The Giants' championship window is closed and what comes next is complicated
The Giants aren't good anymore and now have lots of players in their 30s locked up long term
On Oct. 11, 2016, the Giants looked like they were on the verge of shocking the world again, this time getting close to toppling the mighty, 103-win Cubs. They took a 5-1 lead to the top of the ninth inning in a game that would have evened the series and forced a win-or-go-home Game 5 in Wrigley Field. Standing in the Cubs' way would be ace Johnny Cueto and, yes, Madison Bumgarner ready for multiple innings in relief.
Instead, the Cubs mounted an incredible four-run rally and won the series 3-1, celebrating inside AT&T Park, a scene the Giants hadn't before experienced with this group.
We know now that this was the moment the Giants' even-year dynasty came to an end. They were 64-98 last season and had the offseason that looked like a desperate attempt to squeeze one more deep playoff run out of this group. It failed and the Giants are now going to finish well below .500.
The harsh reality here is this group, as currently constructed, can't contend again. The good news is that nearly every team goes through cycles of contention and the Giants got three World Series championships out of this one. That's rare for teams not in the Bronx. Put it this way, Giants fans: The Tigers had to face this reality recently and they got zero titles from the Verlander-Cabrera era.
The Posey-Bumgarner-Bochy era here in its prime won the World Series three times. That bears repeating because it's an unbelievably good stretch. I know it sounds wrong to act like this run is over, but here's why:
- Bumgarner is still good, but he's not great since that biking accident. He's also logged over 1,600 innings on that left arm in the regular season in addition to all the spring training work and over 100 postseason innings. He'll be 29 next year and hits free agency after 2019.
- Buster Posey will be 32 next year (can you believe that?). He's lost his power stroke (12 HR last season and only a .382 slugging percentage this season). He's a catcher and just had hip surgery. His lack of power in his 30s doesn't really play well if he has to move to first base (ask the Twins about that).
- Another hard-to-believe age is Brandon Belt being 31 next year. He's on a five-year, $72.8 million extension that runs through 2021. He's also a first baseman carrying a 108 OPS+.
- After a big first half, shortstop Brandon Crawford has been dreadful in the second half. He's still a good defender, but he's hit .254/.314/.401 the past two seasons. He's also locked up through 2021 (six years, $75M).
- Third baseman Evan Longoria is on a 15-year, $145.5 million deal that came about from a cheap deal his rookie year and then an extension being written in. The deal is backloaded to the point that he'll be making slightly under $20 million in 2022, which is his age 36 season. He's also a good defender, but he's hitting .245 with a .284 on-base percentage.
Including the broken-down, 35-year-old Hunter Pence, that's basically what's left of the championship core. Throw in the contracts of Jeff Samardzija and Cueto and here's what is already on the books for the Giants moving forward:
- $123.9 million in 2020
- $93.1 million in 2021
That doesn't include arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries. Baseball-reference.com estimates that without any transactions at all, the Giants are already over $200 million in both 2020 and 2021.
I'm not sure even if the Giants went nuts in signing both Manny Machado (and figuring out where to play him) and Bryce Harper would be good enough to turn this group into a contender again. That's hyperbole, of course, but I'm just saying I don't think the Giants can spend their way back into contention, even if they wanted to -- and the hunch is ownership wouldn't want to add a ton to the books for 2020 and 2021.
I also don't think anyone outside of Bumgarner and Posey really have great trade value from the names listed above. Meanwhile, the Giants are widely considered to not have a very good farm system. Getting to the next window of contention is going to be tough.
Here's a place to start: Trade Bumgarner.
Yes, I know that's tough. He only has a club option for next season and it's cheap for him ($12M). The Giants could get a big prospect package in return for Bumgarner this coming winter after picking up the option.
From there, they probably need to move Posey to first base, which kicks Belt to left field. They are probably handcuffed with the above contracts, so just fill around them with youngsters for a few years in hopes that someone like Dereck Rodriguez comes along and plays a lot better than the prospect experts thought he'd be. If someone like Belt or Crawford starts playing to a point that they can land prospects in return, trade them. Start moving toward the next window while building around pieces like Rodriguez.
I would never, however, trade Buster Posey. He's a San Francisco legend and the other one (Bumgarner) will have already been traded in my scenario. Make Buster a career Giant. This isn't a small-market team. It can pay for nostalgia.
If the Giants are going to try and stay the course with this group, trying to patch up holes with short-term moves like grabbing Andrew McCutchen in his walk year or adding Longoria's deal to their books, they're just going to be stuck in neutral. You'll see an awful lot of what we've seen this year. Good for stretches, awful in other stretches and not contending. That's not a good formula to turn things around with the roster and contract situation like it is.
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