You’re the San Francisco Giants. You’ve won three World Series championships this decade. You made the playoffs as recently as 2016, and if your bullpen doesn’t melt down in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the division series against the Cubs you might even win that series.
On the other hand, since the All-Star break in 2016 you’ve been the worst team in the majors, with 94 wins and 140 losses — worse than the Phillies and Padres and White Sox and a bunch of other teams that weren’t even trying to win. You just finished 40 games behind the Dodgers.
What do you do for 2018?
I heard an interview last week with Giants general manager Bobby Evans and his message was pretty clear: We’re the Giants. We don’t rebuild. Thus, the rumors of a Giancarlo Stanton trade that would send Joe Panik and prospects Tyler Beede and Chris Shaw to the Marlins for Stanton and Dee Gordon, with a recent report from Sirius radio host Craig Mish saying the Giants would take on the entirety of Stanton’s $295 million contract. The only problem with that report is that if it’s accurate, you have to wonder why the Marlins haven’t already made the trade.
Brian Sabean, the former general manager and now executive vice president, echoed Evans’ thoughts a couple of weeks ago in a radio interview in which he said, “I think we’re prepared to do as much as we have to without gutting the team or without having to peel it all the way back from a payroll sense. It’s best to use a phrase like ‘reset.’ It’s not going to be a rebuild. We don’t have the time or the patience to go through something like that.”
There are two ways to look at this:
The Giants are crazy.
The Giants are not crazy.
The Giants are crazy
To get back to playoff contention, the Giants will need to find 25 or so wins from last season. To contend for an NL West title, the Giants will need to find 30 wins and hope for some regression from the Dodgers. That’s not impossible. Just this past season the Diamondbacks improved from 69 to 93 wins and earned a wild-card berth, and the Twins improved from 59 to 85 wins to reach the playoffs. Heck, the 2013 Red Sox improved from 69 to 97 wins and took the whole enchilada.
It’s possible, but not likely. I looked at all teams from 2012 to 2016 that won fewer than 70 games, 28 teams all told. The average win increase was 8.9 wins. Only five of the 28 finished over .500. In addition to the three teams above, the other two were the 2015 Rangers (88 wins, up from 67) and 2013 Indians (92 wins, up from 68). Interestingly, all five made the playoffs. I don’t know what to make of that. You’d think some team would improve from 69 to 82 wins or something like that, but that hasn’t happened in recent seasons.
The Giants have some major issues to work through. Generally speaking, young teams get better and old teams get worse. In 2017, the Giants had the fourth-oldest group of position players; they had the 22nd-oldest pitching staff. “High on the wish list is to get younger, more athletic and play better defense overall,” Sabean said in that radio interview.
He identified the three major spots in need of an upgrade as center field, third base and the bullpen. I’d suggest they need to upgrade right field and left field as well. Collectively, their outfielders ranked last in the majors with a .305 wOBA — 29th in left field, 23rd in center field, 30th in right field. Those aren’t park-adjusted numbers, but you get the idea: The outfield couldn’t hit. But, wait! It couldn’t play defense either. The Giants ranked last in the majors with minus-45 defensive runs saved in the outfield. The front office has acknowledged that Denard Span no longer has the range to play center, but Hunter Pence, in the final year of his contract, has become a problem as well.
Third base? FanGraphs currently gives the Giants the lowest third-base projection in the majors at 0.1 WAR. Bullpen? Projected as 22nd best. They have a lot of holes to fill. Too many.
The Giants are not crazy
There is still enough talent here to build around, starting with Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. Sure, they could trade those two and reload a farm system that ranks near the bottom. You try telling that to fans who just paid $88 to watch a bad team as they chow down on overpriced crab sandwiches and sushi rolls.
FanGraphs projects the current roster as a 78-win team. The projection includes a big improvement from the starting rotation, dropping from a 4.58 ERA to 4.06. Having Bumgarner for a full season helps, but it’s not crazy to suggest Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore will be better.
So let’s get the Giants from 78 wins to 94.
Trade for Stanton. The current right-field projection is 1.2 WAR; Stanton is at 5.4 (he was at 7.6 in 2017). Let’s be optimistic and put him at 6.5 WAR. We’re at 83.3 wins.
They need a center fielder who can chase down fly balls. Andrew McCutchen — another trade rumor — is not the answer. Free agent Lorenzo Cain is a better answer. He projects to 3.2 WAR, or 2.2 additional wins. We’re at 85.5 wins.
That slides Span and Pence over to left field. The current hodgepodge group projects to minus-0.6 WAR. Pence and Span could be worth two wins better. We’re at 87.5 wins.
Then they need a third baseman. Todd Frazier is a free agent who provides some pop and still plays decent defense. His projection is 2.2 WAR, which is arguably a little conservative (FanGraphs had him at 3.0 WAR in 2017). Let’s split the difference and say 2.6 WAR — that’s 2.5 wins above Pablo Sandoval and others currently on the roster. Now we’re at 90 wins.
Not so hard, is it?
Trouble is, we’ve also blown out the Giants’ payroll. Stanton will make $25 million in 2018. Cain might come in at $17 million or so, Frazier at $12 million. We just added $54 million to a payroll that already sits at an estimated $182 million to $187 million, and we haven’t even added any relievers. The competitive tax threshold for 2018 is $197 million.
It seems impossible to add Stanton and sign a couple of premium free agents. You could go Jarrod Dyson instead of Cain to play center field, but he’s not as good. You could trade for another inexpensive defense-first center fielder. You could just roll with Sandoval and Christian Arroyo at third base. Maybe Mark Melancon — and his $20 million salary — bounces back in the bullpen.
See the problem? It’s hard to get to 94 wins. Plus, we don’t even know if Stanton wants to play in San Francisco, and he has a full no-trade clause to block any deal. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported Thursday that the proverbial person in the know says Stanton “has concerns about the depth of the Giants and chances for a turnover after their 64-98 season.”
It’s going to be a Herculean task to get to 90 or 94 wins. It’s possible, especially if they’re willing to crash past the tax threshold. Just expect that sushi to be a little more expensive in 2018 if it happens.