It was only for a day, but by the end of July 31, 2017, the San Francisco Giants officially passed the Philadelphia Phillies for the worst record in the MLB.
The team, which entered this season with 12-1 odds to win the World Series and was widely regarded as a lock for one of the two Wild Card spots, now finds itself suffering one of the worst year-to-year drop offs in franchise history.
Despite the dumpster fire that has been this season, the Giants find themselves in an intriguing spot going forward. Barring a complete turnaround in August and September, San Francisco will likely finish this season in the bottom five of the league.
While having a top-five pick at next year’s draft would be a nice consolation prize, San Francisco’s situation isn’t exactly the baseball version of the San Antonio Spurs drafting Tim Duncan: even if the Giants net the No. 1 pick, the team’s current core will be well into their thirties by the time he arrives to the show and the championship window will have effectively closed.
The ball club’s roster is unquestionably constructed to win now rather than embrace a rebuild, but as it stands, the Giants find themselves in the strangest position of any team in all of baseball, at least among teams in the lower echelon of the standings.
The team is stuck in baseball purgatory: too talented (despite what the record says) to blow it all up, but bad enough to question if the team’s time is officially up. Where do they go from here?
San Francisco’s front office made the wise and really only decision to keep its core intact and remain idle at the trade deadline. Eduardo Núñez, this season’s annual under-the-radar trade deadline deal who caught fire with his new team, and (to a lesser extent) George Kontos were not in the team’s long-term plans, so those two deals do not by any means shake the foundation of San Francisco’s roster.
General manager Bobby Evans’ two main points of emphasis heading into next offseason will be the exact same as last year’s: the bullpen and left field.
Beginning with the former, the Mark Melancon has been a disaster as the team’s $62 million closer, somewhat predictably, wasn’t the catch-all solution to last year’s reliever crisis. Throw in Will Smith’s season-ending injury and Derek Law falling off the map and the Giant bullpen is back to square one.
Matt Cain’s $21 million will come off the books when the front office declines his club option and the team may shave off another $9 million should they decide to trade the struggling Matt Moore and his team-friendly deal. Should the Giants let only Cain walk, they’ll still have saved enough money to pursue one or two cheap bullpen arms plus any additional pitchers from their farm system.
Regarding left field, what began as the potential Jarrett Parker/Mac Williamson platoon devolved into a turnstile which featured too many different bodies to count, forcing Bruce Bochy to play the likes of Aaron Hill and Orlando Calixte out of pure desperation.
San Francisco’s homegrown youth has provided some enthusiasm for next season. Jarrett Parker has a hit in every game since returning from the disabled list and Austin Slater hit .290 over 108 plate appearances before injuring his hip, but the front office shouldn’t rely solely on prospects who haven’t consistently hit major-league pitching; it’s exactly what put them in such bad shape this year.
The front office will also need to prepare for a long-term future after Denard Span and Hunter Pence. Pence has looked like a shell of his former self and while Span has hit well, southpaws remain his kryptonite and he been the worst defensive center fielder by a large margin.
Regardless of the moves Evans and the front office make this offseason, the Giants’ future depends on the production of its core. San Francisco’s Opening Day roster had its fair share of flaws, but there was an expectation of production, but that hasn’t been the case.
Outside of Buster Posey, the majority of San Francisco’s core has severely underperformed. Shortcomings in the bullpen and left field contributed to this year’s downfall, San Francisco’s All-Stars shoulder a large portion of the responsibility.
A clean slate can do wonders for a ball club and it’s hard to imagine the Giants’ main pieces play this badly next season. The team’s record is most likely an outlier and so are the individual slumps. Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Madison Bumgarner are all under 30 and Posey and Brandon Crawford will only be 31 by the start of next season, all young enough to still produce at a high level for years to come.
A new season has the potential to swing San Francisco’s fortunes, but it also has the potential to reveal where the team truly stands.