The Giants’ Complicated Future

Trying to project how teams will behave in the coming months involves considering a lot of variables. There are the standings themselves, and yes, many teams are daily visitors to the FanGraphs Playoff Odds pages. There are payroll limitations as defined by the ownership group, though front offices frequently try to make the case for spending more money if they can make the argument that it will lead to more revenue in the form of an extended postseason run. Finally, there is the state of the roster in terms of now versus the future. Who’s good on this team? Who’s good on this team and will be here next year? What about in three years? When thinking about all those things and how teams will comport themselves this summer, no franchise fascinates me more than the Giants.

The Giants have been one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball. Their ZIPS projection entering the season was 75–87, with the potential to get to .500 if everything went well. Their rotation was seen as a strong suit, and their bullpen and offense were viewed as major question marks. Two months into the season, the rotation has been as expected, the bullpen has been more than good enough, and their lineup has put more runs on the board than anticipated with a low-contact group that depends on walks and power. Like with his former team in Oakland, Farhan Zaidi knows how to make a sum greater than the parts when constructing a roster, mixing and matching his lineups well beyond simple platoons to maximize what he has. He’s also also benefitting from seasons from Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford that are in the 90th-plus percentile of expectations.

As we hit late May, the Giants are one of the best teams in baseball, with a run differential that says this might not be a fluke. If you just look at the record and team performance so far, this is a clear go-for-it moment for the club. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they are in the same division as the Dodgers and the Padres, who are unanimously seen as two of the best teams in baseball. San Francisco has stuck with the pair for two months, but asking for four more months of equal performance might be pushing the envelope a bit, and last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Los Angeles confused matters even more.

Despite the strong start, the Giants’ chances of reaching the playoffs have hovered around the 30% range thanks to their powerful west coast brethren. Most of that probability revolves around getting to the coin flip that is the wild-card game; San Francisco’s odds of winning the division are less than 100-1. The decision to go for it feels far less clear in light of that.

If the Giants do decide to make a push, money shouldn’t be a problem: With a total 2021 payroll commitment in the $150 million range, they have room to add salary. But while they owe it to the current group in the clubhouse and the fans to make a playoff run, doing so will certainly negatively impact their ability to make playoff runs in future years.

Whether they are over their skis or this is some strange new reality, the Giants weren’t supposed to be here. In many ways, this was seen as Zaidi’s last year of being stuck with what he inherited when he was named general manager at the end of 2018. The big contracts of Johnny Cueto and Posey were expiring, as well as mid-sized ones for Brandon Belt and Crawford. It was supposed to be the final hurrah for a veteran core that won multiple rings.

The 2022 season, then, was supposed to represent the start of something new for the Giants, and no matter how the club decides to approach the remainder of the year, it still will. Every starting pitcher other than Logan Webb will be a free agent at the end of the year, with Kevin GausmanAnthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Aaron Sanchez all on one-year deals (and all of whom are potential players to move in July if things sour). Belt is still an above-average run producer, and Crawford is having a career year, but both are approaching their mid-30s and likely will finish their careers elsewhere. Posey’s $22 million option for next year has gone from a no-brainer decision to decline to more up in the air after a tremendous first two months, but either way, the Giants will have a dramatically altered roster next year; any run this year would be a Marlins-style burst.

The Giants will need to build a rotation next year — one nearly from scratch, as it’s hard to see anyone from their farm system ready to step into a regular role. They’ll need half of an infield while also keeping an eye out for third baseman, as Evan Longoria will enter the final year of his contract. They could have the best starting pitcher on the trade market this summer in Gausman, plus comparable interest in DeSclafani and Wood. As rentals, the chances for getting back impact players is slim, but with as many as ten players on the roster who could garner real prospects in return over the next two months, the opportunity to add future depth to a system that needs it is right in front of them.

It would require a difficult conversation with the ownership group, and it’s possible that similar difficult conversations led to some organizational mistakes at the trade deadline two years ago. It would require a calculated yet unwelcome public message to the fan base, and with the diminishing returns we’ve seen over the past few years for rentals, it might not be worth that conversation, or the public relations hit. San Francisco may just ride it out and stick with a decent chance of getting to the playoffs and seeing what happens from there.

If the Giants were in a different division, this would be a no brainer. Some quick and dirty math from Dan Szymborski shows that if something very strange happened in terms of geography to move the Giants to the National League Central, their chances of reaching the post-season would more than double, with an exponential increase in avoiding the wild-card game. But that’s not where they are, and that has to be taken into account before a plan for either strategy is designed and implemented.

I was on the phone this afternoon with a friend who works for a team, and when he asked me what I was working on, I told him that I was writing a Giants buy/sell piece. We moved on to other subjects for a bit, only for him to blurt out suddenly, “I’ve been staring at our internal Giants page for 15 minutes now and I can’t stop thinking about this. What would you do?” I paused for a bit, knowing I was going to disappoint him with my answer. “I don’t know, and that’s why it’s so interesting,” I replied.

In terms of competition, honoring their players, and respecting their fans who ultimately pay the bills, the Giants need to make improvements and see if this team is capable of making a run to (and well into) the postseason. But to set up the unavoidable rebuild beginning in 2022, they need to trade away their impending free agents to give them more chances at finding players who are going to be part of what is hopefully the next multi-year postseason run. As one executive once said to me, “You can rebuild, or you can go for it. When you try to do both, you fail at both.” No team in baseball has potential summer strategies with two greater extremes, and I don’t envy the sleepless nights that will go into San Francisco’s decisions.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

luckily there’s still 2 months til the trade deadline…most likely the situation will clarify itself before that

2 years ago
Reply to  chazzycat

Yeah I don’t really consider this a complicated situation. If they’re still in the second WC slot, ride it out. It’s probably sustainable. If they fall off a bit, sell.

Winning a lot of baseball games and coming up a little short isn’t the disaster it’s often made out to be, especially for a team willing to carry a big payroll in the future. It’s not like contending with LA and SD is going to get any easier; take your shot when you can.

2 years ago
Reply to  deltaclown

I don’t know about “disaster” but I think it’s rare for a team to have this many players on the last year of their contracts who have trade value. And with the way pitchers are going down – and we’re not even in June – the trade value of these pitchers will increase if they stay healthy.

This is especially true if the Giants have the opportunity to package multiple pieces on expiring contracts for one good prospect. What would the Yankees pay to rent Gausman and Posey? (Yes, I know Posey has 10-and-5 rights.)