San Francisco Giants: Looking to 2018

Looking up at the freeway overpass that was 2017, we need to take serious stock of where we stand as a team going into the coming season.

No Giancarlo Stanton.

No Shohei Ohtani.

I know a lot of people wanted to see a major slugger come to the bay but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards, and—in this writer’s opinion—it’s a good thing that we lost out on these two.  Let’s recap where we are as a team and look at our options for the coming season.

1.       The Infield

Other than third base, the Giants infield is set and is one of the best in the majors.  Posey, Belt, Panik, and Crawford are all excellent fielders with established chemistry.  All four are gap hitters with good plate patience.  Nothing much more needs to be said here.  Off the bench, Kelby Tomlinson is solid all around and can play multiple positions, and if he resigns Nick Hundley is an excellent backup to Posey.  Third base, on the other hand, is a chasm of uncertainty.  Sandoval was brought back on and should see as little time on the field as humanly possible.  Rookie Christian Arroyo was given 125 at-bats last year and put up a terrible line while battling injuries and a first look at big league pitching.  As this article makes clear, there are a plethora of third base options available throughout the league, and so it looks like the position will be filled from outside with Arroyo waiting in the wings.

2.       The Outfield

It’s a mess, but if you’re a Giants fan you already knew that.  Span is no longer a reliable center fielder due to his lack of range and arm.  Pence hasn’t been able to get back in stride with the bat after injuries in 2015, but still plays solid defense and is a great clubhouse presence.  This said, both Span and Pence will start so we’re looking at the “who’s in left?” situation or, as many would rather have it, “who’s in center?”  Span should—and will likely—be moved to left where he’ll have less ground to cover and can focus on consistency at the plate.  Off the bench comes Gorkys Hernandez who is a great fielder and had three months of +.300 hitting last year; I know, it’s weird to read that.  Austin Slater played consistently well and will be a good bench option this season, and should Span becomes injured he would likely start in LF.  Then there’s Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, neither of whom are excellent fielders.  If the Giants acquire a center or left fielder—and it seems almost a certainty they will—we probably won’t see much of either of these two.  Lastly, don’t sleep on prospect Steven Duggar.

3.       The Starters

Matt Cain is gone and while I am distraught, the starting rotation is set with Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardjzia, and Moore as the big four, with Stratton and/or Blach filling in the fifth starter spot.  Pretty much everyone was injured or had a down year and I expect good things from this portion of the team in 2018.  All told, the rotation stacks up well with other strong opponents and is in a good spot to make a run at the playoffs in 2018.

4.       The Bullpen

It’s less a mess than it seems.

First the good: Melancon is healthy and will regain the closer role with lefty Will Smith back from surgery and in the setup position.  Gearrin was a nice surprise last season and if he can continue his success will find himself pitching in a lot of high leverage situations.  Rookie Kyle Crick played well last year in limited innings and could be a valuable piece next to Smith.  Derek Law had a terrible sophomore slump but showed signs of brilliance.  Reading this, I note how the “good” is littered with conditionals: if this guy, if that guy, and so forth.  This said, if the ‘ifs’ come through we’ll have five very solid relievers to count on.

Now the not so good: Sam Dyson had two great months with the Giants and one terrible; it’s unclear whether he merits his temporary closer status and which pitcher will show up.  Strickland has potential but needs to work on his control, both technically in terms of his pitching against left handed batters and mentally in terms of his ego.  Osich and Okert are difficult to distinguish on several levels, Osich can’t pitch righties and Okert can’t lefties, though Okert’s sample size is small.  Andrew Saurez suffered away from AT&T and against lefties.  Reyes Moronta only pitched 6.2 innings but pitched them well.  Conversely, Roberto Gomez pitched 5.1 innings and poorly.  And that’s it.  Headed into 2018 I don’t see much inspiration or security here.

5.       The Coaches

Other than Bruce Bochy and first base coach Jose Alguacil, pretty much everything is different.  Dave Righetti, Mark Gardner, and Steve Decker were all reassigned.  Ron Wotus is out as bench coach and in as third-base coach.  His previous position will be filled by Hensley Meulens, who had been the hitting coach.  That position belongs to Alonzo Powell.  Curt Young is the new pitching coach Matt Herges is on as bullpen coach.  Wow.  So that’s a lot of new faces and new ideas, which is supposedly what the management wanted.  Here’s an excellent rundown of the whole situation for those interested.

6.       Let’s talk 2018

A third baseman, a center fielder, and another solid bullpen piece (or two) are needed to make the Giants competitive with the Astros, Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals, let alone the Diamondbacks and Rockies.  The Giants do not have salary space to sign top players at all three positions, or even one really, and their trade chips would mean further draining an already depleted farm system, breaking up the infield, or losing a starter.  Furthermore, the luxury tax threshold looms and so we find ourselves in an interesting situation: many of our best players are aging and it is unlikely that we’ll be able to field a competitive team with this core after, say, three years.  The Giants are likely looking at 2018 and that’s it; it’s rebuilding time after this coming year.  So they’ll need youth or a one-year rental for these positions and they don’t have a lot of money to throw around.  I think it should go as follows:

-          3B: Give Christian Arroyo the starting job at third and let him run with it.  He’s got a solid bat with good gap power, excellent defense, and fits in well with the team’s hitting style.  Sign a veteran not named Sandoval to back him up on the cheap. 

-          CF: Ignore power and focus on defense, speed, and cost.  This means no Marcell Ozuna, no Jay Bruce, no JD Martinez.  Not only are these players too costly, they come with too many caveats when placed in conjunction with AT&T Park.  Andrew McCutchen’s name has been tossed around and I have too much respect for him lobby against him as a Giant, but he will likely command too high a price tag.  We need to look at guys like Austin Jackson, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, and so forth.

-          RP: Without breaking the bank of 3B and CF, we have a lot of room to work in the pen.  Names like Joe Smith, Addison Reed, and so forth are now on the table to acquire.  Digging deeper, Steve Cishek is a groundball inducing machine and would be an interesting option.  Jesse Chavez’s ERA doesn’t do him justice, as he ranked near the top of the league in strike outs and near the bottom in walks.  Tony Watson put together a nice but short season as a lefty and would come from the Dodgers so extra points for taking a player for a rival. 

So in my world our depth chart looks like:

C: Posey, Hundley

1B: Belt, Jones

2B: Panic, Tomlinson

SS: Crawford, Tomlinson

3B: Arroyo, Jones

RF: Pence, Hernandez

CF: Jackson/Dyson/Hamilton, Hernandez

LF: Span, Slater

SP: Bumgarner, Cueto, Shark, Moore, Stratton/Blach

RP: Melancon, W Smith, J Smith/Reed, Cishek/Chavez/Watson, Gearrin, Crick, Law, Strickland, Dyson, Okert, Osich, Suarez

No, the lineup isn’t scary, but it is solid with contact hitters all the way through: CF, Panic, Posey, Belt, Pence, Crawford, Span, Arroyo.  AT&T Park just isn’t home run friendly so why try?  Just keep the wheels moving with singles, walks, and doubles, then turn to an already established rotation and a newly bolstered bullpen to keep opponent run totals down.  If the Giants have taught us anything it’s that you only need to get to the playoffs to let good starting pitching and a good bullpen take over.  We’re not the Yankees, Dodgers, or Astros.  We aren’t a home run hitting team.  We need to own who we are and play smart rather than try and compete out of our league.  This solution, which no one wants because it’s boring, keeps us under the salary cap and gives us the best chance to transition from a dynasty to a rebuild.  I think it also positions us well to compete this coming year.