Getting from Point A to Point B did not take the path many expected, but the San Francisco Giants will indeed miss the postseason for the third consecutive season. The Giants had a hot streak at midseason that made them look like postseason contenders, prompting the club to hold on to high-end trade chips Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith at the deadline. The hot streak didn't last.
Check out San Francisco's month-by-month record:
- March/April: 12-18
- May: 10-16
- June: 14-13
- July: 19-6
- August: 11-16
- September: 9-12 (as of Monday)
One of those things is not like the other. The July hot streak sure was fun though. Ultimately, the Giants were never really expected to contend this year, the first year under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. After being poached from the rival Dodgers, Zaidi did a fantastic job rebuilding the team's outfield on the fly, though it remains short of championship caliber.
The Giants did see Bumgarner return to form following back-to-back down (and injury interrupted) years, and Johnny Cueto made a promising return from Tommy John surgery in September. Mike Yastrzemski looks like a good fourth outfielder at worst and a starter at best. Tyler Beede and Shaun Anderson both flashed potential, ditto deadline addition Mauricio Dubon. That's the good news.
The bad news is it is becoming increasing clear Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, and Buster Posey are past their primes. Those four have combined for less than 6 WAR this season and the Giants owe that group over $160 million the next few years. The aging core is a hurdle Zaidi & Co. will have to work around to get this team back into the postseason.
Zaidi's first year at the helm went mostly as expected, albeit with a midseason hot streak that might've thrown a wrench into his trade deadline plans. Now that Zaidi's first season will soon be in the books, his attention will shift to four pressing questions facing the club this winter. Here are those questions, in no particular order.
1. Will Zaidi hire a GM?
Long gone are the days of one head executive building a team by shooting from the hip. These days it takes a village to turn a team into a contender, and the Giants did not have a general manager this past season. Zaidi is the president of baseball operations and he calls the shots.
Hiring a general manager -- someone to be Jed Hoyer to Zaidi's Theo Epstein -- appears to be on the agenda this winter. Zaidi recently confirmed he will begin interviewing GM candidates soon, but isn't guaranteed to make a hire.
Zaidi said he expects to interview candidates for a potential GM opening, though he isn’t dead set on hiring someone unless he finds the right person for the job.— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) September 10, 2019
Generally speaking, the more smart people in the front office, the better. The Dodgers, Zaidi's former team, have filled their front office with former general managers (Josh Byrnes, Alex Anthopoulos before he left for the Braves) as well as bright up-and-coming executives who have gone on to run other teams, like Zaidi. Smart people with dissenting opinions are a must.
The guess here is the Giants, if they do hire a GM, will hire a younger executive with little to no experience running his own team. Think David Stearns with the Brewers or Derek Falvey with the Twins, or even Zaidi when he first joined the Dodgers. Zaidi's M.O. suggests he'll look for the next great GM, not an already established big name like, say, Dave Dombrowski.
Possible GM candidates include Brewers assistant GM Matt Arnold, Rays vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom, Athletics assistant GMs Dan Kantrovitz and Billy Owens, and Diamondbacks assistant GMs Jared Porter and Amiel Sawdaye. All six are considered among the top GM prospects in the game.
2. Who replaces Bruce Bochy?
Future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy is retiring at season's end. The 64-year-old is MLB's longest tenured manager and he'll get his 2,000th career win before the end of the year. Bochy has been at the helm since 2007 and guided the Giants through their dynasty years from 2010-14. (Don't look at me like that. If your team won three titles in five years you'd consider them a dynasty.)
These days teams are skewing young with managers. Thirteen managers have been hired since the end of the 2017 season and only two -- Angels manager Brad Ausmus and Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire -- had previous MLB managerial experience. Teams are going young (and cheap) in the manager's seat and there's no reason to think Sam Francisco will do something different.
A far-from-complete list of possible Giants managerial candidates:
- Carlos Beltran, Yankees special assistant
- Eric Chavez, Angels special assistant
- Bob Geren, Dodgers bench coach
- Joe Girardi, MLB Network analyst
- Raul Ibanez, Dodgers special advisor
- Hensley Meulens, Giants bench coach
- Buck Showalter, television analyst
- Ron Wotus, Giants third base coach
Once upon a time, promoting a longtime coach like Meulens or Wotus to manager would've been the easy and obvious move. That is not the case these days. Like most new executives, Zaidi is likely to hire "his guy" to manage rather than keep the status quo and promote from within.
Beltran is highly respected within baseball and wants to manage -- he interviewed for the Yankees job two years ago -- and Chavez has long been regarded as a future manager. Don't sleep on Ibanez. He's well-regarded in the game and is close to Zaidi from their days with the Dodgers. Here's what The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly said during a radio interview earlier this year:
"One other name that I've heard is Raul Ibanez," Baggarly said. "[Ibanez] is somebody who is really positive, connects with players very well, he's special assistant in the Dodgers system right now. He is another name that I've heard that will probably be part of an interview process when it gets to that stage."
An established manager like Girardi or Showalter is possible. You can never rule it out. Similar to the GM search though, the hunch here is Zaidi looks to hire the next great manager rather than a big name who's been there, done that. The next Dave Roberts or Alex Cora, basically. Beltran, Chavez, and Ibanez are as good a candidate for that job as anyone.
Replacing an iconic manager like Bochy is never easy and I suspect the managerial search will be the most public storyline with the Giants this winter. It's a very appealing job (great city, great ballpark, bright front office moving the team in the right direction) and I imagine Zaidi will have no trouble finding interested candidates.
3. What happens with Bumgarner?
For the first three months of the season it seemed like a matter of "when" the Giants would trade Bumgarner, not "if." Then the team went on a torrid hot streak in July and climbed back into the race -- the Giants were 2 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot on the morning of July 31 -- so they kept Bumgarner (and Smith) in hopes of making a run in Bochy's final season.
It didn't happen. The Giants crashed back to Earth in August and now they're facing a tough decision with Bumgarner's future. They will obviously make him the qualifying offer after the season, but do they give him that big multi-year extension, or let him test the free agent waters and possibly sign elsewhere? The Braves have been speculated as a possible fit.
Bumgarner turned 30 in August and he is a franchise icon thanks to his historic postseason performance. His performance bounced back well enough this season, especially the strikeout rate and average cutter velocity ...
... that it's not crazy to believe Bumgarner can be part of the next contending Giants team. The Tigers trading Justin Verlander in 2017? That made sense given his age and the state of the team. Bumgarner is young enough and the Giants are not that far away from contention, so keeping him would not be unreasonable.
Jon Lester's six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs is a good benchmark for Bumgarner's next contract. That said, Lester signed his deal five years ago now, and the market has changed considerably. Instead of six years at $24.8 million per season, Bumgarner's deal might be closer to four or five years at $22 million annually. That seems doable.
Dallas Keuchel wound up waiting until June to sign a free agent contract and we can't rule out something similar happening to Bumgarner. It would surprise me though. If I had to bet right now, I'd bet on Bumgarner re-signing with the Giants. That's the most likely outcome. It is not a guarantee, however. Zaidi and his staff have to make an honest evaluation and proceed accordingly.
4. What's the next step in the rebuild?
Clearly, the Giants are not going to tear it all the way down. They would've traded Bumgarner, Smith, and others at the deadline if that were the case. San Francisco is trying rebuild on the fly similar to the Yankees in 2017. Get younger while staying in the race at the same time. It's difficult, but hey, Zaidi rebuilt his outfield on the fly this year, and I wouldn't bet against him making it work.
Belt and Jeff Samardzija are the most likely candidates to move this winter should the Giants unload a big contract(s). Belt is owed $17.2 million each of the next two seasons and spent most of this year slugging under .420. Realistically, his market will be limited to American League teams (where he can DH occasionally), and the Giants will have to eat money to facilitate a trade.
Moving Belt would allow Posey to spend more time at first base and ostensibly keep him from wearing down physically both within the season and over the long-term. Depending how much the Giants eat, American League teams like the Angels, Blue Jays, Indians, Rangers, Red Sox, Twins, and White Sox could have interest in Belt, though that's just my speculation.
Samardzija has had a fine bounce back season and, frankly, keeping him next year would be perfectly reasonable if the Giants want to make a run at a wild-card spot. He's owed $19.8 million next year and probably won't net a huge trade return. Rather than salary dump him, keeping Samardzija and going for it makes some sense. There's no such thing as too much pitching.
More than anything, the next phase of the rebuild will look similar to 2019. Sign lower profile free agents to one-year contracts and hope to cash them in as trade chips (like Drew Pomeranz), buy-low on the trade market (like Kevin Pillar), scour the waiver wire and Triple-A rosters for unheralded talent (like Alex Dickerson and Yastrzemski), and promote from within (like Beede and Anderson).
Tearing it down and starting from scratch won't happen. Not with the contracts San Francisco has on the books. For now, Zaidi will look for the next Max Muncy and Chris Taylor -- Zaidi helped find Muncy and Taylor while with the Dodgers -- and add talent however possible, and hope the roster stays afloat in the standings without compromising the long-term outlook.