It became clear before the 2017 All-Star game even hit that the Giants were probably going to be a last-place team, perhaps a 100-loss team, maybe even the worst team in the franchise’s history.
As all 98 losses piled up, the list of questions regarding ways the team should fill the increasingly gaping holes multiplied. Brian Sabean shook his head:
“That’s been going on for months, the autopsy has been going on for months.”
If anything, Sabean, general manager Bobby Evans, CEO Larry Baer and manager Bruce Bochy reiterated with clarity that the team has come to terms with its embarrassing 2017 season. It happened, it was bad, and it’s being flushed. But the team’s brass has faith in its core, said Sabean:
“We had a last place in season, that happens in sports, it’s like a lost year of life … but we don’t have last place people. And we’re not a last place organization. … This isn’t a ‘blow it up’, this isn’t a rebuild, we’re hoping this is a reset.”
At the All-Star Break, Sabean spoke of the team’s complete ineptitude to the Bay Area News Group.
Months later, San Francisco Chronicle reported two players were not happy with the way Bruce Bochy handled the struggling clubhouse.
Broken clubhouse cohesion hasn’t been an issue in San Francisco this era, and comparatively speaking, isn’t as bad given the circumstances compared to other struggling clubs. But it was inevitable.
Bochy has internalized the issue and said the two players who complained came to his office to apologize:
“Its something I’m looking into, when you have a season like we did, it’s tough on everybody. There were a couple comments, we took care of this internally, both players came in an apologized about those comments.”
Sabean further explained his claim that the team lacked chemistry from the start:
“While we had the pieces, there were days if you watched us play, it didn’t appear from a baseball standpoint we were in sync like some of the other teams from the past.”
If we’re dissecting the team’s flaws this season — really answering the ‘what happened?’ question — synergy no doubt played a major role in the Giants’ total, season-long collapse. The four front office officials said as much, too.
With the World Baseball Classic stealing Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey for a good chunk of spring, Madison Bumgarner‘s dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto‘s blister issues and a starting roster in constant flux to and from the disabled list, the Giants really didn’t have a chance to gain footing, said Sabean:
“So much was a result of our core playing going in and out of the lineup, as you know everyone on Opening Day lineup went on the disabled list at some point in the season.”
The Giants will be happy to press reset on the synergy button for 2018. A healthy team all starting off on the same foot will help the team off on the right one, too.
Outfield: Power or defense?
The Giants hit 128 home runs this season, dead last in baseball. The Pirates were next with 151 home runs. Six teams hit 100 more home runs than the Giants, with Brandon Belt‘s 18 leading the team. One-hundred twenty-seven players hit more home runs than Belt, granted, he missed two months with a concussion. Any way you cut it, the Giants could not hit home runs when everyone else was.
More importantly, though, the Giants have one of the worst outfield defenses in baseball. According to FanGraphs, they rank 26th with minus-42 defensive runs saved. Denard Span ranked last in SABR defensive index with a minus-12.1 score. Hunter Pence upped his play from a middling 0.1 to 1.1.
These two variables add up to one need: a power-hitting outfielder. Bochy said that he spoke with Span about a potential move to left field, saying he was “all in.” The logical offseason move will be to acquire a center fielder with a power bat — through free agency or trade — while the Chris Shaws and Steven Duggars continue to develop.
Reading between the lines, the Giants’ brass won’t be looking for long-term power in free agency, said Evans:
“The free agent market, albeit, the most expensive way to improve your roster is not always strategic, especially as the game is getting younger and younger.”
Bochy and Evans reiterated that the success of this team is built on defense and pitching, not power. Much of the rotation’s success in the previous year — aside from health — was a strong defense able to keep numbers down. Inflated ERAs on the squad this year could be partially, if not mostly, attributed to the terrible outfield defense.
But more than anything, the Giants are focused on getting Brandon Crawford and Belt back into middle-of-the-order form and, this offseason, finding their next Marco Scutaro, Cody Ross or Michael Morse from outside or within to boost defense and morale, said Evans:
“I think we’ll be creative, however we can build a stronger middle of the order, that doesn’t have to come domestically, sure, we’re open to outside options, whether that’s trade and free agency and obviously we want to look internally as well.”
Chris Shaw (.292/.346/.525, 24 home runs) could be the next man up internally, but his re-acquaintance with the outfield as a defender has kept him away from the majors, said Evans. A call-up seems imminent, especially if the team finds itself looking for a cheap power surge at the defense’s expense:
“Chris Shaw is hungry, he did play outfield in college and we think that’s probably the biggest thing that separates him from being ready to make a major league debut, that said he’s made strides and progress, and he’ll have benefit of Cody Ross working with him throughout the Arizona Fall League along with Steven Duggar, who will play center field in fall league as well. There’s no pressure that he has to come in and make this club, but when he forces the issue, I think we’ll benefit from that whether that’s opening day or May or June.”
Bottom line — and this might scare scarred fans — I wouldn’t expect to see a major deal with Lorenzo Cain or J.D. Martinez — though those names sound like potential quick fixes to the right-handed power shortage.
Miami, with Derek Jeter now at the helm, made clear Marlins fans should anticipate some heartbreaking news this offseason. Evans and Sabean indicated a trade would be more likely than a free agent signing, but the team would need to dig deep into their wallet or an already sparse farm system to acquire a Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich or… Giancarlo Stanton.