There is No Clear Path for the San Francisco Giants to Take

You typically never count out the San Francisco Giants based on pedigree alone. They’ve won the World Series three times since 2010 and usually resemble, at the very least, a competitive ballclub. But when you try to forecast the future of this team after a soon-to-be second losing season, there’s no clear path for them to embark on.

Going into the 2018 season, there was optimism surrounding the Giants. They had their ace, Madison Bumgarner, coming back from injury and acquired All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and star outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Just a year removed from the playoffs, it was realistic to think that the Giants could get back to October baseball with their two positional upgrades and a healthy roster. But manager Bruce Bochy‘s ballclub has been unable to do as such.

Currently 68-70, they’re in fourth place in the National League West and are 8.5 games out of a Wild Card seeding. With the end product likely to be a team on the outside looking in at the playoffs, management opted to trade McCutchen to the New York Yankees in exchange for minor league infielder Abiatal Avelino and right-hander Juan De Paula. Plus, with righty Johnny Cueto and franchise catcher Buster Posey out for the year, chances are the Giants’ season is over. So, what comes next?

On paper, the Giants have a good lineup, head-wise. When you have proven players like Posey, Longoria, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt, you’d think that offense would pose a respectable offensive unit. However, going into Sunday, the Giants were 26th in runs (535), 28th in home runs (117), 22nd in batting average (.243), 25th in on-base percentage (.306), 29th in slugging (.377), and 27th in OPS (.683).

The @SFGiants have a troublesome road ahead of them, with no good turn to take. @RPStratakos chronicles the murky future of the early decade's best team.Click To Tweet

Before going down for the year, Posey was hitting a career-worst .284, and Longoria is currently hitting a career-worst .244. At one point this season, it appeared Crawford was putting it together at the plate hitting .338, but his average has dropped to .260, and Hunter Pence has been unable to rekindle any of his past success.

The one part of the Giants that’s always been steady is their starting pitching, but with the 2018 season coming to a close, there’s reason to be concerned about their reliability going forward. While Bumgarner has pitched at a high level in the 16 starts he’s made this season posting a 2.68 ERA, and the Giants have received viable outings from Derek Holland, Andrew Suarez, and Dereck Rodriguez, the rest of the Giants rotation is worrisome going forward. Cueto suffered a season-ending elbow injury, and Jeff Samardzija recorded an abysmal 6.25 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 10 starts before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. The two righties make a combined $39 million a year on average and help account for what is the second highest payroll in baseball ($205 million).

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Could the Giants look to shed salary with the intention of relieving payroll and getting younger? The idea makes sense, but who is going to take in an ailing and often injured Cueto, or an inconsistent and now inured Samardzija especially considering their high salaries? The only way the Giants would likely be able to rid themselves of the two contracts is by eating the majority of the money — which isn’t worth the reward.

Could the Giants trade away some of their high-profile position players? Despite a discouraging year at the plate, Longoria should garner the attention of other teams, but the Giants would be unlikely to receive a package as significant as the one they gave up for the third baseman — which featured top prospect Christian Arroyo. Trading Belt could open up the opportunity for the Giants to get Posey out from behind the plate and up to first base, but they haven’t shown much interest in trading away the first baseman. Plus, if they’re going to trade away Longoria and/or Belt, they might as well entertain offers for Posey and Crawford. But, in all likelihood, the Giants won’t entertain trading the two.

Do the Giants keep everyone around, bank on staying healthy, and competing for the playoffs? The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks are undoubtedly better than the Giants even when they’re healthy, and the same could be said for the Colorado Rockies. It would be hard to envision the Giants core staying healthy and producing at a high level — especially offensively — and even if it did, they’d have fierce competition for the two National League Wild Card seedings.

The Giants won the World Series three times in five years. Who knows when that’ll happen again, if ever? But it’s become clear that the Giants window for success has closed, and with an underwhelming farm system, it may be a while before they’re consistently competing for the playoffs. Even worse, any path they decide to take beyond this season has a significant downside to it. Is Bochy even a part of the process?

The one facet of the Giants that has little doubt surrounding it is their bullpen. Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta, Tony Watson, Will Smith, and Hunter Strickland have formed a reliable and sustainable pen. And veteran righty Mark Melancon has pitched better in his second season with the Giants. Going into Saturday, that grouping was eighth in bullpen ERA (3.57).

When you have several prominent players on the backend of their careers, are the fourth best team in your division, and own the second highest payroll in the sport, you’re in trouble for, at least, the next three-to-five years.

The Giants have a long offseason ahead of them and a long list of crucial decisions to make; it’s a murky road ahead.

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