Are the Giants Ready to Contend?on November 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Are the Giants Ready to Contend?

As the offseason moves forward, we hear mostly about teams reining in spending. Searching out aggressive teams is a bit more difficult, particularly when there’s little benefit in broadcasting those intentions. But one team expected to be aggressive is San Francisco, with Farhan Zaidi entering his third winter as president and the club trying to end a streak of four straight losing campaigns. The Giants are lacking a bit in talent on paper, but some recent fliers have worked out, top prospect Joey Bart received some MLB experience, and a few of the holdovers from the more competitive squads of years previous showed they still have something left. Whether it’s possible to make a big leap forward in one offseason is the big question.

San Francisco acquitted itself fairly well in 2020, missing out on the expanded playoffs due to a lost tiebreaker. The Giants scored more runs than they allowed, and by BaseRuns (stripping out sequencing in results), they were the fourth-best team in the National League. They excelled on the position-player side, where their 9.8 WAR ranked sixth in baseball. But what they did in a 60-game sample in 2020 isn’t likely to carry over into next season. Here are the offensive numbers for Giants with at least 100 plate appearances this past season:

Giants Offense in 2020
Mike Yastrzemski 29 225 .370 160 2.7
Brandon Belt 32 179 .356 173 1.9
Austin Slater 27 104 .328 152 1.2
Wilmer Flores 28 213 .272 121 1.0
Brandon Crawford 33 193 .303 112 1.0
Donovan Solano 32 203 .396 127 0.9
Alex Dickerson 30 170 .313 151 0.9
Evan Longoria 34 209 .280 94 0.8
Darin Ruf 33 100 .322 141 0.7
Mauricio Dubon 25 177 .328 101 0.5
Joey Bart 23 111 .387 70 0.1
min. 100 PA

Go through the list and try to identify which players put up a repeatable performance. Yastrzemski was great, but picking him as an MVP candidate in 2021 is a stretch. Veterans Belt and Crawford had resurgences unlikely to sustain themselves over a full season. Slater, Solano, Dickerson, and Ruf all played well above expectations. While some of those performances indicate a positive future (like Yastrzemski), a future as a solid platoon bat (like Dickerson), or that another productive year might be ahead (like Belt and Crawford), 2020 is no guarantee of similar success in ’21.

If we look at the current set of Depth Charts, we see a group that overall is a little bit below average. Getting Buster Posey back will help, while Belt projects as roughly average. The Giants’ problem when it comes to building a contender isn’t that they lack decent players; it’s that they have a bunch of slightly below-average players projected as full-season starters.

Giants Depth Chart Projections
Buster Posey 454 .327 .377 .304 2.2
Brandon Belt 560 .360 .450 .344 2.1
Mike Yastrzemski 658 .328 .432 .321 1.6
Brandon Crawford 602 .315 .387 .299 1.4
Evan Longoria 560 .307 .434 .312 1.4
Alex Dickerson 476 .344 .475 .342 1.3
Donovan Solano 609 .323 .394 .307 1.1
Wilmer Flores 385 .329 .469 .335 1.1
Mauricio Dubon 546 .312 .405 .305 1.0
Joey Bart 147 .295 .409 .297 0.5
Austin Slater 259 .338 .403 .319 0.4
Darin Ruf 182 .331 .427 .322 0.3
Daniel Robertson 91 .336 .356 .305 0.1
Chadwick Tromp 38 .297 .390 .293 0.1
Aramis Garcia 70 .260 .340 .257 0
Jaylin Davis 56 .306 .419 .307 0
Chris Shaw 28 .288 .403 .292 0
Joey Rickard 21 .305 .367 .289 0
Steven Duggar 133 .300 .348 .280 -0.1
Luis Alexander Basabe 35 .298 .342 .279 -0.1
Total 5911 .325 .417 .315 14.5

This isn’t all bad, but the problem is that there is little opportunity to make a big move forward. Francisco Lindor rumors are nice, but a deal could prove difficult to pull off assuming the Giants want to hold on to Bart and fellow top prospect Marco Luciano. With multiple good shortstops available after the 2021 season and Crawford still around for one more year, waiting might make the most sense there.

At second base, meanwhile, the Giants could pretty easily displace Solano with one of the better free-agent options like Kolten Wong, Cesar Hernandez, Jurickson Profar, or maybe Tommy La Stella in a platoon role, and if they want to go big, DJ LeMahieu is out there. But a 32-year-old second baseman for a team trying to open its window of contention probably isn’t the wisest bet when other younger, cheaper options are available, and none of those other names do much to put San Francisco over the top.

The real opportunity for improvement exists in center field, where George Springer would make a lot of sense. The Giants moved in their fences in center last season, which would make it easier for Springer to take over, like when Houston removed Tal’s Hill. His flexibility in the outfield could also prove helpful depending on how Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop, and Luis Matos develop (and maybe Luciano as well if he moves off shortstop). If Ramos comes up ready, then Springer can stay in center; if Bishop or Matos make it to the majors as center fielders, he could move to a corner. Springer would add three-to-four more wins right away for the Giants while taking a slightly below-average group of position players and putting them above the middle. Conversely, they could try to upgrade three different positions by a win or so, but it would likely be a similar upgrade at a higher cost, either in salaries or prospects.

The position players may be San Francisco’s strength currently, but with Kevin Gausman‘s qualifying offer decision still pending and Drew Smyly a free agent, the Giants don’t have a lot when it comes to starting pitching. Johnny Cueto, Tyler Anderson, and Logan Webb project for a total of 3.9 WAR, and it gets a lot worse after those three; Trevor Bauer alone projects for 3.8.

That doesn’t mean the Giants don’t have options, though. When discussing a potential offseason for the Mets last week, I said the following, and it holds true for San Francisco as well.

After Bauer, Masahiro Tanaka, Marcus Stroman, James Paxton, Kevin Gausman, Mike Minor, Chris Archer, Jose Quintana, Drew Smyly, Taijuan Walker, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards, [Rick] Porcello, Matt Shoemaker, J.A. Happ, Robbie Ray, and Adam Wainwright are all among our Top 50 Free Agents, with Charlie Morton’s declined option also putting himself in that group. There’s a mix of stability and upside and the Mets should grab three (or more) of these options. On the trade side, a salary dump like Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals would also present an interesting option.

The Giants regularly put together $200 million payrolls before taking a step back and letting contracts drop off the books. They were still going to be at roughly $140 million last season, and they’ve already shed another $20 million before adding payroll for next year. After 2021, only the final year of Longoria’s contract remains on the books in terms of guaranteed salaries. In other words: San Francisco could add Springer, Bauer, a second baseman, and two more starting pitchers and still come in at around $200 million for next season. That might not make the Giants the equal of the Dodgers or the Padres, but it would put them in contention and allow them to spend big after next season if they want to vault themselves to a higher level of competition.

The Giants could have another middling season. But if they want to compete in 2022, it’s probably necessary to take a decent step forward in ’21 so they don’t end up trying to add 25 wins in a single offseason — a rather large task, even with unlimited funds.

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