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
Name Age PA BABIP wRC+ WAR
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 Dubón 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
Name PA OBP SLG wOBA WAR
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 Dubón 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.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I think I disagree with the core principle of that last sentence. The White Sox went from a .447 winning percentage to a .583 winning percentage, or roughly a 23-game swing. You can nitpick and say “that wasn’t over a full season” but then you have to make the argument that the White Sox’s wins were fluky in some way and while I do agree that Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu are not doing that over a full season they have a long way to regress before the idea that you can’t add 20 wins in a season starts to hold water. Sure, maybe add Rick Porcello or bring back Shark to eat some innings but neither of them are locks for guaranteed contracts so that’s super low-cost.

The Giants are well aware that their future is really about Luciano and that he and some set of Hunter Bishop, Heliot Ramos, Alexander Canario, Will Wilson, Joey Bart, and Patrick Bailey are going to be what forms the core of the next star team. Adding free agents now doesn’t help them then in any meaningful way when their window of contention is wide open. What they should be doing is leveraging their financial muscle and take on bad contracts with prospects–they are the absolute perfect team to be doing this. They should offer to take Madison Bumgarner back, or Justin Upton, or Dexter Fowler, or Craig Kimbrel. All of those teams have been crying poverty and their GMs probably want to dip into the free agent market but can’t at the moment (which is why I don’t think the Orioles would be willing to trade prospects to get rid of Alex Cobb but if he were on another team he’d be in the same boat). They did this to get Will Wilson last year, and it surprised me that the Angels were willing to do that but now I think there are even more teams willing to try this.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Just to follow up on this, if we assume that Upton, Fowler, or Kimbrel are replacement-level players and you could just straight-up cut them like you did with Cozart (Bumgarner is a bit weirder since he was so bad this year but also has a far better chance of improving, plus he’s a former Giant), then Kimbrel and Fowler are at about -$14.5M and Upton’s at -51M. There are guys on the 40-man roster or Rule 5 eligible like Johan Oviedo who are not ready for the big leagues who would make sense. They could give Lane Thomas a chance in CF. Cory Abbott is on the 40-man bubble in Chicago but has a decent shot at the future. I think you can find a way to get guys who can help you in the future using the payroll space now (although you’d need to aggregate a bunch of FV40s or FV40+’s in most cases to make it worth it).

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Fowler is overpaid and could be traded, but he’s still far better than replacement level. Meanwhile, Lane Thomas had a terrible year and is in no way deserving of a starting job, especially not in CF where Bader plays.

Phil
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Phil

This does seem like the perfect year for big market team rebuilding to buy prospects by taking on a bad contract. However, due to the lack of a minor league season, if I was the buying GM I’d have to think very carefully about why the selling team was willing to let that prospect go. I do think it also depends on how willing ownership is to spend money on bad teams.

Also, as an aside (and I don’t think this will happen) but after all the effort the Cubs went into to getting an extra year of team control for Bryant, if they ended up non-tendering him.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I have been wondering about this too. I think he and Schwarber have a real chance of getting non-tendered. But they did exercise Rizzo’s option.

I do think that if you’re the Atlanta Braves and you want to trade for Bryant you’re looking at, say, giving Sean Newcomb to the Cubs to see if he’s a change of scenery candidate.

thestatbook
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thestatbook

I also wonder, considering the financial impact, how much premium does one have to add to move a bad contract?

What I mean by that is that moving 15M for Fowler will likely require more than 15M in surplus value. Is it 50% (which would require about 21M)? Is it 75%? (about 26M)?

I’d bet a team with financial flexibility like the Giants could really get away with taking on a damn good young player just by taking a contract off a team strapped for cash.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

The Will Wilson deal is one of the only ones we’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s a pretty good sign that you can get an FV45 for taking $12.5 off someone’s hands, if there is someone trying to drop money. So for guys like Kimbrel and Fowler I think we have a decent idea of what the return might look like. But what we don’t know is whether that implies that you could get $51M of future value for taking Justin Upton off the Angels’ hands. One data point supports a specific argument but not an argument about the larger distribution.

In the recent past, teams have been extremely reluctant to deal away prospects to clear away bad contracts. But with Arte Moreno, Tom Ricketts, Bill deWitt, and Kendrick freaking out over money I think it’s a real possibility you could get at least one of them to do this.

thestatbook
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thestatbook

The last sentence is my point: It’s not that I think these are common, but rather, we could see them done more this winter than previous (or potentially future) ones.

If teams truly are worried about the financial state of their clubs, they may be more prone to try and ditch bad contracts, and teams with more financial security could probably take advantage of this.

For what it’s worth, the Angels aren’t going to dump Brandon Marsh just to get rid of Justin Upton. But if it takes a team with financial strains a 45/45+ FV prospect to clear a bad contract and help them out, I imagine they’ll probably do it.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

In that case, Fowler is untradable, since his actual value out in the field is still worth about $10M, so the Cardinals would be better off just playing him for one more year rather than give up so much excess value just to free up some more payroll while opening up another hole in their weak OF.

hahiggins
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hahiggins

It’s an interesting trade idea. I think CWS is a little different because they had a mix of up and coming stars—Giolito, Moncada and Anderson already present, and some of the 2020 improvement comes from adding Robert and Eloy—and made some significant veteran additions like what’s being suggested for the Giants—Grandal, Keuchel, even Gio was a low-stakes stab in that direction.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

So you want them to keep all their best prospects but still trade prospects to fill in other holes? How are they going to pull that off?