By almost any objective measure, the San Francisco Giants are a Very Bad Baseball Team. It’s a formal title, capitalization required. They have the worst adjusted OPS in the National League, and they have the worst adjusted ERA in the NL, too. They can’t score runs, and they can’t prevent them, which isn’t a combination that usually leads to a World Series run. They have the worst run differential in baseball, and they were just swept by the Cincinnati Reds, who outscored them 31-5 in three games.
Since winning in extra innings against the Royals on April 18, the Giants have been outscored 107 to 44. They’ve allowed double-digit run totals in five different games this year, which is as many as they allowed in 2014 or 2015. They’ve hit 19 home runs in 32 games, which ties them with players named Aaron on the Yankees.
Oh, and their best pitcher fell off a dirt bike and separated his shoulder. It’s a shame, because he still has as many home runs as the Giants’ cleanup hitter.
I can keep going.
But the point is that the Giants are a Very Bad Baseball Team. This took most of us by surprise, mostly because the statistical projections had them as a very normal baseball team. They had issues that they didn’t address in the offseason. They had some concerns with their starting pitching, bullpen, lineup, and bench, which means there was a chance it could all go wrong at the same time, but they weren’t supposed to be this bad. Even when the Giants collapsed historically in the second half last year, they still outscored their opponents, so their second-half struggles shouldn’t have been a huge red flag.
They’re here now, though, and you’ve watched enough baseball to know what this means. The old team has fallen into a ditch, and they’ll need young players to pull them out. Every single minor-league affiliate of the Giants is in last place — it’s impossible to not have respect for that kind of dedication — and their farm system is regularly ranked in the bottom-third in baseball. This is a team that looks like they’re in the middle of a classic rebuilding situation. You’ve seen it before. Good team gets old. Good team gets bad. Bad team holds a fire sale in the hopes that they’ll be good again.
My job here, then, is to tell a national audience that there’s no way this will happen. While the Giants might trade their pending free agents, they’re going to ride this hell-toboggan right to the bottom of the slope. And when they’re at the bottom, they still probably won’t rebuild. This is an anomalous franchise, and they won’t play by your contending/rebuilding rules.
First, tally up all of the veteran players on this Very Bad Baseball Team that other teams might want.
- Buster Posey (owed $85 million through 2021, full no-trade clause)
- Brandon Crawford (owed $61 million through 2021, full no-trade clause)
- Brandon Belt (owed $68.8 million through 2021, can block trades to 10 teams)
- Hunter Pence (owed $18.5 million next year, full no-trade clause)
- Johnny Cueto (owed $92.3 million through 2021, but can opt out after this season)
- Mark Melancon (owed $53 million through 2020, full no-trade clause)
There are other players who could become desirable with a hot month or two, like Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, and Eduardo Nuñez, but no one who’s likely to bring back a top-100 prospect. You can see the problem with most of the players up there: Most of them are making slightly below market rates, but there aren’t any super bargains up there. While it would be a fun thought exercise to put Brandon Belt in Yankee Stadium, it’s harder to imagine the Yankees giving up their best prospects for him.
And, more importantly, let’s run those names through the English-to-Giants translator:
- Smiley Commercial Man
- Dreamy Fan Favorite
- Familiar Face Your Kid Just Loves
- Bobblehead Joe, Great Dude, Very Popular, Everyone Say Hi To Bobblehead Joe
- Happy Fun Pitcher Guy
- Most Recent Evidence Of The Team Trying
This is a franchise that is claiming a sellout streak of more than 500 games. And while they didn’t really have a completely full ballpark for all of those games, they’re certainly drawing extremely well, and here’s what they can sell to their fans, even in a season like this: Come cheer Buster Posey. Come watch Brandon Crawford. Come watch the entirely homegrown infield that you’ve grown incredibly fond of.
Right now, that sales pitch still works. They can sell that to their fans. They absolutely cannot sell, “Remember those guys? We miss them. Now buy tickets to watch random minor leaguers.” Fans are fickle, and they won’t put up with losing for long, but the Giants are in a special place. They’ve had so much success over the last decade with these players, they still hold the attention of the ticket-buying masses.
And if you want evidence that they’ll think like this, consider the 2013 season, when the Giants had troubles baseballing and limped into the trade deadline well under .500. They were expected to trade Hunter Pence, Javier Lopez, and Tim Lincecum, all pending free agents, and reload for 2014. Instead they re-signed all three. The chance to keep their players together was worth more to them than whatever prospects were dangled in front of them.
If you think that Cueto is a goner because he’s a potential free agent, remember the story of Pence. They loved him in the clubhouse and on the field so much, they preferred to offer him millions and millions instead of exchange him for prospects. I’d put better odds on an extension for Cueto than a swap for prospects. The Giants will trade Eduardo Nuñez for an A-ball reliever you’ve never heard of, and that’s going to be the story of their deadline.
While it would seem that the twist to this story is that the Giants didn’t rebuild in 2013 and won the World Series in 2014, which makes it seem obvious that the no-rebuild strategy has worked in the past, there’s a huge, crucial difference. Buster Posey wasn’t 30 years old in 2013. Neither was Brandon Crawford. Belt was just a youngster. Madison Bumgarner wasn’t working through a scary shoulder injury. If the Giants are going to try reloading before rebuilding — and I guarantee you they will — the front office will be sculptors working with drier clay and shabbier tools. There’s still enough talent left in the core that was projected by both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus (and dumb pundits like me) to reach the postseason, but their window is much closer to closing right now than it’s ever been.
Even if it would be a great strategic idea for the Giants to start over and rebuild like other Very Bad Baseball Teams, they’re not going to do it. They have something to sell to their large crowds, and they’re very comfortable selling it. That means the Giants are pretty far from rock bottom. They can sink a lot lower, a lot faster, but it’s almost impossible to see how it’s going to happen quickly enough for them to give up on the whole enterprise.
It’s just not what the Giants do, and they’re not going to start now.