The case for and against a Giants rebuild: How quickly can they turn things around?
The Giants have had a miserable 2017 season. Will they go for it in 2018, or take a step back and rebuild?
For the fourth time in the last seven years, the San Francisco Giants will not be going to the postseason. The Giants, who came into 2017 as a potential wild-card contender, have instead been one of the worst teams in baseball. They're not fighting for a postseason spot. They're fighting for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.
How did it go so wrong for the Giants? Well, it starts with Madison Bumgarner missing three months with what amounts to a fluke shoulder injury. A fluke shoulder injury suffered during an on an off-day. A healthy Bumgarner alone wouldn't have landed this team in the postseason, but given the state of the rotation, the Giants had no chance without him.
More than anything, the Giants got old fast in 2017. Hunter Pence and Denard Span are not close to the players they were a year or two ago, and the team's plan to go into season with the baseball version of a shrug emoji in left field didn't work out too well either. San Francisco's left fielders have hit .236/.289/.350 and their outfield ranks dead last with minus-45 defensive runs saved. The Athletics are a distant second-to-last at minus-28. That's especially problematic in spacious AT&T Park.
Johnny Cueto got hurt and underperformed. Brandon Crawford got hurt and underperformed. Mark Melancon got hurt and underperformed. Matt Moore, Matt Cain, and Ty Blach have combined to throw 437 1/3 innings with a 5.24 ERA. Aside from the great Buster Posey, who continues to be an elite player on both sides of the ball, the Giants did not have a single player put up a season worthy of a contending team.
Remember, the Giants had baseball's best record at the All-Star break last season. They then collapsed in the second half and had baseball's fourth-worst record after the All-Star break, and this year they very well might finish with the game's worst record. The last 14 months or so have not been pretty. And yet, the Giants are not planning on a rebuild. Here's what CEO Larry Baer told Bob Nightengale of USA Today last month:
"We've had a lot of heavy lifts over the years in the 25-year history of this investor group,'' Baer says, "but we don't believe we have to have a tear-down. We're not fearful, but actually very optimistic we'll turn this around. Our history shows us that if we have a down year, we bounce back.
"Look, we view this as the golden age of Giants baseball. We have some good-will in the bank, but we don't take any of that for granted. We'll see. We're going to have to do a full-scrub evaluation. I can't promise anything, but this group here has been resilient.
, an indication the goodwill from winning three World Series titles in five years from 2010-14 is beginning to wane. The Giants missed the postseason in 2015, got bounced in the NLDS (in heartbreaking fashion) in 2016, and have been one of the worst teams in baseball in 2017. That's a tough three-year stretch.
Baer and the Giants say they won't rebuild and will instead try to win next season. That's admirable. A lot of teams -- not only in baseball, in other sports as well -- are quick to throw in the towel and begin a deep rebuild, hoping things will be better down the line. There's something to be said for trying to do all you can to win right now. Does it make sense for the Giants in their current situation, however? That's up for debate.
The case for a rebuild
The long-term picture is not pretty. The Giants, according to Baseball-Reference, have the fourth-oldest collection of position players and eighth-oldest collection of pitchers this season. Baseball America ranked their farm system fourth-worst in baseball following the trade deadline, so there's little help coming from within. That is the result of years of trades, forfeiting draft picks to sign free agents, and in some cases poor player development.
As it stands, the Giants already have $174 million on the books next season, assuming Cain's $21 million club option is bought out and both Bumgarner's ($12 million) and Moore's ($8 million options) options are picked up.(Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently reported the Giants will likely exercise Moore's cheap option even after his poor season.) That $174 million does not include arbitration raises -- Joe Panik, Hunter Strickland, Sam Dyson, and Will Smith are their most notable arbitration cases -- nor does it include finding a third baseman, finding another outfielder, and finding pitching help.
Point is, the Giants are old, they're expensive, they don't have much of a farm system, and they've been really bad this year. It's easy to see why the Giants should rebuild, no? Those are four scary factors. If you're old and expensive but good, that's fine. If you're bad but young and have a good farm system, that works too. That's not the Giants. They're basically worst-case scenario across the board. Trading Bumgarner, Posey, Panik, Crawford, et al would net a lot of talent in a hurry.
The case for going for it
The case for the Giants gearing up for another run in 2018 boils down to this: Posey and Bumgarner are Hall of Fame talents in their primes. Bumgarner turned 28 last month and Posey will turn 31 next spring. They are cornerstone players who have proven they can be the foundation for a championship club. Teams dream of having a tandem like this. They go through those long and painful rebuilds because they want their own Posey and Bumgarner. And the Giants really going to trade them away?
It is not unreasonably to expect a healthy Cueto, a healthy Crawford, and a healthy Melancon to perform better next season. The same goes for Panik and Brandon Belt. Span and Pence? Eh, they're approaching their mid-30s, so the chances of them rebounding aren't quite as good. The Giants definitely need outfield help. That much is clear. They need a third baseman and pitching depth as well. This isn't a case where the Giants can stand pat and expect everything to be better. They need to make some upgrades, but the championship foundation is in place.
Also, while the Giants already have $174 million on the books next, they'll shed some huge contracts after the season. The team has only $115.6 million on the books for 2019, assuming Bumgarner and Moore have their options exercised again. Span ($11 million annually) and Pence ($18.5 million annually) will both be off the books come 2019, as will several others. San Francisco projects to have payroll flexibility in a year, which could go a long way to supplementing the Posey, Bumgarner, Crawford, Belt core.
Regardless of what the Giants do going forward, the fact of the matter is 2017 was an unmitigated disaster. It's one thing to have a disappointing season and fall short of the playoffs like they did in 2015. It's another to be rubbing elbows with the Phillies and White Sox at the bottom of the standings. Can the front office turn things around? Of course they can. How they do it, and how patient they are willing to be, will shape the next 5-10 years of Giants baseball.
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