Time for a Change
The alarm bells are ringing—loudly—at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.
The San Francisco Giants, seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of a home run and unable to buy a clutch hit with runners in scoring position, find themselves two games under .500, seven-and-a-half games out of first place, and fast becoming irrelevant.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Giants were the pride of baseball. World Series champions
in 2010, 2012 and 2014, they were the league’s best team at the 2016 All-Star break with a
57-33 record. But the last two years have been a nightmare.
They went 30-42 the second half of ’16, lost 98 games last season, and have fallen to a desultory 62-64 this year. The Giants won’t lose 98 games this season, but something along the lines of 78-84 will still be considered a major disappointment.
Better things were expected with the addition of veteran stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, the return of high-priced closer Mark Melancon, and the anticipated presence of ace Madison Bumgarner for a full season.
But McCutchen, the 2013 National League MVP, and Longoria, a three-time All-Star, have proven to be average players. Melancon—he of the four-year $62 million contract—has been a disappointment. Bumgarner followed up last season’s dirt-bike accident with another freak injury; this time a line drive fractured his left hand, costing him two months of the season. He hasn’t been the same since returning.
On the positive side, Will Smith, coming back from Tommy John surgery, has proven to be a revelation as a closer, and rookie Dereck Rodriguez has been lights out as a starter. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are among the league’s best players, though Posey has become primarily a singles hitter.
Otherwise, highlights have been few and far between. The Giants, unlike virtually every other team in baseball, have no power hitters and only one player with exceptional speed.
Baseball in 2018 has become an orgy of strikeouts and home runs. The Giants have mastered the strikeout part. But the dingers? Not so much. In an era where home runs are as common as White House tweets, the Giants have no player with more than 14.
Out of 30 major league teams, the Giants rank 28th in home runs, 26th in slugging percentage and 25th in runs scored.
So what do they need to do to get back in the game?
Some drastic measures have been suggested, including moving the fences in at AT&T Park. But AT&T is one of the best parks in baseball, and the Giants shouldn’t touch it. A few angry talk show types have called for Manager Bruce Bochy’s head. Nonsense. He’s still one of the best managers in baseball.
Here are a few ideas from this peanut gallery.
Trade Brandon Belt. Belt has never fulfilled his promise, strikes out way too often, and rarely delivers in the clutch. He’s an excellent fielder and might thrive in a more hitter-friendly ballpark with a short porch in right field. Trade him now, while his value is still decent.
Waive Hunter. Bochy, as noted above, is an excellent manager. But “Boch” has a soft spot for his veteran players, particularly those who contributed to the World Series championships. It’s time—past time—to say goodbye to Hunter Pence, who can’t resist flailing at low, outside pitches and is also fading defensively.
Find a Power Hitter, or Two: There’s a reason why the guys across the Bay are doing so well. The A’s have 170 home runs this season; the Giants have 108. A three-run homer is a beautiful thing.
The Giants play station-to-station baseball, often requiring three or four singles to score a run, when the rest of baseball is thriving on the long ball. Whatever the cost, Larry Baer, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and co. must find at least one, and preferably two, outfielders or corner infielders who can hit 30 home runs.
Keep Sandoval and Hanson. To everyone’s surprise, this writer included, Pablo Sandoval has a lot left. He did a great job filling in all over the diamond, provided a bunch of clutch hits, and kept everyone lose in the dugout, before suffering a season ending injury. His injury, in fact, coincided with the Giants’ decline. Alen Hanson, likewise, has been a pleasant surprise, providing a much needed jolt of speed, hitting close to .300, and ably manning several positions. They both should be retained in ’19.
Consider Trading Bumgarner. I know this may be seen as heresy to some, but Bumgarner is the only tradable player the Giants have who will yield a difference-maker or a bunch of good prospects in return. (I consider Crawford untouchable).
MadBum has lost velocity on his fastball, hasn’t been nearly as dominant in recent appearances, and may never get back to where he was before the dirt bike fiasco. If the Giants wait another year to trade him, his value may slip further.
It would definitely be a game changer, but it’s definitely time for a change.