Spurned by Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, Giants can rebuild in a big way
Maybe the last-place Giants should pivot for 2018 and beyond?
Suffice it to say, this week has not been kind to the San Francisco Giants. First came news that the Giants despite being one of seven finalists for the Japanese two-way star. Then came this statement from the team regarding its pursuit of Marlins slugger and reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton:
Our agreement with the Marlins to acquire Giancarlo Stanton subject to his waiving of the no-trade clause will not move forward and it is our understanding that the Marlins and Stanton are exploring other options.
So that's two significant losses for a team that badly needed some needle-moving additions this offseason.
Let's bear in mind that the Giants are coming off a 98-loss season and a last-place finish. To compound grim matters, they finished fully 40 games behind the hated Dodgers. Yes, the Giants can bank on some improvement in 2018, thanks in part to somewhat stronger underlying fundamentals and the assumption of a healthy season from Madison Bumgarner.
Still, heading into the meat of the offseason, the SportsLine (@SportsLine on Twitter) Projection Model tabs the Giants for just 75 victories, which would have put them 12 games out of the second NL wild-card spot this season. Adding the likes of Stanton and Ohtani obviously would've improved that baseline by quite a bit, but that's no longer a possibility for the Giants. Now they're a bad team with a bad farm system -- i.e., not much to trade -- surveying a shallow and flawed free-agent class.
For instance ...
That's Domingo Santana, and I'm just not sure the Giants have the young talent needed to acquire him from the Brewers, who have their own designs on contention. Jay Bruce would be a huge problem defensively in the spacious AT&T outfield, and the same goes for J.D. Martinez. Again, no one plausibly available to a team like the Giants improves them nearly as much as Stanton and Ohtani would've.
All of this bodes ill for the Giants, insofar as 2018 is concerned. However, if they choose to tear it down and rebuild, then they could see such straits as an opportunity. This would be very out of step for the Giants, who for many years have angled to contend every season. Eventually, though, every team must face the teardown, and perhaps it's the Giants' turn. If they did decide to go such a route, consider what they could do ...
Trade Madison Bumgarner
You know he's a playoff legend, and over the past three seasons he has improved his regular-season performance by a significant margin. Since the start of the 2015 season, MadBum has pitched to a 2.93 ERA/136 ERA+ and 5.19 K/BB ratio. That's ace-level stuff. As well, he's signed to a contract that's team-friendly in the extreme: He is under team control for the next two seasons at a total cost of just $24 million (incentives could push the price of those two club options a bit higher).
He's still just 28, and it a was non-pitching injury that laid him up for a large chunk of 2017. Needless to say, a controllable, affordable ace like Bumgarner would net the prospect-starved Giants a massive return. Bumgarner does have a partial no-trade clause of up to eight teams, but that's easily worked around.
Trade Buster Posey
Posey is coming off yet another highly productive season at the plate, and he also caught more than 800 innings in 2017. Given Posey's valuable bat and his elite defensive skills behind the plate, he still stands as one of the most valuable all-around performers in the game. The list of aspiring contenders he could help is necessarily a long one. He's going into his age-31 season, and at some point decline will take hold. For now, though, Posey still profiles as a major near-term asset.
The nine-year deal Posey signed in early 2013 includes a full no-trade clause, and as we've seen with Stanton that's a major consideration. However, Posey's deal includes a $22 million option with a $3 million buyout for 2022. If the team working to acquire Posey guarantees that option -- thus adding almost $20 million to the value of his contract -- then Posey might be inclined to go chase a fourth World Series ring on someone else's watch.
Trade Brandon Crawford
Why stop there? Crawford's struggles at the plate in 2017 are noted. However, he was still solid at the plate overall by shortstop standards, and he was mostly in line with expectations save for a bad June. Crawford also remains a true difference-maker with the glove. He's also got a full no-trade clause, and the Bay Area native may prefer to exercise it. However, moving Crawford is less essential to this hypothetical rebuilding process than is dealing Bumgarner and Posey.
Trade Brandon Belt
Belt has a somewhat on-again, off-again relationship with the front office, so this one probably wouldn't be a hard sell at HQ. He's productive and locked up through 2021 with a limited no-trade clause. He'd make sense for likely contenders in need of help at first base. The Mariners and Red Sox come immediately to mind, as do, potentially, the Indians.
Trade Jeff Samardzija
Teams these days are beyond eyeballing ERA in their assessments, and they look at Samardzija they'll see a guy who paced the the NL in innings last season and made big strides on the command-and-control front. In other words, they'll see a durable mid-rotation piece who pitched much better than his 4.42 ERA would lead you to believe. The Giants could kick in some cash and increase their prospect haul in a Samardzija deal.
Slow-play it with Mark Melancon and Johnny Cueto
Melancon struggled in his first season with San Fran, and forearm and elbow issues were largely to blame. He underwent surgery to address those issues in September, and he's eyeing a return to health and form in 2018. The Giants would be wise to let him prove he's up to doing just that. The trade costs for closers tend to be inflated leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, and that means the Giants could cash in if Melancon bounces back. Hang onto him for now.
The same goes for Cueto, who in 2017 endured his first subpar season since he was a 23-year-old with the Reds. Even a modest rebound in the first half of 2018 could make Cueto a useful trade piece heading up to July 31.
There's an obvious case against all this. Maybe the Giants determine that, even without Stanton and Ohtani, an active winter could put them within range of playoff contention. There's a case to be made to that end, at least if you squint at the right times.
On another level, maybe they determine that, even if contention is a longshot, that trading beloved franchise icons like Bumgarner and Posey would be too damaging to the franchise's image. That's a very defensible position and the best post-Stanton/Ohtani argument against a complete rebuild.
All that said, the Giants have before them the opportunity to become this offseason's answer to the White Sox -- i.e., become the team who turns one of the very worst farm systems into one of the very best, almost solely via trades of veterans. It's doable, and it's an approach that's probably in the best long-term interests of the franchise. That's a hard trigger to pull, though, considering how much some of those guys mean to the Giants' history and the Giants' fans.
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