Well, we made it. 2020 is over. Kruke and Kuip were ready to see it go.
We don’t need to go over the many ways 2020 was hellacious. It’s 2021 now. New Year’s is the time for resolutions, and I’m a take-charge kinda gal, so I have some ideas for the Giants in 2021. In order of importance, here are my ten suggested New Year’s resolutions for the Giants.
- They should sign more starting pitchers. At least two, I’d say. Right now they only have four–Gausman, Cueto, DeSclafani, and Webb. Even if you’re OK with Webb being in the big leagues on Opening Day and even if you have faith that Cueto can bounce back for the final guaranteed year of his contract at age 35, four is not enough. Tyler Beede won’t be ready until late May at the earliest, and no, we can’t count Sean Hjelle, who’s pitched just 25.1 innings above A ball and wasn’t even in summer camp or the Alternate Site in 2020. They need two more major-league-ready starting pitchers, ideally ones who already have big league experience. Two, and at least one should be a lefty. More than two is fine. Fewer than two will not work.
- They should sign another left-handed bat. Could be an outfielder or an infielder. I wasn’t all that convinced about their need for a lefty bat–after all, they already have Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford–until I read how poorly the Giants’ righty hitters did against right-handed pitchers last year. From an Alex Pavlovic article: “The Giants had a .838 OPS against lefties, which ranked fourth in the big leagues, but it dipped to .764 against righties…The Giants’ right-handed batters got 51 percent of the plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, and they didn’t fare well, combining for a .253/.310/.389 slash line. Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores did pretty well, but Evan Longoria had a .671 OPS in 153 plate appearances against righties and Mauricio Dubon was at .664 in 127 plate appearances. Catchers Joey Bart and Chadwick Tromp combined for 109 at-bats against righties with just six extra-base hits.”
It seems unlikely that the Giants will sign a lefty-hitting backup catcher, so the best fit sounds like a lefty-hitting utility infielder who can play third and second.
- Speaking of the left-handed bats, they should keep the gates in right field covered up, at least for night games. There were several changes to Oracle Park last year that appeared to help the Giants hit (much) better at home than they had in recent years, but eliminating the wind-tunnel effect in right field seems pretty important. I know having the “knothole gang” experience where passersby could watch a bit of the games for free was an important part of the late Peter Magowan’s vision for the park when it was built, so maybe there’s a compromise: keep them uncovered during day games when the temperature is warm.
- Gabe Kapler should get some expert advice on how to handle a pitching staff and a bullpen, and he should listen to it. OK, there are some things about Kapler that get on my nerves (example: the way he tortures the English language), but credit where it’s due. He pulled the right strings with position players and pinch-hitters. Did you know that the Giants’ pinch-hitters had an OPS over .900–and that was over 100 points higher than any other major league team? This success did not, however, translate into good management of the starters or good handling of the bullpen–although, to be fair, the bullpen’s performance improved considerably in the second half of the season. But let’s face it: The reason the Giants finished under .500 and out of the playoffs was because of bullpen failures that could be directly traced to bad decisions by Kapler. Yes, the 2020 mini-season was an encouraging step in the right direction for the organization, but it was not as good as could have been. It’s not terribly surprising that Kapler, who was not a pitcher, is better at managing position players. But a good leader knows when he needs smart people around him to fill in the gaps. This appears to be a gap for Kapler.
- Speaking of the bullpen, if there’s a good veteran righty to be had for a year or two at a decent price, ZaHarris should be all over that. This is only #5 on my list because I actually think starters (#1) and a lefty bat (#2) are way more important at this point. I’m happy with the acquisitions so far and think the Giants could have a sneaky good bullpen even with what they already have, especially if Reyes Moronta comes back strong. But another arm could really cement the bullpen as a strength, not the main Achilles heel, of the 2021 team. (Remember way back in 2019 when the Giants had a great bullpen and led the majors in one-run and extra-inning wins?)
- The Giants should not try to keep up with the Joneses. Obviously the Padres’ dizzying 36 hours or so last week–when they traded for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish and signed Korean free agent infielder Ha-Seong Kim–is the biggest news of the offseason. But the truth is that it didn’t change anything for the Giants. The Padres were already going to be good. The Dodgers have been good for years. Now those two powerhouses are going to duke it out all season to see which one gets relegated to a wild card game. The Giants should just try to intelligently build a quality team that can play interesting and meaningful games for as long of the 2021 season as they can, keep developing their promising youngsters (more on them in the next point), and position themselves to spend in the 2021-22 offseason. It bears repeating that after 2021, the guaranteed contracts of Cueto, Posey, Belt, Crawford, Gausman, and Flores will all come to an end. The only guaranteed deal for 2022 belongs to Evan Longoria, and that plus some buyouts for Cueto, Posey, and Flores adds up to only about $25 million of obligations. The free agent market isn’t exciting enough for Zaidi to drop a lot of money right now, nor should he be trading prospects for major leaguers at this stage. Most importantly, the sad fact is the Giants just have too far to go right now to keep up with the “Joneses” (Padres/Dodgers), even if they wanted to try. Better to stay the course and be patient.
- The Giants should also be patient with their youngsters. From what Zaidi has said, the Giants plan to place conservatively but promote aggressively. This makes sense to me. The prospects have lost a year of development to the ravages of 2020, and no one really knows how they will respond when the minor leagues resume in 2021. It would be nice to see Bart, Heliot Ramos, maybe Hjelle or Tristan Beck (well regarded Stanford product acquired in 2019 in the Melancon trade) make their debuts (or return, in the case of Bart), but there’s no particular rush. They, and the more exciting younger crew of Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, Seth Corry, and Kyle Harrison, should be promoted when they’re ready and not a minute sooner or later. No need to hold them back, but organizationally, there’s no need to rush anyone, either. Here’s the thing: The 2021-22 free agent list is packed with stars, and the Giants, as already noted, will have plenty of money to spend when that time comes. But it’s no good having lots of money if no one wants to take it because they see your organization going nowhere (see Stanton, Giancarlo, 2018, and Harper, Bryce, 2019). The Giants need to be able to convince their versions of Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado that the near future is bright, just as A.J. Preller did for the Padres a couple of years ago. Making smart development moves this year is going to be critical to that effort.
- The Giants should do some nice things for their fans when we’re allowed back in the ballpark. It’s fashionable to sneer at Giants fans for being spoiled and impatient. But the fans “showed up” in the form of some 15,000 cutouts (which I believe blew away all the other teams) even when we couldn’t be in the park, and they/we are a loyal, passionate bunch. The Giants are now riding a four-year streak of losing seasons, and the fans have been pretty faithful. It’s time to give back, not only by putting a better team on the field but also by making savvy choices about marketing and development. I filled out a survey they sent a few weeks ago, so I know they’re considering some new ideas like subscriptions and flexible ticket options.
- The Giants should not have the “ten-year” reunion of the 2010 championship team in 2021. The pandemic shelved the plans for that reunion, and there’s no getting that moment back. The 2012 team also will need a 10-year reunion next year, so why not just wait and celebrate both teams? We don’t need to be reminded of how sad and frustrating the 2011 season turned out to be. However, go ahead and schedule Will Clark’s number retirement as soon as feasible. I certainly had that on my calendar before the season was shut down.
- Willie Mays needs to make it to his 90th birthday (May 6, 2021), and the Giants need to figure out how to celebrate it. At this point, it’s actually scheduled to be an off-day, but Friday, May 7, is the beginning of a homestand. That may be too soon for fans to be in the park, but hopefully at least Willie can be there (he has his own suite), and there can be some kind of moment for him.
Other Giants news
Condolences to Henry Schulman on the loss of his mother this week and to Gabe Kapler on the loss of his father. And welcome to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, who is going to take over as the Giants main beat writer now that Schulman has retired. This is great news for Giants fans.
Big news from @SportingGreenSF. @susanslusser will replace me as #SFGiants beat reporter. I can’t think of a better choice. She is an amazing reporter with a wealth of experience and she’s going to do a fantastic job for you, along with @JohnSheaHey. Congrats to Susan….. https://t.co/gj9DaUjr7a
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) January 1, 2021
Now that the holidays are over, maybe we’ll start seeing more Hot Stove action. All of the top free agents are still on the market. Oh, and we don’t actually know when pitchers and catchers might report to spring training or when the season will actually start, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about labor issues (yay?).
Happy 2021, y’all. Lefty out.