San Francisco Giants acquire nobody.
That’s the headline some San Francisco Giants fans have in their heads when they sum up this offseason.
In this 2018-19 hot stove–more like cold stove–the article in their minds reads something like this:
"The San Francisco Giants have acquired nobody on Thursday. This leaves their outfield as the worst in Major League Baseball, with an aging core and bloated, immovable contracts. The Giants are projected to be the worst team in baseball in 2019."
And fans have the right for some concern.
With pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 14, the Giants still don’t have a proven major leaguer in their outfield. The current depth chart includes an outfield combination of Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, and Chris Shaw.
But not too much help is likely to come. Even with a bare outfield, the Giants already have over $160 million in payroll commitments. And they’re hamstrung with high-salary, immovable contracts that have no-trade clauses.
Still, new Giants Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi expects the team will add at least two new outfielders by Opening Day. Even so, they’re not likely to be major impact players like Bryce Harper but more like less-expensive complimentary players like Marwin Gonzalez.
That leaves only one chance for the Giants to win 2019–their core players have to step up.
Buster Posey can’t hit five home runs in 105 games. Brandon Belt must stay healthy for a full season and hit at least 20 home runs. Joe Panik can’t hit .254. Evan Longoria can’t have a .244 average with a .281 on-base percentage. Brandon Crawford needs to hit 21 homers and have 84 RBI as he did in 2015.
Aside from Longoria, the Giants’ infield all have histories as World Series champions. They did it with timely hitting, excellent defense, and they were for the most part healthy.
The same must be true for the Giants in 2019.
The Giants do have some hope, though. With Posey undergoing hip surgery, he’s hopeful he will get his power back, giving the team some much-needed pop in the middle of the order. And yes, a lightning bat from Posey will make a difference.
In 2018, the Giants were not as far from competing for a playoff spot as the overall record showed. The Giants were still in the race until mid-September, hovering around .500. After the Giants traded away Andrew McCutchen, San Francisco went into a tail-spin, losing 11-in-a-row and falling out of the National League West race.
Last year, the Giants averaged 3.72 runs per game. When they scored more than four runs in a game, they were 52-20. That’s .722 ball. The problem is that the Giants only scored four or more runs in a game just 72 times, ranking them 28th in baseball in that category.
Now, the Giants’ goal for 2019 is to average at least another half-a-run per game. And one way the Giants can do that without taking on big contracts is incremental improvements, which they’ve tried to do this offseason by signing low-risk pitchers and bats.
Another way the Giants can get it done–the players they have, and won with, must do better. In 2018, Posey only had 41 RBI, largely because of a bad hip. If the surgery is a success and he returns to his 2014 form, when he had 22 home runs and 89 RBI, they could get closer to their overall runs-per-game goal. A ball he hit in 2018 that resulted in a weak grounder to short could turn into a rocket the opposite way, if he gets his leg back. Posey’s signature swing gives him power to the opposite field–but not so much in 2018.
Consider this: If Buster Posey was in his 2014 form last year, the Giants would have scored 48 more runs, bringing their average runs per game to 4.01, just over their four-run goal.
If Belt could stay healthy and revert to his 2016 year when he had 82 RBI in 156 games, compared to 46 RBI in 112 games last year, that’d be another incremental uptick in runs.
And if Panik could raise is on-base percentage from .307 in 2018 to something more like .347 in 2017, that would give Posey, Belt, and Longoria more opportunities to drive him in, increasing the team’s run total.
Crawford is always superb on defense at shortstop, and he has shown he can do better with the bat. In 2015, he hit 21 home runs and had 84 RBI (5.5 WAR). In 2018, he hit 14 home runs and had only 54 RBI (2.6 WAR).
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The Giants also have to hope their major acquisition last season Longoria reverts to at least his 2016 form, where he hit 36 home runs and had 98 RBI in 160 games. He only had 16 home runs and 54 RBI in 125 games in 2018. The Giants hope an injury-free 2019 season and more familiarity with the league will help him give the team more production.
Granted, those extra runs could mostly happen during blowouts, but if the Giants’ core players do just a bit better, the small improvements could lead to big results.
Also another thing to consider–on-base percentage. The Giants were second-to-last in baseball last season with a .300 on-base percentage, which might have skewed some of the RBI stats from last season. But if they get that OBP up, even a little, that could lead to more runs this season–possibly some key runs.
The Giants played in 56 one-run games last season, the most in the National League. Imagine their record if they scored a few more runs in some of those one-run games. Remember, although the Giants finished the season at 73-89, they hovered around .500 most of the year and were in the race until they traded McCutchen.
The Giants just may not be as far away from contending as people think. That’s why there’s 162 games. You never know what could happen in the mosaic of baseball.
And if there’s one group of players that could beat all odds and surprise the baseball world, it’s this Giants core that has multiple championship rings on their fingers.