PHOENIX — Now that position players have started to report around the Cactus League, it’s time to look at the National League West and what each team did in the offseason.
“You look at all those clubs in our division, they all got better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Sunday, channeling an inner Lou Holtz-before-Northwestern vibe.
First up on our trek around the division is the Giants, who tied for the worst record in baseball in 2017.
Andrew McCutchen (trade), Evan Longoria (trade), Austin Jackson (free agent), Tony Watson (free agent)
Matt Moore (trade), Denard Span (trade), Christian Arroyo (trade), Matt Cain (retired)
One of the ways the Dodgers have been successful the last few years is to avoid any black holes. Their tremendous depth has helped them in that regard, with capable players at the ready to step in when someone else goes down or isn’t performing. The flip side of that makes the Giants’ path to contention a little easier. When you are at the bottom, there is no place to go but up.
So as tempting as it might be to join the tiny segment of baseball fandom that is online and laugh that the Giants are trying to secure the 2013 World Series title with their offseason additions (Grant Brisbee took this to an interesting level, trying to figure out just how good this group would have been five years ago), the fact is that both Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen will help a great deal, even if both aren’t the stars they once were.
San Francisco third basemen in 2017 hit .216/.268/.300, last in baseball at the position in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ (49), home runs (nine) and walks (42).
Evan Longoria, even in his worst offensive season last year, hit .261/.313/.424 with 20 home runs and 36 doubles, all while providing Gold Glove defense at third base. A warm body at the hot corner would have sufficed as a massive improvement for the Giants, but what they got has the potential for more.
Similarly, Giants outfielders as a whole hit .253/.311/.374, also last across the board in MLB in those categories, including OPS+ (79) and home runs (38). The eight players who accumulated the most time in the outfield for the Giants in 2017, the ones who accounted for 90% of the defensive innings, totaled -1.6 rWAR.
That’s essentially an entire outfield of sub-replacement level production. McCutchen will only play in one of those three spots, but he put up 2.5 WAR last year while playing mostly center field. Now he shifts to right field, where his defensive numbers should improve.
Coaching shake up
Bruce Bochy will be back for his 12th season at the helm of the Giants, and for his 24th season overall as a major league manager. But his coaching staff is quite different. Dave Righetti, the dean of MLB pitching coaches transitioned to a front office role after 18 years in uniform, with Curt Young taking over as pitching coach.
Old friend Matt Herges is now the bullpen coach in San Francisco after seven years coaching in the Dodgers’ system. Alonzo Powell and Rick Schu were brought in as hitting coaches, Jose Alguacil is the new first base coach, and Ron Wotus moved from bench coach to third base. Hensley Muelens switched roles from hitting coach to bench coach after an offseason that saw him nearly land the Yankees managerial job that went to Aaron Boone.
The Dodgers play 10 of their first 27 games against the Giants, including series in three of the first five weekends of the regular season. These two teams both start and end their season against each other, with the first four games of 2018 at Dodger Stadium and the final three games in September at AT&T Park.
74, 466, 4.19
The Giants will need their top three starting pitchers if they have designs on October. In 2017 nothing seemed to go right for Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, who combined for just 74 starts, 466 innings and a pedestrian 4.19 ERA last season.
In 2016 that trio put up a 3.09 ERA in 98 starts and 649⅔ innings, a season that not so coincidentally saw San Francisco make the postseason. But last year Cueto spent time on the disabled list dealing with blisters, forearm tightness and a flexor strain, and Bumgarner missed three months after a very on-brand dirt bike accident in Colorado. Those three need to be healthy and productive for the Giants to contend.
If you thought the Giants were old this year, just wait until 2020, with these players already under contract: 33-year-old Buster Posey ($21.4 million), 34-year-old Cueto ($21 million), 35-year-old Samardzija ($18 million), 32-year-old Brandon Belt ($16 million), 34-year-old Longoria ($15 million), 33-year-old Brandon Crawford ($15 million) and 35-year-old Mark Melancon ($14 million). That’s $120.4 million committed to seven players all on the wrong side of 30.
Look, the Giants were in a very bad spot after a disastrous season and a half (94-140, .402) after owning the best record in baseball at the 2016 All-Star break. They had to do something, and while it has some consequences down the road the short-term benefit might be enough.
I don’t think they were 98-loss bad, but for them to contend they need a lot of things to go right, especially for their main three starting pitchers and their closer to be healthy. The Giants are good enough to finish over .500 with this group (so I’d take the over on Bovada’s number), which puts them on the periphery of contention, but ultimately I think they will fall short of the playoffs.