Where would you rank the SF Giants farm system in 2021?
That’s a pretty easy question. It is just a Google away. The average ranking by the four major baseball websites (Baseball America, ESPN, MLB.com, and The Athletic) is 11.75. If you were to ask me, I would place them slightly lower but still firmly entrenched in the top half of Major League Baseball.
However, there are a couple of obvious concerns in the farm system. The first surrounds the top prospects in the system not named Marco Luciano. While Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos are exciting, there are legitimate concerns about their potential hitting ability at the big-league level. The second, and most obvious, is the lack of impact pitching prospects.
A farm system is not just measured by what’s at the top. The true measure of a farm system is in its depth. The Giants are flush with under-20 talent, perhaps the deepest in all of baseball. Whenever their top prospects, like Bart and Ramos, graduate, their youngsters are well-positioned to take their place, improve their own stocks along the way, and make the franchise outlook even better.
This is all an effort to avoid leaving the farm system barren and unable to supply the big league team with cheap, controllable talent when the Giants become postseason contenders. That is why the organization has seemed to tend towards quantity over peak quality in the draft and international FA market, often spreading their spending around to multiple prospects rather than going all-in for one in particular.
Should the SF Giants have fully torn down their roster?
If the Giants originally hoped to reach this place, why has the president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, kept the big-league roster intact? While many expected Zaidi to quickly trade away the remnants of the Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans’ regimes, almost all of the veteran talent already in the organization (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, and Johnny Cueto) remain on the roster.
Are Giants fans pleased that Zaidi did not hit the reset button when he first came to San Francisco? I took to Twitter to find out:
Even though only 160 votes were tallied, the poll is a strong indication that Giants fans prefer how the current regime has done business so far. Most fans seem to prefer the current way of slowly building up the farm system while keeping the team competitive and watchable as deep into the regular season as possible.
In my opinion, there are a couple of reasons why the Zaidi regime went in this direction. All of the previously mentioned veterans were under substantial long-term contracts. With most of that group’s performance on the decline, it might have actually cost the Giants some of their top prospects, like what the Angels did in the Zack Cozart deal, to move one of their veterans. Even if they could find a team willing to part with young talent, that return would not have included elite prospects.
The other reason Zaidi and the Giants might have been hesitant to tear down the roster fully is simple: money. The Giants are currently the 5th most valuable franchise in MLB, according to Forbes. In 2019, even as the team finished just 77-85, they still led MLB in revenue per fan by a significant margin. Even when the pandemic hit and attendance went to record lows in 2020, the Giants still rank among the top 10, making them the 7th most loyal fanbase last year, according to Forbes.
We have seen that there are pitfalls for hitting the rebuild button in terms of a team’s value. When the Tigers and the Rangers were at the height of their competitive ability in 2013, the two teams were the 8th and 13th most valuable teams, respectively. Now, in the midst of full rebuilds, they rank just 13th and 23rd. Continuous losing hurts a team’s business.
There would have been a chance that the Giants could have landed Adley Rutschman or Spencer Trokleson (or both), or even other top draft prospects like C.J. Abrams, Bobby Witt Jr., or Austin Martin if they ever decided to lose out, but that would have come at a high cost. How many more losses would fans be willing to take to have the current farm system rank as the eighth-best in MLB instead of eleventh? For a prospect nerd like me, I’d be willing to make that sacrifice. Most others probably feel differently.
So were the SF Giants better off tearing it all down? That all depends on what they could have got in return for players like Posey, Belt, Crawford, Longoria, and Cueto. The reality is, few teams in baseball would have been willing to take on such large contracts and sent quality prospects back to San Francisco. Still, the Giants had the financial flexibility to pay those contracts to garner larger returns. The on-field product in 2019 and 2020 would have suffered; the question is, would it have helped the team in the years to come. I lean towards yes, but it’s far less cut and dry than many fans might have thought back when Zaidi was hired.
Regardless of what should have been, the SF Giants farm system is in its best shape of the last decade. The Giants have managed to do that without punting on the regular season entirely. Ultimately, the goal of a rebuild is to build a contender. If the franchise had given up all hope of winning in the regular season, it would be far harder to envision them competing in the NL West anytime soon. Instead, we get to watch the 2021 season, hoping the big-league team can compete for a wild-card spot.