The SF Giants have made two significant moves this off-season, and both players, Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, were the face of their franchises.
That wasn’t just the case in 2017. That was the case since the first day they were called up to the Major Leagues. When Longoria stepped in the box on April 12, 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles, Rays fans knew they had a phenom that could take them to the promised land. That season, much like Buster Posey in 2010 for the SF Giants, the Rays reached the World Series.
When McCutchen stepped to the plate the following season on June 4, 2009 against the Mets, the Pirates knew they had a future cornerstone. It took a little longer, but after a 20 year postseason drought, McCutchen led the Pirates to a first playoff appearance in 2013 as the league Most Valuable Player.
That pressure to lead a team is great. Posey has felt it since his arrival in San Francisco. After the 2014 World Series, Posey was the unquestioned leader on the field and in the locker room. He was the bat in the middle of the lineup, the voice in the ear of every pitcher and an extension of manager Bruce Bochy in the clubhouse.
Posey has had help.
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Madison Bumgarner has been a leader as well, and nearly led the Giants through the 2014 postseason by himself. However, after a dirt bike accident in 2017, Posey and the Giants lost a huge leader for much of the season.
Brandon Crawford, who is a Bay Area native and a fan favorite, has taken much of the pressure off Posey in recent seasons with his sensational play at shortstop and improving bat in the lineup. Crawford, like most of the Giants last season, struggled at the plate, and that put added pressure on Posey.
Hunter Pence was the voice of the Giants since his arrival in 2012. His speech before Game 3 of the 2012 Divisional Series will live with Giants fans and his coaches and teammates forever. While he has also been a consistent contributor in the middle of the order since his arrival as well, things changed in 2017. Pence, who hit 20 or more home runs every year of his career between 2008 and 2014, dropped below 20 in 2015 and 2016. His OPS was still above .800, so the thought was that with a healthy season, Pence would still be productive. However, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2017 and with it, the middle of the order of Posey, Pence and Crawford ended up struggling the entire season.
The best thing about the additions of Longoria and McCutchen might be the pressure that it will take off of Posey’s shoulders and by an extension, Bumgarner, Crawford and Pence.
Longoria and McCutchen can step into the middle of the order with Posey, giving the Giants plenty of right-handed power in a division loaded with strong left-handed starting pitchers.
With Longo and Cutch added, that allows Crawford and Pence to be slotted in a better spot in the order as well. Suddenly, an offense that struggled in 2017 can suddenly be much more respectable in 2018.
More importantly for the two All-Stars from Tampa and Pittsburgh: They can remove the weight of an entire city off of their shoulders and just play baseball again.
Longoria and McCutchen bring a combined 464 home runs and 1,617 runs batted in. Both have a career OPS well above .800. Both have been tremendous leaders in their respective clubhouse, and both will be asked to improve one of the worst offenses in Giants history.
However, since both are being asked to do that and both will be joining team leaders like Posey, Bumgarner, Crawford and Pence, neither will have the feeling of doing it by themselves.
"“Full lions don’t hunt.” Pence and the Giants say they “feel like we are some starving lions after last year and that’s my mindset through all these workouts, through this whole offseason process, I’m a starving lion looking to hunt.”"
As the Giants head into 2018, their pride has added two lions that are used to leading the hunt.