The golden age of Giants baseball has died a thousand deaths and by the end of the season, it will die a thousand more. Only three players remain from the championship teams from the first half of the 2010’s: Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey. All three could be gone at season’s end. The Brandons are both in the final years of their contract, and Posey has a $22 million club option for 2022.
For so long, the possibility that Posey’s option would ever be declined was unthinkable, but the Giants have a new front office and Posey hasn’t been the same since his hip started acting up. The Giants also have Joey Bart waiting in the wings, and he’ll force his way onto a major league roster sooner or later. It’s not a foregone conclusion that this is Posey’s last year in orange and black, but that there’s even a chance is shocking in its own right.
The Ship of Theseus might still be the Ship of Theseus if all the boards are replaced, but the Giants are a completely different team if Posey is gone. His opt-out last season provided a preview of the Posey-less world. While this future will take some adjustments for Giants fans, the outlook isn’t grim. In 2020, the Giants were a competent catcher from the postseason and that’s thanks to a surprisingly good offense.
Yastrzemski has proven himself not to be a fluke. Donovan Solano flirted with .400 for a bit and has generally been great since his return to MLB. Austin Slater has been fully weaponized to destroy lefties, and his presence desperately demanded a Joc Pederson to platoon with him, but Alex Dickerson fills that role with aplomb when he’s healthy. Moving the fences in gave Brandon Belt back some of the dozens of homers Oracle Park had taken away from him.
The Giants actually had themselves a nice offseason. Kevin Gausman’s acceptance of the qualifying offer meant San Francisco signed one of the three best starting pitchers on the market. They handed out a three-year deal to Tommy La Stella who gives the Giants a competent left-handed bat in the infield. Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Aaron Sanchez are all perfectly good buy-low options for rotation depth. Scott Kazmir has looked like his old self in camp and could be the flier pick-up of the offseason. If he isn’t, he’s not costing the team anything.
San Francisco also picked up Shun Yamaguchi essentially for free. John Brebbia and Jake McGee are both solid reinforcements for a thin bullpen though Brebbia is recovering from Tommy John and won’t be available until June. Plus, Farhan Zaidi handed out a slough of minor-league contracts and one or more of them could be the next Alex Dickerson or Donovan Solano. The Giants also picked up a highly-interesting outfielder in LaMonte Wade Jr. in a trade.
Unfortunately for the Giants, it’s not going to matter much since they play in the same division as Padres and Dodgers. The Giants were a bad team who had a nice offseason. The Padres and Dodgers were both excellent teams who had fantastic offseasons. The Dodgers didn’t really have to do anything. They could have let Justin Turner walk and they didn’t have to sign Trevor Bauer, but they did both even though that means they’ll go over the
salary cap competitive balance threshold and Tony Gonsolin’s soul will remain trapped in a gem. The Padres meanwhile behaved more like Disney than a baseball team and acquired everything and everyone.
Even if the Giants played in a weaker division like the NL Central, it might not matter much. Beyond the Box Score is doing our season previews in reverse order of projected wins according to PECOTA, and the Royals were yesterday. If the Royals were the best of the bottom tier, then that means the Giants are the worst of the tier above that. It’s not as if the tiers of MLB are neatly defined like a showstopper layer cake. The cake of MLB has a beautiful layer of fondant on top, but inside it’s a bland mélange with a soggy bottom.
PECOTA projects the Giants for 74 wins, and the Giants don’t figure to have their fifth-straight losing season for the first time in franchise history just because they have to play the Padres and Dodgers 38 times. Playing 23.5 percent of their schedule against the two best teams in the world doesn’t help the Giants, but neither does having their roster as presently constructed.
All those starting pitchers they picked up on one-year contracts weren’t shoring up depth, that’s the rotation now. It wouldn’t be an added bonus if Scott Kazmir pulled off a comeback, they sort of need him to.
Gausman is great, but there are mostly question marks behind him. Johnny Cueto has shown brief flashes of his former self, but he hasn’t been nearly as good since coming back from Tommy John. Logan Webb has pitched better than his 5.36 career ERA would indicate, but league average innings are probably the ceiling here. Tyler Beede was starting to put things together before he also had to undergo Tommy John. He should return in May or June.
The bullpen was bad in 2020, but there’s reason for optimism. Sam Selman put up gaudy strikeout rates in the minors but had a rough major league debut in 2019. Selman was much more solid in 24 outings last year though the walks remain a concern. Reyes Moronta is returning after suffering a torn rotator cuff at the end of 2019. That’s a tough injury to come back from, but when he’s right, the Reyes Moronta Experience is one to behold.
Winning the division is out of the question, but there’s enough potential here that if enough things break right, the Giants could eke their way into the second Wild Card spot. It’s a lot of ‘ifs’ though. If Solano keeps raking, if Moronta is good again, if DeSclafani and Wood bounce back, if Mauricio Dubón hits, if Heliot Ramos breaks out, if Atlanta/Chicago/St. Louis/Philadelphia/New York have disastrous seasons, if, well, you get it.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.