Seeing Madison Bumgarner pitch in a uniform other than that of the Giants, an organization that he had spent his entire eleven-year career with to this point, will be both strange and unsettling for any baseball fan. However, this will be a sight that Giants’ faithful must become accustomed to, as Bumgarner departed San Francisco and signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. Bumgarner will be forever regarded as a legend in the Bay Area, as his defining role in all three of the Giants’ championships in the last decade was nothing short of remarkable. It is truly disappointing that Bumgarner will not be able to remain a Giant for the duration of his career; San Francisco allowing their ace to walk was yet another unequivocal sign that the Giants have entered a long and grueling rebuild that is unlikely to bare the fruits of winning baseball for at least several years.
The Giants’ outlook heading into the immediate future is bleak, to say the least. The roster features little promising young talent, and is laden with former stars who are shells of their past selves. Buster Posey is one of them, as the 2012 NL MVP has seen both his OPS and wRC+ decline in each of the last three seasons. While Posey’s 2019 was one to forget, as he posted an OPS of .688, Fangraphs’ ZiPS projections actually are very high on the catcher for 2020; his projected 2.7 fWAR is the fourth-most for any Major League catcher. This high mark speaks to the fact that Posey’s defense and pitch framing are still extremely valuable, even while his offense has severely declined. If the Giants’ backstop is able to live up these lofty expectations in ‘20, he would become a coveted trade chip that could net San Francisco some serious prospect capital – although, to part with Posey would be somewhat negligent to a fanbase that in recent years has suffered enough as it is.
The Giants traded for Evan Longoria prior to the 2018 season, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with the aging star third-baseman. Unfortunately, Longoria’s first campaign with San Francisco was a disaster, as he posted a career-worst 0.5 fWAR. “Longo” was able to rebound in 2019, however, as he homered 20 times and was worth a respectable 2.0 fWAR, but the 34-year-old has certainly entered the twilight of his career.
Hunter Pence was also thought to be a star whose prime had passed him by, but his All-Star 2019 effort suggested otherwise. Pence spent ‘19 with the Texas Rangers, amassing 18 homers and 1.8 fWAR in just 83 games played. It is fitting that Giants brought him back in free agency, as the eccentric outfielder was a beloved figure in San Francisco. A move back to the cavernous Oracle Park as opposed to the hitter’s paradise of Globe Life Park will more than likely stunt Pence’s offensive ceiling, but he should at least provide some stability to a rather barren lineup.
Brandon Belt has been proclaimed the Giants’ most polarizing player, and for good reason. His on-base ability has always been a plus, as evidenced by his career .353 on-base percentage. However, his lack of power has always drawn criticism from baseball fans and analysts, as many feel that he is capable of much more than he has accomplished; his career high in homers being 18. Whether or not Belt’s power shortage has been a product of his pitcher-friendly home park is a fair question, but he is absolutely a useful player. The problem for both he and the Giants is that he is more of a roleplayer than a star, and is not capable of carrying an offense in a way that the club needs him to.
The Giants’ second Brandon is their shortstop Crawford, a defensive whiz whose bat has dramatically slowed down in recent seasons. Crawford was worth an elite 5.2 fWAR in 2016 after recording a 4.3 mark in the year previous, but has not topped 2.2 in any of the seasons since. Like Brandon Belt, Crawford is much better suited as a complementary piece of a winning team rather than as a cornerstone of a Major League roster, and like Buster Posey, rebuilding his value would establish Crawford as a sought-after trade candidate at this year’s deadline.
The Giants’ best story of 2019 was the breakout campaign of Mike Yazstremski. The grandson of the Red Sox’ Hall of Famer Carl Yazstremski gave baseball fans one of the most memorable moments of the ‘19 season, as he homered in his first game at Fenway Park. His magical September night in Boston was just one part of his fantastic season, as he mashed 21 homers and had an OPS of .852. Yaz was a late bloomer, but should be a solid contributor for the Giants during the dark days that will accompany their rebuild.
It may take a few years for any of it to reach the MLB roster, but the Giants do have some interesting prospects down on the farm. The group is led by catcher Joey Bart, the heir apparent to Buster Posey. Bart was selected by the Giants with the second overall pick in the 2018 draft, and has risen to become the fourteenth-ranked prospect in the game by MLB.com. Bart is one of five top-100 prospects in the Giants’ system (Marco Luciano, Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop, Seth Corry), all of whom are intriguing enough to provide some hope for the organization.
The Giants’ current pitching staff is nothing special, to say the least. The top two spots in the rotation are likely to be occupied by two aging veterans in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija; it would be unwise to expect much out of either. Kevin Gausman was a smart add, as he could become a decent starting pitcher should be put it all together. Drew Smyly may be able to eat some innings in a back-of-the-rotation role, and former top prospect Tyler Beede may slot in once he is able to return from injury.
San Francisco’s bullpen is not much better, especially after closer Will Smith signed with the Atlanta Braves in free agency and flamethrower Reyes Moronta was lost for the foreseeable future due to an arm injury. Tony Watson, who remains with the Giants, may be a fine relief option.
The Giants have a long and difficult road ahead – that much cannot be denied. It would be easy to think pessimistically about the club’s present situation, but it would also be naive to doubt a front office led by the brilliant Farhan Zaidi.
Projected Divisional Finish (NL West):
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Rotation (Fangraphs 2020 fWAR Projections for each player in parentheses):
Mike Yazstremski CF (1.4)
Hunter Pence LF (-0.4)
Brandon Belt 1B (1.4)
Buster Posey C (2.7)
Brandon Crawford SS (1.3)
Evan Longoria 3B (1.3)
Alex Dickerson LF (0.2)
Mauricio Dubón 2B (1.0)
Johnny Cueto (1.2)
Jeff Samardzija (1.2)
Kevin Gausman (3.0)
Drew Smyly (1.1)
Andrew Suárez (0.7)