Sam Schneider | March 30th, 2020
The San Francisco Giants finished 2019 with their third straight losing season. Although their win total increased each of the last two seasons, there’s not a lot of good to look forward to in 2020 as the rebuilding continues, but there are pieces in the organization that lend themselves some hope for the future.
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End of an era
They demonstrated an unwillingness to pay big bucks in the offseason; after qualifying (read: low-ball) offers to closer Will Smith and starter Madison Bumgarner were declined, the Giants did precious little in free agency aside from adding via waivers and continuing to cut bait with would-be expenses like Kevin Pillar, who led the Giants in multiple offensive categories but was due about $10 million via arbitration. Even Zack Cozart who came over in a trade from the Angels and had a low price tag was on the Giants’ roster for all of about one month before being released in another move that signals the commitment to a youth movement in the Bay Area.
I’m going a little heavier on exposition here because, in the Giants’ case, this is significant. Of course, the biggest loss was not a player. After thirteen seasons and three World Series championships, Bruce Bochy is not walking through that door. Over the years, even a Giants team that looked a little… well, rough on paper seemed to regularly outperform their expectations under his watchful eye. Like any manager in the major leagues, Bochy had his fair share of detractors and second-guessers. That said, there’s simply no other way to put it: From 2010-2014 Bochy had a run that most managers would give their right arm for.
With Bochy gone and the Giants still handcuffed by the ghosts of contracts past, 2020 is going to be an audition for the future. The fans will still turn out at one of the nicest parks in the majors and see the familiar faces of players like Hunter Pence, Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey. I’d strongly recommend that those fans buy a program on their way into the park; not only will there be plenty of new faces but there’s certain to be a heavy dose of platoon mixed in for good measure. Let’s take a (not so) “giant leap” into what the roster holds.
Ok, buckle up because you’re quickly going to realize that every projection in this article is subject to platoon. With apologies to the “Pirates of Penzance”, we’re going after a real I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General (look it up) here, so take a deep breath.
The face of the franchise Posey is entrenched as the starter at catcher, but the Giants would be wise to go easy on his knees particularly in the face of a delayed-start season that has already been announced as having scheduled double-headers. Enter Tyler Heineman, a switch-hitter five years Posey’s junior. Although Rob Brantly is probably the favorite for the backup job, no time like the present to go younger (they’ll go even younger later) at the position. Another mainstay is Belt holding down first base, even though aside from the 2016 season he’s never done anything to justify San Francisco’s insistence on running him out there every day. Perhaps Posey gets some more work at first this season, but the more likely scenario is that super-utility man Wilmer Flores (.848 OPS with the Diamondbacks in 2019) sees a lot of playing time in the platoon. Flores can play all the infield positions and despite being in the league since 2013 is only 28 years old and has a lot of gas in the tank. I expect him to play nearly every day somewhere.
The middle of the infield seems to be set. Dubon has a lot of growing to do at the plate, evidenced by a propensity to strike out in his short time as the starting second baseman to close the season and a 30% OBP. Dubon is young and has the goods (he still hit .279 last year) to be given the keys to the job for an entire season and improve his discipline in the box.
His double-play partner at shortstop, Crawford has seen his fair share of the same issues at the plate, coming off a down year where he had a .228 batting average and managed his smallest hit total since 2012 when he had almost 100 fewer at-bats. Unfortunately, his fielding followed suit as he also had his lowest percentage (.972) in years. While the Giants seem content to look to Brandon for some veteran stability in the middle of the infield, this appears to be the year they’ll need to take a long look at the new blood in the organization as he is clearly on the decline, we’ll get to that later but expect Donovan Solano to see starts here versus southpaws.
At third base, Longoria is the staple and he certainly still has some pop left in his bat, but he’ll get rested often in favor of Flores and the returning Sandoval, a fan favorite. The delayed start to the season probably benefitted Sandoval; he is coming back as a non-roster invitee (even though he bid fans a fond farewell last year). He had Tommy John reconstructive surgery and probably wouldn’t have made the team out of spring training as he recovers but with the season pushed back until at least mid-May, it is right on schedule with his recovery. He’ll get some starts at third but is clearly more desired by the Giants as a veteran leader and could prove valuable off the bench. So, Longoria gets the nod but there will be plenty of Flores mixed in with just a Panda sprinkle on top.
Platoon city, USA! Around midseason (whenever that will be), I fully expect to see a stat where someone says that “New manager Gabe Kapler has used the same outfield lineup for XX days in a row just once this season” or something to that effect. The good news in this situation is that San Francisco could collectively have a very strong set patrolling the green in Oracle Park. Yastrzemski was never supposed to be much more than a bench player in the majors, and he came up and killed it last year (.272 with 21 dongs in a touch more than half a season).
Although Pence will probably be the odd man out for playing time in the youth movement, “The Rooster” as I like to call him (did you know they can live up to 15 years?) will likely be trotting out of the dugout in the starting lineup for their first game of the season and provide that clutch bat off the bench. Hamilton was a non-roster invitee and like most of his career will be called on as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement later in games but I fully expect him to see plenty of starts in centerfield as well. Dickerson batted a cool .290 in limited time last season and Duggar is the future of this outfield and should see the most starts and at-bats at all three spots, even if he starts the season on the bench or in the minors.
Starting Rotation Projection
At the top of the rotation, mainstays Cueto (healthy after missing most of 2019) and Samardzija lead a capable starting rotation for the Giants in 2020. San Francisco is particularly happy to have the former back from injury as Cueto is fully capable at age 34 of being the anchor. Since he doesn’t fit well into the youth movement plans, it’s completely understandable that they’d like him to come back strong and potentially net them a prospect or two for a depleted farm system when the deadline comes around. Gausman and Smyly (29 years old and 30, respectively) were both brought in on one-year deals. They are young enough to get new contracts should they perform well although it’s likely one or the other. Both are coming off a rough 2019 that hurt their market value but have the arm talent to turn it around in 2020 and going forward.
The fifth spot should belong to Tyler Beede but he has joined the masses in choosing surgery in the face of an impending delay to the season start. After an MRI showed a sprain in his UCL, he elected to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery and won’t return until 2021. That leaves veteran Cahill as a likely fifth starter, although considering Webb already would have been on an innings limit, the delayed start benefits him; he may get the chance to start outright without having to be shut down late in the season. He’s ace-in-waiting of this organization. Regardless, with the stacked schedule and doubleheaders, whether he has a set place in the rotation is immaterial… he’ll be seen quite a bit in 2020.
I could easily add 6 more names to this list, the decreased spring training evaluation period is going to cause some guessing games within the organization. With Will Smith gone and Reyes Moronta set to spend the majority of the season rehabbing a nasty shoulder injury, southpaw Watson stands to be the leader for the closing job, although he and Gott could form a pretty tough setup/closer committee as Gott is a righty. With the new 3 batter rule, it’s fair to say that manager Kapler will use some combination of the two in the final innings.
Jimenez was a Rule 5 pick and has enough talent that he should make the team so that they don’t have to return him to Toronto. Blevins and Peralta are both seasoned veterans, great at times but unspectacular when overused. Vincent is still just 33 and is probably the most reliable name on the list, eight seasons in. They’re all locks. Cahill is here because should he lose that fifth starter spot to Webb, he’ll be a very valuable bullpen asset that can step into a spot-start at a moment’s notice. Tyler Rogers is the wildcard; although it was a small sample size (just 17 games in 2019) he demonstrated the ability to compete for the closer job. Even though he relies on the four-seamer on just 9% of his pitches, he is flexible enough to pitch anywhere and had a 2.52 ERA through 7 seasons in the minors with a plus sinker that confounds opponents. He’s a specialist and if they can stretch him out a bit he’ll be a fine player as we enter the age of the minimum batter rule.
Players to watch for
Jarlin Garcia – Not a sexy pick by any means, Garcia is 8-7 in the majors and 27-29 in the minors but he’s only 27 years old. He’s still putting it all together and could be a key cog in a bullpen that is completely up in the air. On top of that, should he perform well the Giants should consider returning him to a starting role in 2021 as he’s still young enough to make that transition. He could potentially make a few spot-starts this season in doubleheaders or because of injury. Garcia has a great fastball that could touch 97mph if he is locating his pitches. 2020 is likely a bullpen year for him but I don’t think we’ve seen the end of him in a starting role.
Andrew Suarez – I deliberately left Suarez off the bullpen list to put him here. He has massive control issues, which is why he’s not being given a serious look by me for that fifth spot in the rotation. That said, like Garcia, he’s only 27 and still has some time to get the work in. When a team is rebuilding anyway there’s no need to smash the panic button and that should be the case with Suarez as well. He will make the roster and probably begin in the bullpen, but (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) if he’s performing well could get a look for spot starts and especially if the Giants move any of the veteran starters before the deadline.
Marco Luciano – If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking “But Sam, what about the prospects?!”. Well, here you go. Luciano is Fernando Tatis, Jr. crossed with Juan Soto. He’s raw and only 18 years old but he’s going to be something very special. Even though he did not even get an invite to camp, if he continues to display the talent that got him signed, he might be on this roster and playing shortstop by the close of the season. He’s that good. There are a great many clubs where young prospects are blocked by mainstays in the lineup. Brandon Crawford and Donovan Solano are unlikely to slow this train if it gets chugging in the right direction.
Honorable mention: Joey Bart – The heir-apparent to Posey probably doesn’t need any extra plate appearances to secure his heading as another top ten MLB prospect. The road to the majors is often more difficult for catchers, though, and for good reason. I expect the Giants to have him catch some more games and demonstrate his wide-ranging understanding of different pitchers. Additionally, Posey might play fewer games but not no games and Bart is going to need to play an awful lot once he comes up. He’ll be here at some point in 2020 regardless of how the roster pans out to begin the season.
Did I say platoon yet? San Francisco is in transition but it’s still an exciting time to be a fan. There’s going to be a great mix of prospects and familiar faces taking the diamond every day. They seem committed to guys that are flexible to play multiple positions, not unlike what made the Cubs good in the first place. Whether the young talent is on that level remains to be seen; there’s going to be a lot of trial and error. The pitching is going to be good enough to win some games on its own and I foresee younger guys like Yastrzemski, Bart, Dubon and potentially Luciano giving San Francisco a big “second half” of the season. I’m calling it pretty close to last year. Even though we can’t expect a 162-game season, I’ll call it with that number in mind: The Giants finish 70-92 but with a lot to look forward to as the season comes to a close.
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