The 2021 San Francisco Giants were not considered a contender by many heading into the season. Depending upon where and when you looked, their over/under win total heading into the season was somewhere in the low-to-mid 70s. The ended up going 107-55. Only 12 teams baseball history won more regular season games (list here via baseball-reference.com's Stathead).
Unfortunately from the Giants' perspective, the season ended after an NLDS loss to the Dodgers. Once the dust settles here after a bit, it's fair to say that pretty much every Giants fan should view the 2021 season was a wildly successful campaign.
Moving forward now, the question is whether or not this was a repeatable season of just a one-off type thing. It's fair to say that obviously the Giants' front office has been splendid at putting together a fully-functional roster capable of winning on any given day. There's something going on with scouting and coaching that is untapping the best version of so many different types of players. I'm inclined to say this is sustainable.
Of course, there are plenty of questions with the personnel.
Kevin Gausman seems to the first question here. He was the anchor of the rotation all season and will get some down-ballot Cy Young votes. He took the qualifying offer last year, so the Giants can't extend the offer again. Will Gausman get paid like an ace in free agency? He's heading to his age-31 season and there will be questions on if the gains he made can be sustained. It seems like a great fit here. Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood are also hitting free agency, so that's already 3/4 of their playoff rotation. Whether they bring back one, two or all three of these guys or not, the rotation obviously has to be addressed.
Kris Bryant finally hits free agency after years of discussing his service time, if/when the Cubs were going to trade him and bandying about what figure would work for a possible contract extension. He's not likely to come close to the $300-plus million figures he once looked destined to hit, but it'll take a huge deal to retain him. The Giants absolutely have the financial means to swing big both on the rotation and Bryant, should they so choose. Bryant seems to have enjoyed his time with the Giants and is a great fit with the club given his defensive versatility.
Brandon Belt is coming off the two best offensive seasons of his career. If you combine 2020-21, he played in 148 games and hit .285/.393/.595 (165 OPS+) with 38 homers. He's heading to his age-34 season, though. He's spent his entire career with the Giants, so difficult decisions need to be made here.
Donovan Solano isn't nearly as big a name as the others here, but he's been very good in his three Giants seasons. He's now a free agent.
Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto both have $22 million options for next season. Surely Posey's is picked up and Cueto's is not.
Posey was amazing in 2021, but he's going to be a 35-year-old catcher next season. How much longer can he keep it up?
Brandon Crawford is going to get MVP votes after a career year. He's also going to be 35 next season and was pretty bad offensively in 2017 and 2019.
Evan Longoria will be 36 next year. He had a very good season, when healthy, in 2021, but he was basically just average with the bat the previous four years.
Darin Ruf has unlocked his ability with the Giants -- note the scouting and coaching comments above -- putting together a 143 OPS+ in his two years here after 104 in five years with the Phillies. He's also going to be 35 next year, however.
Legitimate breakout or one-hit wonders?
Logan Webb down the stretch and particularly in his two playoff starts against a strong Dodgers offense looked every bit the part of ace. I firmly believe the breakout was real, but he had a career 5.36 ERA in 94 innings before this season. It's reasonable to wonder if this was real or not.
LaMonte Wade, Jr. came into this season a career .211/.336/.347 hitter in 113 plate appearances in the majors. He had a very good season, but why didn't he stick until age 27?
Camilo Doval, Kervin Castro, Dominic Leone, Zack Littell and the rest of the bullpen head to the offseason as a group that seems likely to be good again next year but one that also has question marks all over the place. Again, this could be a testament to the scouting department and excellent coaching staff, but there are questions all over the bullpen. Bullpens are historically pretty volatile, too.
Due to all the questions and the aging roster, it's incredibly difficult to handicap the Giants for 2022. I think we're safe to bet they won't win 105-plus wins again and we're also probably safe to say they won't be terrible. Other than that, not much would surprise.
There's an awful lot of work for Farhan Zaidi and company to do with the roster this coming offseason.
This comes with a lot of good news, though. First off, Zaidi and his front office on down to the coaching staff have proven to be one of the best operations in all of baseball. Whether it's acquisitions from outside the organization or getting the most from players already on the big-league roster or in the minor-league system, Giants fans should have the utmost trust in this group after what we saw in 2021. There were wins all over the place in this organization in 2021.
Second, there's going to be plenty of money available. Ownership here has proven plenty capable and willing to spend big. The estimated payroll next season right now if they pick up the Posey option and decline Cueto's is $126 million. They've been over $200 million as recently as 2018. They also just went through a successful season which means ticket sales in 2022 will be highly lucrative. It wouldn't be surprising to see them get up in the ballpark of $210 million. This doesn't mean only free agency spending. They could also bring on money via trade if other teams are looking to salary dump productive veterans.
To put it simply: Yes, the Giants have a lot of work to do this coming offseason, but they'll have plenty of money to burn in free agency and the front office should be trusted in shaping the roster via trades, free agency and growth from within. There will be roster turnover and the age thing needs to be dealt with, but the most likely outcome here is that 2021 was a beginning instead of the NLDS loss being the end.