally hard to go into an off­sea­son at­tempt­ing to change the very heart of your team. That said, we rec­og­nize that changes need to oc­cur to help get us back and get us stronger — that can come in many dif­fer­ent forms.”

Bochy echoed the sen­ti­ment: “It’s been one of those sea­sons when you think you’re start­ing to get some mo­men­tum go­ing, and then you take an­other step back­wards, ei­ther be­cause of an in­jury or play,” Bochy said. “I think once

we get through this, we’ll get all the guys back and we’ll get some things fixed here. It’s not a case where we feel like we have to do a lot.”

But Bochy also noted: “We have to get bet­ter ev­ery­where.”

Ev­ery off­sea­son, ev­ery team has the in­tent to im­prove their club through free agency and trades, but the Giants’ shop­ping list go­ing into this off­sea­son is too much even for the most cash-loaded team to pro­cure.

But again, they need to get bet­ter ev­ery­where.

Specif­i­cally, the Giants need a power bat or two. They need plus de­fend­ers at third base and all over the out­field. They need bullpen arms, par­tic­u­larly a lefty, and it wouldn’t hurt to land a fifth starter as well. Ideally, the team lands all of those needs via free agency, be­cause when you make a trade, you have to give up some­thing and the Giants don’t have much to sell.

Evans said that he

hasn’t specif­i­cally dis­cussed with Giants CEO Larry Baer how much money the team has to spend this off­sea­son, but even if the wal­let is wide open, it’s hard to fore­see ev­ery­thing be­ing crossed off the list.

For in­stance: the Giants were able to scout Di­a­mond­backs right fielder J.D. Martinez (.298/.376/.681 slash line head­ing into Satur­day) up close this week­end — he’s the best free agent out­fielder on the mar­ket this off­sea­son — but even at age 30 and with se­ri­ous de­fen­sive con­cerns, he’s go­ing to land a deal worth more than $100 mil­lion.

Can the Giants take on a con­tract that large — Roy­als 3B Mike Mous­takas might not be far be­hind him in terms of cost — and still land qual­ity play­ers at all of their other po­si­tions of need? Seems unlikely. Make no mis­take, the Giants will be ac­tive in free agency and the trade mar­ket this win­ter — Evans

knows all eyes are on him — but ul­ti­mately, no mat­ter how much work Evans does, the Giants’ 2018 hopes are pinned to its core play­ers re­turn­ing to their play­off-mak­ing, ti­tle-win­ning forms. If they don’t, pan­dora’s box is prob­a­bly go­ing to open.

Sim­ply put: If the core can’t get the job done again next year, it’s time to get an­other core. The Giants’ farm sys­tem isn’t go­ing to pro­duce one, so it’s upon Evans to make big, block­buster moves to re­stock the mi­nor league shelves. That means putting Bum­gar­ner, Craw­ford, Panik, and even Posey, on the mar­ket.

(Pay heed to any Bum­gar­ner con­tract ex­ten­sion ne­go­ti­a­tions — the Giants would be fools to en­gage him be­fore they know they have a good team, he’s their best trade piece)

It means that Bochy, even af­ter 11 years and three titles, has to come un­der fire. The stress of this sea­son is start­ing

to pro­duce some cracks — Bochy’s han­dling of the club­house this sea­son doesn’t have uni­ver­sal player ap­proval. Is he go­ing to want to go through a re­build? Will the Giants want him pre­sid­ing over one?

Right now, the 2017 sea­son can be writ­ten off as a blip on the radar screen — even the best teams have years where it all falls apart. But the Giants are, in all like­li­hood, go­ing to at­tempt to win with the same for­mula — and mostly the same ros­ter — again next year.

The 2017 sea­son used up ev­ery bit of the team’s good­will with the fan base. You’d think it’d last longer, but it didn’t.

And what hap­pens if the good­will isn’t re-es­tab­lished?

Well, the most suc­cess­ful era of Giants base­ball could come to a ter­ri­bly un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous end.

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