On Thursday afternoon, I hosted a chat on this site, and one of the questions asked was about the immediate future of the Giants. Obviously, this season has been a catastrophe, but they still have a number of guys to whom they’re committed not only financially and emotionally, but on a baseball level. The core of the next good Giants team was supposed to be this core, when the season began, and it’s not clear that the team has significantly altered that general mindset, even as they hurtle toward 100 losses.
When I was asked about them, I found I had relatively little to say. They’re as uninspiring, in that way, as they are bad right now. I mentioned, I think, that it will be very interesting to see if Johnny Cueto can even pitch well enough down the stretch to make what seemed to be an almost automatic opt-out clause in his contract come to fruition. I also said that, if I were to start taking on the task of rebuilding this franchise, I might begin with a front office shakeup. A few days later, I find myself certain that the Giants need to rebuild—urgently, and drastically.
I was winding down the final games of Thursday’s sleepy schedule, and happened to have the Padres (hosting the Nationals) and the Giants (hosting the Phillies) up on my MLB.tv display, side by side. That’s when it really hit me: the Padres are already the better club. It’s not that they’re playing better right now, or that they’re healthier, or that their younger talent is holding up better as we move out of the dog days and into the real home stretch. It’s that they’re honestly better. They have excellent defenders at as many spots as the Giants have them. Their outfield is better, even with Hunter Renfroe being demoted back to the minors. Wil Myers may have eclipsed Brandon Belt, if only because of the latter’s injury problems.
The Giants have a bevy of big-name starters, but the Padres have some interesting guys in their own right, and their bullpen (which is becoming a key barometer of a team’s ability to build a roster suited to the modern game) is far superior to San Francisco’s. They’re also hungrier, and (thanks to their own sprinkling of veteran leadership) they’re learning to handle the ups and downs of a season. The Giants already know how to do all of that, of course, but they learned to do it only in the context of chasing down the next championship. Now the next championship, for every member of that team, will probably come in another uniform, if it comes at all.
It’s hard to maintain concentration and mental discipline under those circumstances. All of that is true, and none of it even reaches the bedrock. Here’s what does: the Padres have one of the elite farm systems in baseball. The Giants, uh, don’t. Both teams are looking up at the Dodgers, not just now, but in any reasonable forecast of the 2020 NL West standings. Both are probably looking up at the Rockies, who are much better than them this year and have enough young talent to make even San Diego’s eventual charge a real fight. The Diamondbacks will eventually have a bridge year or two, but they’re under very smart management now, and their short-term outlook might be even brighter than Colorado’s.
In summary, neither team has an easy road back to contention, and if the Giants hope to sneak right back into the picture in 2018, they’re going to find those hopes violently dashed. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs, but also a predictable one, of course. This is how all dynasties end (well, all non-Yankees dynasties), and the Giants’ dynasty was always a low-flying plane, primed to really crash and burn when it finally went down. They never made consecutive postseasons. Their last World Series-winning team won just 88 games, but then a bee stung Madison Bumgarner’s blue ox or something. The last two seasons saw them fight furiously just to attain win totals in the mid-80s. It cost them something, and now their next half-decade seems likely to look a lot like the last half-decade of the team who visited AT&T Park on Thursday night.
Obviously, the Phillies’ involuntary rebuild was an especially fraught one, because their lone championship came early in their run of great teams and they made such splashy moves to try to win more. The Giants should have much more latitude to move into such a phase, having given their fans and community three oversized portions of joy. Given the history of the team and the city, it’s very hard to make a case that they’re now among the teams for whom a few losing seasons is unacceptable under any conditions.
The really difficult questions are about who survives the transition into the next phase. The front office certainly needs to be turned over, but Brian Sabean has reached an echelon within the organization similar to the ones that kept John Schuerholz and Ken Williams safe from franchise-wide bloodlettings in Atlanta and Chicago, respectively. Like Billy Beane on the other side of the Bay, Sabean has become a seemingly inextricable part of the team’s operations, and that’s at least a minor problem, because (like Beane) Sabean hasn’t proved that he can stay ahead of the curve, now that the league has caught onto some of the things he did very well several years ago.
Obviously, as each of Schuerholz, Williams, and Beane ascended beyond the typical GM or president’s role, their longtime lieutenants simply took over their day-to-day work. Sabean saw to it that the same thing happened, installing Bobby Evans as his GM. Now, here’s the tough question, and the one the Giants should endeavor to answer before embarking on their inevitable reconstructive odyssey: is that a good or a bad thing? To be sure, the A’s had good seasons (even some surprisingly good ones) after David Forst became the primary architect of the roster. The Braves and White Sox have had no such success, really, since John Coppolella and Rick Hahn have taken over the reins in those places, but each man remains deeply respected, and more importantly, each is conducting a rebuild of which the baseball world seems universally enamored.
If one believes in the Chicago/Atlanta model, retaining Evans (and merely adding to what is already a well-developed staff around him) makes sense. If the Giants are hoping for something a little less laden with risk (as both the White Sox’s and the Braves’ rebuilds still certainly are) or if they fear the increasing crowdedness of that sector of the market, however, they might want to explore other avenues.
In almost any event, it now seems like a Buster Posey trade could be on the horizon. That might seem preposterous, but given how valuable Posey (and his contract) still is, and given how long it now seems like it will be before the Giants are good again, the externalities acting to block such a deal are going to have their strength tested, at the very least. As recently as last fall, it was possible to fool oneself into believing that Posey, Bumgarner, and Brandon Crawford might all play their whole careers with the Giants, like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera did with the Yankees. At this moment, it seems almost impossible, and indeed, it seems like we ought to have known it was so all along.