Since 2010, the Giants have been arguably the most successful team in baseball. The Giants have averaged 87 wins per season and brought down the house with three championships. It’s hard to argue with those results. Over the years, the Giants have continually managed to maintain a high level of play with a robust player development apparatus and modest veteran acquisitions, via both free agent signings and trades. But, as the roster ages and contracts near their expiration it’s putting more pressure on the front office to reshape the roster. The time could be coming where San Francisco’s window closes.
To get through that gauntlet and jump a ton of massive hurdles, the Giants have recycled many players. Among their challenges were losing three strong pitchers in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez to performance and injury issues. Nevertheless, the Giants carried on.
Prior to their first title in 2010, the Giants sought established players to complement their strong young building blocks in Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Pablo Sandoval. Following the 2007 season, Barry Zito had signed a mega deal that, frankly, hadn’t panned out. A year later, Aaron Rowand cashed in on a career year with another big contract, but he couldn’t keep himself from running into walls at full speed to be beneficial to the Giants.
So, in the offseasons preceding the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Giants made some seeming modest veteran additions. Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Andres Torres, Edgar Renteria, and Freddy Sanchez were all brought in. All five were coming off down years, yet they all played major roles as starters or prime bench pieces for San Francisco’s World Series run in 2010. Even the in-season addition of Cody Ross off waivers proved to be a massive boon for the Giants. Along with those new faces came the emergence of Brian Wilson, Santiago Casilla, and Sergio Romo as an elite back end for the bullpen. Everything broke their way, as it often does for World Series teams.
Then the approach changed. After the departure or degradation of their golden nuggets, the Giants were left with voids in the outfield. So, the team made significant moves for a rental Melky Cabrera, who departed after the 2012 season, and a slightly more controlled Hunter Pence in mid-2012. The Giants supplemented this with free agents such as Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong, who were more in line with what they had previously pursued. Despite rapid degradation of both Wilson and Sanchez, these moves coincided with the continued progression of San Francisco’s young core that now included Brandon Belt.
The aforementioned improvement also triggered a trend of internal spending. Lincecum got a $40.5 million contract over two years instead of going to arbitration, which was entirely justifiable for the two-time Cy Young. The eldest ace, Cain, inked a five-year deal, netting him north of $100 million. The Giants were finally forced to spend assets and dollars to continue to compete. It obviously worked well for them, even if some of that spending hasn’t ended well.
The final even year victory in 2014 brought even more internal investment. Over the years before that, the likes of Posey, Bumgarner, Pence, Lincecum, and Sandoval all needed or would soon need contract extensions. Only Sandoval was left to play his final year without an extension, which he would never receive. This investment was coupled with another set of studs rapidly declining. Lincecum and Cain both finished 2014 with major question marks about durability and performance, which could have derailed San Francisco’s year.
However, the Giants continued to add solid pieces and develop what seemed like depth prospects into premium players. Vogelsong, Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy picked up the slack left behind by the former aces. Belt continued his progression from top prospect to premium player. Brandon Crawford proved himself to be much more than a marginal contributor, as did Joe Panik. The Giants’ savvy veteran moves and stellar core pieces were now being supplemented by incredibly unlikely player development gains. The rich got richer, and the Giants came out on top again.
Now, the year after their even-year voodoo magic finally ended, the Giants are still set to compete. This time, their ideology has changed. Following their third World Series victory, the Giants were suitors for Jon Lester, who was the most sought-after arm on the market and received a deal north of $150 million. After failing to bring him in the fold, they turned to Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija the next offseason for a combined $220 million. Then, after seeing their bullpen bleed like a sieve in critical moments in 2016, they brought in Mark Melancon on a $62 million deal. Along with them, the Giants return the star pieces in Bumgarner and Posey and many of the top-notch surrounding pieces, like Belt and Pence, that brought them to glory before.
But there seem to be some issues ahead for the team on McCovey Cove. Contracts are a bit of a odd conundrum for the Giants. On one hand, they have a lot of their stars on long-term deals. Posey, Crawford, and Belt are all locked in well into the 2020s, although that also happens to take them into their late 30s. Panik is also cheaply controlled for another four years. Both Bumgarner and Matt Moore have team-friendly deals that take them into 2019, too. But Cueto, the Giants’ other ace, can opt out of his mega deal after this year to seek another. Cain’s deal seems to be ending at the right time in 2018, but Pence’s contract will expire then as well, leaving some big shoes to fill in right field.
Beyond their troubles at the Major League level, the Giants aren’t exactly overflowing with promising prospects. In the Baseball Prospectus Top 101, the Giants failed to place anyone, and the farm system ranked 24th in terms of overall talent.
The Giants went on a logical progression with their club. They assembled a group of promising up-and-comers and surrounded them with low-cost veterans that outperformed expectations. As the group developed, money flowed inward, which finally resulted in a budget expansion and increased investment in the free agency market. Those core pieces were then supplemented with unlikely player development boons, along with high priced free agents and the normal ilk of veteran roster filler. Now, as their young core ages and they’re required to commit more and more payroll to aging veterans, the Giants will have to depend on unlikely outcomes — whether it be from player development or outlier years from veterans — more and more. One can only assume that their luck will run out at some point.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Aaron Sanchez played for San Francisco. We apologize for getting Giants fans' hopes up.