The Giants are in desperate need of offense as they embark on their most important offseason in the last 20 years, and if they fail to re-invent their lineup, they will once again be headed for the cellar in 2018.
The 2017 season was one long nightmare for Giants’ fans, but it will officially come to an end on Sunday. Picked by most prognosticators to win 88-90 games, instead they were the most disappointing team in baseball. They went 27-46 versus the NL West and had the fewest road wins in the game. If they can notch one more victory over the San Diego Padres in the season’s final series, they will avoid a 100-loss season.
The Giants have had only one such season in the long history of their franchise, which dates back to 1883. The club currently owns the worst record in baseball at 62-97, and to make matters worse, they trail their archrivals, the 101-win Dodgers, by 39 1/2 games in the standings.
It wasn’t that long ago the Giants were the toast of baseball, on top of the baseball world, winners of three World Series in a 5-year span from 2010-2014. Their lineup has gotten old in recent years, and they currently have the oldest group of position players in the National League,
But age isn’t the only factor. The game has also changed dramatically in the last three seasons. The game has become more power oriented. In 2014, only 57 hitters reached the 20 home run plateau.This year approximately 120 hitters, a record number, will reach that same plateau.
This has been the year of the home run for every team in baseball except the Giants. They rank 30th or last, in all of baseball in home runs, with 21 fewer than the 29th-ranked Pirates. The club’s leading home run hitter, Brandon Belt, has 18 — the same number Phillies’ first baseman Rhys Hoskins, (Sac State/Jesuit HS grad) has hit, and Hoskins wasn’t called up until Aug. 10.
MLB set a new single season record for home runs this year and some have argued that the baseball itself is the reason for the sharp increase in power. New York Mets manager Terry Collins recently said in an interview with the Orange County Register that the seams on the ball are “definitely lower…and there’s no question that the ball is harder.”
Others have pointed out that in today’s game, hitters are not ashamed to strike out and so many of them are swinging for the fences in any count. Also, the 2-strike approach to hitting has become a thing of the past. One other factor to consider is the impact of power bullpens that often feature a parade of 5 or 6 pitchers who throw 95 mph or faster. The theory being, the harder it comes in, the harder it goes out.
Meanwhile, the Giants’ pitching has proven to be fallible for much of the season. Their rotation and bullpen have both dramatically under performed, and the numbers reveal it.
The Giants’ staff is currently ranked 17th in ERA, 27th in saves, 23rd in strikeouts, 27th in batting average against, and 24th in strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Despite those lousy numbers there are reasons for optimism on the mound.
The Giants ranked fifth in baseball in quality starts in 2017 and likely return a veteran rotation of Madison Bumgerner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Moore. Getting Moore turned around is near the top their 2018 to-do list. They also will head to Scottsdale next February with a group of young, talented starters (Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez, and Joan Gregorio) on the verge of a big league breakthrough.
Their 2017 bullpen was very inconsistent and Mark Melancon never seemed to be right physically at any point. But the Giants were 39-8 when leading after six innings, so blaming the bullpen for the club’s struggles is probably unfair. The 2018 bullpen could emerge as a position of strength, as the club returns veteran power arms Melancon, Sam Dyson, Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, and Will Smith. Those five will be joined by an impressive array of younger power arms, a group that includes Kyle Crick, Roberto Gomez, Derek Law, Reyes Moronta, Steven Okert, Dan Slania, and Sam Coonrod. Moronta’s power arsenal is really exciting to watch. I believe in the theory that you can never have enough good arms, but the Giants enjoy above average depth, and they will begin their offseason rebuild with the knowledge that, in-house, they already have a dozen power arms competing for seven bullpen spots.
While they have a promising pitching staff, the front office badly needs to improve a historically anemic offense. The numbers are just ugly. The 2017 Giants ranked 29th in runs scored, 29th in total bases, 29th in RBIs, 23rd in batting average, 29th in on-base percentage, 30th in slugging percentage, 26th in walks, 25th in stolen base percentage, and 29th in extra-base hits.
The most important offensive baseball statistic to me is OPS, a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The top nine teams in OPS this season (Houston, Cleveland, New York, Chicago, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Los Angeles, Minnesota) all made the postseason. The Giants finished 30th in OPS.
The Giants simply need to find a way to consistently score four runs per game. This year, when they scored four runs they were 49-22 (.685) and when they failed to they were 14-75 (,157). But how do they do this is the question, and Brian Sabean admitted recently his club’s World Series window has closed and that the club needs to re-invent itself by getting younger, faster, more athletic, and better defensively. He also hinted at a need to be aggressive and bold in the offseason trade market.
What is abundantly clear to all is that the Giants have to do something major this offseason. They have never been in this competitive of a situation. The division is filled with teams that are all younger, better, with better farms systems. The on-field competition may soon be rivaled by the off-field competition, as the World Champion/Dynasty Golden State Warriors move in down the street. The battle over the most lucrative corporate sponsorship deals has already begun.
On the field and off the field the Giants need a superstar. Their lineup is badly in need of a presence, and their sales team may need a star attraction to compete with Steph/KD/Draymond/Klay Show. The GIants have been out of the race since mid-May and their leadership of Sabean, Bobby Evans, and Larry Baer have clearly been brainstorming ideas, so let’s join them.
Giancarlo Stanton makes a lot of sense for the Giants. Bob Nightengale of the USA Today continues to tweet that the Giants are the leader for Stanton, who is owed $290 million through 2028. Stanton would give the club a big bopper in the lineup to better protect Buster Posey. How much of Miami’s financial commitment are the Giants willing to take on is the question. The Giants are rich and could bail out the Marlins with relative ease. The Marlins also have significant pricey contracts available in Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, and Martin Prado. Could the Giants and Marlins hook up on a mega-deal? I think it’s quite possible.
Shohei Otani is a 23-year-old two-way player and the top international player on the market. Otani sounds like a modern day Babe Ruth. He hits 500-foot home runs and led his league in OPS, but he also pitches and throws 102 mph and led his league in starters’ ERA. He will likely enter the posting system this winter and play in the majors in 2018.
Evans flew to Japan to recruit Otani, but the Giants are one of 11 teams that can only offer $300,000. According to reports Otani considered signing with the Dodgers out of high school. The Cubs, Padres, Astros, and Rangers are considered the favorites to land him.
Jon Heyman is one of baseball’s best insiders and he often is the first reporter to get credible trade and free agent signing rumors and information. He has linked the Giants to four power hitting free agents: J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Mike Moustakas, and Todd Frazier. Martinez has had an incredible second half for the Diamondbacks, who would love to re-sign him. Why would he leave a hitter’s paradise to come to AT&T? The Giants will have to overpay to land him. Upton had a terrific year in Detroit before being traded to the Angels and is a durable player. Moustakas is a lefty power threat with dead pull power and playoff experience, but the Giants were 18-30 versus left-handed pitching and need to get more right-handed.
Of this group of free agents, Frazier could make the most sense. He’s a great clubhouse guy, and his right-handed power could balance out the lineup.
Getting better in center field has to be the Giants’ top goal of the offseason but dynamic center fielders are hard to find. Lorenzo Cain is the best center fielder on the free agent market and may opt to leave Kansas City. Cain is the total package of offense, defense, power, speed, postseason experience, and he adds a veteran clubhouse presence, but he’s on the wrong side of 30, and has likely already played his best baseball. Denard Span’s defense in center field has hurt the Giants on a daily basis this season. Cain would instantly be a major upgrade in the middle of the diamond.
Sabean hinted at “bold trades” and outside of the Marlins, the two teams that could be great trade partners for the Giants are the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rangers could be the future home of Brandon Belt. Belt is the Giants’ best power threat currently, but he’s a Texas native who recently put his Bay Area home on the market, and he may just need a change of scenery. The Giants have Chris Shaw waiting in the wings at Triple-A Sacramento and Texas has two intriguing pieces in outfielder Nomar Mazara and first baseman/third baseman Joey Gallo, who has belted 39 home runs thus far in 2017.
Toronto is reportedly looking to add starting pitching and have Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, and Marcus Stroman available in trades because they all are headed towards big paydays in arbitration.
The General Manager Meetings begin Nov. 7 in Scottsdale and the Winter Meetings will follow beginning Dec. 10 in Orlando, and the Giants are looking to be bold and are desperate for a quick turnaround. Twenty years ago, Sabean authored a huge Giants revival, adding Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino, Mark Lewis, Darryl Hamilton, Julian Tavarez, Doug Henry, J.T. Snow and Brian Johnson. It was an incredible offseason and it led to the Giants making the playoffs in 1997.
The Giants need Sabey Sabes to work his magic once again.
Larry Krueger appears weekdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on KNBR-680 AM with Gary Radnich and also hosts the 49ers pre- and post-game shows on KNBR.
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