Rebuilding teams tear it down, dealing any players of value for prospects in the hope of developing the next wave of talent. Contenders beef their teams up, in hopes of making it to the October tournament where, as the Nationals proved in 2019, anything can happen. The San Francisco Giants, however, are choosing neither path: they’re neither rebuilding nor contending, neither young nor old. They just sort of...are.
There’s no player on the team, who can be considered a bona fide star. At the end of the day, the team is nothing but an amalgamation of good complementary pieces and aging replacement-level veterans. There’s no path to contention and no path to rebuilding, so what exactly is San Francisco doing?
The face of the franchise remains Buster Posey, who is still an excellent defensive catcher and pitch framer but at almost 33, has had a sudden and worrisome decline at the plate. In 2017, Posey hit a typically excellent .320/.400/.462 (128 wRC+) and posted nearly five fWAR. In 2018, Posey took a step back - hitting just .284/.359/.382 (107 wRC+) - but aside from a striking lack of power remained a threat at the plate. But in 2019, Posey completely collapsed, with a .257/.320/.368 (85 wRC+) with his worst walk rate (7.6%) and strikeout rate (16.0%) since 2011. In short, Posey has lost his power and his previously-elite contact ability, and with his exit velocity and barrel rate both plummeting in 2019, it’s an open question whether Posey can regain even his 2018 form. There’s talk of moving Posey to first base to keep him healthy, but even 2018 Posey doesn’t hit nearly enough to play first base full time. The good news, if there is any, is that Posey’s contract expires in 2021 (with a 2022 club option that will surely be declined).
In the meantime, Posey was third among all position players on the Giants in fWAR, which is more an indictment of the Giants’ lack of talent than it is praise of Posey. In first was Mike Yastrzemski, a 28-year-old rookie who posted a shocking .272/.334/.518 (121 wRC+) with 21 dingers in 411 plate appearances. The problem is that Yastrzemski’s track record simply doesn’t support that kind of production; he never hit that well in the minors over a full season, and statcast doesn’t believe that his production was real, with xstats well in excess of his results across the board. He’s a good defender, but Steamer’s projection of .243/.316/.415 (93 wRC+) seems about right.
Then there’s Evan Longoria, who since arriving in San Francisco has decided to swing at every pitch. Longoria doesn’t hit for much power anymore (.183 ISO) and was barely an average hitter in 2019 (101 wRC+), and at 34 he’s doubtful to improve. He’s good for 20 homers and not much else. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, who was never much of a hitter, just turned 33 and is coming off of a cringe-inducing .228/.304/.350 triple-slash.
The best hitter on the Giants remains the criminally underrated Brandon Belt, who hasn’t posted a walk rate of less than 10% since 2014, and is pretty much a lock for 15-18 home runs every year with a ton of doubles. That makes him a very good hitter, but not a great one, and he can’t carry the team all by himself. In 2019, he regressed to a 99 wRC+, the worst mark of his career, and at almost 32, he, too is also past his prime.
Even the youngsters aren’t all that young. Left fielder Alex Dickerson is almost 30, has a grand total of 163 games and 483 plate appearances in MLB to his credit, but his 2019 success was buoyed by an unsustainable .331 BABIP. Right fielder Steven Duggar “won” the right field job in 2019 with a -0.5 fWAR performance over 73 games and 251 plate appearances. If there is a youngster with promise, it’s second baseman Mauricio Dubon, who can hit a little bit but has spent the last three years at Triple-A with mixed success.
Historically, the Giants were known not for the offenses but for their pitching staffs. Alas, no longer do the Giants have Madison Bumgarner to paper over cracks in their rotation. Johnny Cueto was a workhorse co-ace as recently as 2016, but since then has spiraled downward from injuries and ineffectiveness; he’s tossed just 69 innings over the last two seasons and in 2019 posted a 120 ERA- and 137 FIP-. Behind Cueto is Jeff Samardzija, the erstwhile Shark, who last year at 35 traded groundballs and strikeouts for walks and fly balls and somehow turned in an 84 ERA- despite ugly peripherals (110 FIP-). Third starter Kevin Gausman is a 29-year-old enigma who continues to get ugly results (129 ERA- in 2019) despite shiny peripherals (90 FIP-, 25.3% K%, 7.1% BB%). Then there’s Drew Smyly, who posted a lot of strikeouts and was otherwise absolutely dreadful in 2019 (2.53 HR/9, 131 ERA-, 134 FIP-) across 114 innings. Also around are veteran reclamation projects Tyson Ross and Tyler Anderson, who will probably pitch a lot of innings and surrender a lot of runs.
With most teams in this position, we’d be looking to the minors to see if help is on the way - but the Giants’ farm is fairly barren. The future is Joey Bart, a slugging catcher who the Giants really should make their starting catcher, but that would require benching Posey and they’re probably not prepared to do that yet. Marco Luciano and Heliot Ramos both have a chance to be regulars in the majors, but beyond that the minors are a composite of toolsy maybes. The Giants should be selling everyone at the deadline, including Belt and Posey; both could fetch a decent return and provide an infusion of talent to a system badly in need of it.
Were this team to play a full season, it would be lucky to win 70 games as constituted. But there’s also no clear way forward for this franchise. This isn’t a rebuilding team; they aren’t actually there yet. Instead, they’re just...old. This is of a dynasty team