IN SPORTS: GIANTS MULLING OFFSEASON MOVES
SAN FRANCISCO — Major League Baseball’s best teams have it all.
Star players, wunderkind executives, and in many cases, dejected division rivals to pad their stats against.
The San Francisco Giants, as currently constructed, are not one of baseball’s best teams. But in a sports landscape increasingly tolerant of tanking and rebuilding — of losing it all to gain it all back — the Giants don’t appear incentivized to lose 100 games.
Under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, the Giants have yet to commit to a direction for the 2019 season.
Will Zaidi feel pressure to win immediately and sign premium free agents in his first offseason with the club? Or would the former Dodgers general manager see the value in shipping off a franchise hero like Madison Bumgarner to acquire prospect capital?
After more than a month on the job, Zaidi has yet to publicly reveal his preference. In a league that seemingly begs teams to go for it all or pack it in before pitchers and catchers even report to spring training, Zaidi may be the rare front office leader who finds value in building from baseball’s middle ground.
Despite losing a combined 187 games over the last two years, the Giants entered both seasons expecting to contend. Even after tying for a major league-worst 98 losses in 2017, the franchise’s front office termed the season an “aberration” and vowed to add depth to a roster that could compete for a playoff berth in 2018.
Though the Giants began the month of September 68-68, the club never stacked up with the National League’s top teams and ultimately finished 16 games under .500.
At his introductory press conference November 7, Zaidi said he hoped the Giants could compete as deep into the season as possible. The executive tasked with setting the blueprint for the franchise’s future was careful not to commit to “contending” and he didn’t offer an estimate of how deep into the year the Giants could realistically entertain postseason hopes. But when pressed further, Zaidi also didn’t embrace the idea of tearing down the roster.
“I just think with where we are as an organization right now, we have to cast as wide of a net as possible and not put too many labels on what this process is going to be other than to make smart and sound decisions,” Zaidi said.
At last Friday’s non-tender deadline for arbitration-eligible players, Zaidi offered some initial clues regarding how he’ll approach his first full year on the job.
The Giants agreed to terms with second baseman Joe Panik and reliever Sam Dyson while also tendering a contract to left-hander Will Smith, who served as the team’s closer for much of last season. However, Zaidi parted ways with the longest-tenured member of the bullpen, Hunter Strickland, and outfielder Gorkys Hernández.
Teams engaged in total rebuilds don’t re-sign relievers for $5 million, as the Giants did with Dyson. Some general managers working for cash-strapped teams
wouldn’t have brought back Panik, a middle infielder with limited power, for $3.85 million either.
In the coming weeks, Zaidi will likely trade for or sign multiple outfielders, at least one veteran starting pitcher and a part-time catcher. The players Zaidi pursues, the terms of their contracts and their overall fit with the club will provide a much more comprehensive look at how the Giants view their short and longterm chances of competing, but a realistic scenario is that San Francisco ends up heading to Scottsdale in February with a roster destined for baseball’s middle ground.
The Giants don’t appear willing to follow the multi-year rebuild process that led the Cubs and Astros to recent titles and they certainly don’t want to begin Opening Day with rosters devoid of enough legitimate major league talent, like the Marlins and Orioles will. Instead, Zaidi and the Giants seem more inclined to add depth and value wherever possible, setting the stage for more climactic seasons in 2020 and 2021.
“I would anticipate we’re going to have a few moves before this offseason is said and done,” Zaidi said in an interview on KNBR Wednesday. “You can never predict what’s going to happen.”
In Dyson, Smith, Bumgarner and Panik, the Giants have four assets who could easily be flipped this winter or at next year’s trade deadline. All four are set to become free agents before the franchise will likely be able to field a World Series contender, so shopping them now or allowing them to boost their value ahead of the summer deadline offers Zaidi important flexibility.
The Giants also have just 34 players on their 40-man roster, allowing Zaidi to take some gambles. He can take a chance on a Rule 5 draft pick next week or sign multiple veterans looking to re-establish their value with a new team in 2019, much like former general manager Bobby Evans did with pitcher Derek Holland last year.
The San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, right, and Buster Posey celebrate after defeating the New York Mets in the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 5, 2016, in New York. The Giants haven't been to the playoffs since.