Giants need a new plan in 2018
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.