Photo credit: San Francisco Chronicle
The fourth edition of my first and most successful academic book will be published in early 2023. My co-author, a classmate from USC, and I published the first edition back in 1998, when we were young things just a few years past graduate school. Now, he is already retired, and I most certainly will be by the time a new edition of our book would be contemplated, so this fourth edition will be the final one.
Now, those of you who either remember your own college years and/or sent a kid(s) through college might be a little cynical about “new” editions of textbooks, which authors and publishers pump out every two years or so, raising the price and making it impossible for students to save money by buying used versions of the previous edition(s). Our book, which has had new editions every 8-9 years if you do the math, isn’t exactly like that. My field is young and developing, and if the book isn’t revised at least that often, it gets too dated for professors to use in their classes.
But here’s the thing about new editions of books, and here’s where I finally segue to talking about the San Francisco Giants. While there are updates and tweaks to keep up with changes in the field and new research that has been published, you’re not starting from scratch. There’s an already constructed structure and approach, and you don’t vary from it all that much–after all, readers bought and liked the previous version, or you wouldn’t even be getting a contract for a new edition. To jump to a different analogy, home construction, it’s the difference between a remodel and a teardown.
Academic books don’t typically have “sequels.” But in popular fiction and in movies, sequels are a big thing, a way to take advantage of beloved characters, add some new ones, extend the storyline, and build on the brand. You could think of the 2012 and 2014 Giants’ championships as “sequels” to the 2010 victory: Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and the “Core Four” relievers were a common element to all three, but in 2012, the Brandons, Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, and Ryan Vogelsong were added, and in 2014, you had the additions of guys like Michael Morse (who had key hits in both the NLCS and World Series clinchers), Jake Peavy, and rookie Joe Panik.
But the glorious “Three in Five” era is beginning to feel like old news, although it’s not, really, when you consider the 140-year history of the Giants franchise and over 60 years in San Francisco. Let’s talk about the 2021 and 2022 Giants and what they might portend for 2023. The 2022 Giants were definitely not a “sequel” to the magical 2021 team that enchanted us for a whole season. They were more like a barely updated “new edition,” but more like the new chemistry textbook that isn’t much different from the old one–except that, in this analogy, some parts of the old edition we liked the best were missing (Buster Posey, Kevin Gausman, and to lesser degrees, Kris Bryant and Donovan Solano).
So what will 2023 be? A new edition (slightly changed)? A sequel (new characters and storylines)? Let’s unpack this a bit.
With the season ending for the Giants on Wednesday, it was time for Farhan Zaidi’s year-end press conference, which happened yesterday. There were also new end-of-season podcast musings from Athletic writers Andrew Baggarly and Grant Brisbee and from Giants Talk hosts Alex Pavlovic and Cole Kuiper. I’m not going to rehash Zaidi’s remarks because the various beat writers have that covered. Instead, I’ll riff a bit more on my “new edition” vs. “sequel” theme. After all, as KNBR host Marty Lurie likes to say, “Every baseball season has its own story.” Thinking of the various decisions the Giants must make, will they be just editing (fiddling with synonyms and semi-colons), turning the page–or writing entirely new chapters?
NOTE: In what follows, unless I specifically say otherwise, I’m not stating my own opinion or preference about what I’d like to happen. I’m just speculating, reading the tea leaves, whatever you want to call it, based on the clues from interviews and beat writers’ published work.
Consensus seems to be emerging this week that the Giants will decline Evan Longoria’s $13 mil 2023 team option and try to bring him back at a more modest price. Considering that he has a $5 mil buyout, the number would logically fall somewhere between $8-9 mil total (including the buyout money), perhaps with some incentives and/or handshake understandings about how many games he’d expect to play in the field vs. DHing or coming off the bench. This would be a tweak, not a big change.
Another example of a “tweak” would be keeping Brandon Crawford as the primary shortstop for 2023 but maybe with more days off and a deeper bench of backup shortstops (so they don’t need to rent some AAA guy from another team for a week or two). A bigger revision, but one that seems unlikely, would be moving Crawford to another position (e.g., platoon with Longoria/Davis/Flores at 3B) to accommodate a flashy free-agent shortstop they might sign. Zaidi was asked several pointed questions about Crawford in particular, and I thought he handled them well. He gave Crawford the respect he deserves while saying, more than once, “everything has to be on the table.” I read that as “if we can’t lure Aaron Judge here, or even if we can, we’re going to go hard after one of the big-name shortstops on the market” (Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson)–and if they sign a free agent shortstop who isn’t interested in playing another position for a year, Crawford will have to deal with either playing off the bench or even at a new position.
Turning the Page
I’ll start with the easiest one, Tommy La Stella. During the final homestand, it was noticed that his locker was cleaned out, and we learned that he’d been given permission to go home early. It also slipped out that he’d had not just one, but both Achilles tendons operated on last fall, which explains a lot about why he couldn’t stay on the field and could hardly move on the rare occasions he was there. Despite Gabe Kapler’s diplomatic remarks about La Stella being back next season, no one seems to believe him (including, I’m guessing, La Stella himself). Backloaded contract notwithstanding, it seems like a pretty good bet that the Giants will eat the $11.5 million remaining on La Stella’s contract and release him. They’ll try to trade him, but I mean–who would want him at that price? They could, of course, wait until spring training to see how he looks and if he’s a fit for the roster, but they have a lot of 40-man roster decisions to make in the next couple of months, and the smart money says La Stella will be gone before Americans are carving their Thanksgiving turkeys. (And no, that was not a backhanded attempt to call La Stella “a turkey” because that would be mean.)
Brandon Belt is a tougher one, but I believe the Giants will turn the page on him, too. Zaidi, when asked about him yesterday, didn’t completely close the door on the idea of bringing Belt back if he wants to return and is feeling good, but I took that to mean either Zaidi was being respectful of a guy who will be on the Wall of Fame and/or that they’d offer him a very minimal deal that Belt may not feel is worth another year away from his young family.
Zaidi said a few weeks ago that he was interested in re-signing Joc Pederson and that they’d already reached out to Joc’s agents. But I’ve seen no evidence that the feeling is mutual. Pederson has made some pretty candid remarks about what a disappointment the season has been for him (first year of his career that there will be no Joc-Tober). I suppose it’s possible that if the Giants offer him the most money, he’d come back, but Joc had a good enough season (144 OPS+, 23 home runs) that he should have more than one option to go elsewhere.
The Giants may not want to turn the page on Carlos Rodón, but it’s not going to be entirely up to them. Zaidi said yesterday that they expect Rodón to opt out of the second year of his deal (and presumably also decline the qualifying offer they are sure to extend to him) and become a free agent. Zaidi did say that there was “mutual interest” in Rodón returning, which is saying something for Zaidi, who has never signed a starting pitcher to the kind of long-term, big-money deal that Rodón wants and will certainly get as a free agent.
I also expect the Giants to turn the page on several relief pitchers. Zack Littell, who finished the season in AAA after angrily showing up Kapler on the mound, is eligible for arbitration, and an obvious non-tender candidate after a mediocre-to-bad season. Jarlin Garcia was dreadful in the second half of the season, and Kapler made some pointed comments in post-game interviews about Garcia’s lack of ability to come into a game and throw strikes. The Giants’ bad bullpen was a big reason why they fell out of playoff contention in the second half, and I expect some changes, so I see Garcia as a non-tender candidate as well.
Finally, and I’m less sure about this one, but they could turn the page on LaMonte Wade Jr., who looked like a one-hit wonder this year. While it would be sad and a bit surprising to non-tender a Willie Mac Award winner, it’s been done before (Kevin Pillar in 2019), and Zaidi also DFA’d Hunter Pence and let WMA winners Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner walk as free agents after 2019. If they don’t think Wade will bounce back, they won’t be sentimental about writing him out of the plot. My biggest clue on this one was the fact that infielders like Thairo Estrada and Jason Vosler were playing LF in the final week even though Wade was on the roster and healthy.
Returning for the Sequel
Sometimes you already know which characters won’t be back for the sequel (maybe they were “killed off” in the prior book/movie). The “turning the page” section above covers that. But which players will be back? (Again, this doesn’t necessarily represent my own preferences but rather what I believe is likely at this point.)
- Main characters, sure to return: Logan Webb, Camilo Doval (and no, Grant Brisbee, they’re not trading Doval), Joey Bart (despite his regression in September, he did enough this year, along with his draft pedigree, to be a sure thing as Catcher 1 next year), Wilmer Flores (because of the new contract).
- Supporting cast, nearly sure things: Mike Yastrzemski/Austin Slater (I’m counting them as one outfielder), Thairo Estrada (as either the primary 2B or a super-utility player), Tyler Rogers (the front office has made it clear that they value him and he’s part of their plans for 2023), and the rest of the rotation that’s under contract (Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Jakob Junis), J.D. Davis (that trade is already looking like one of the best things to happen in 2022).
- Fringe characters, on the bubble depending what else happens in the offseason: David Villar*, Jason Vosler, Austin Wynns, Sean Hjelle, Cole Waites–plus free-agents-to-be who performed well for the Giants late in the season (like Scott Alexander, Thomas Szapucki, Alex Young, Shelby Miller). Some of these guys have options and could start the season in AAA.
*Villar is kind of fascinating. While listening to the latest round of podcasts, I heard quite a range of opinions about him: The Opening Day 3B job is “his to lose” (Grant Brisbee), he’s a possible trade chip, say, for a young outfielder (Andrew Baggarly, who argued that they have enough right-handed coverage at the infield coverage with Davis, Flores, Longoria if he comes back, and Casey Schmitt in AAA), and he starts the season in AAA (Alex Pavlovic). I’m not sure what to make of all that. I’d say it depends how the offseason plays out (especially as to re-signing Longoria) and how they feel about Villar in camp.
Adding New Characters
It is clear that everyone understands that the Giants need to spend money on free agents this winter. We have no idea how that will play out at this moment, but we know in broad strokes that they will be looking for:
- A starting pitcher: Rodón could “replace himself” if he signs back, but if he doesn’t, they’ll have to sign another free agent starter. Zaidi said he prefers Junis as a swingman. He also said that top prospect lefty Kyle Harrison will start the season in AAA and could be in the Giants’ rotation even “early” next season.
- “Up-the-middle defender(s)”: This was something Zaidi said, too, along with “more athletic.” Sounds like a new center fielder and possibly either a new 2B or SS. Yastrzemski in particular is a more than credible CF, endorsed recently by none other than Willie Mays, but it would be better to have a dedicated everyday CF and platoon Yaz/Slater in a corner position.
- Left-handed hitters: The Giants ended up getting solid production from their right-handed hitters–so much so that Baggs is talking about Villar, who hit 35 homers between MLB and AAA this year, as possibly expendable trade bait, but other than Joc Pederson, their lefty hitters (Crawford, La Stella, Wade Jr., Belt, and Yaz) were a huge disappointment. Yaz had a good bounceback September and finished the year with 17 homers, but that was the best of the bunch, offensively. Especially if they turn the page, as discussed above, with Belt, Pederson, and Wade, there will need to be some new additions from the left side.
- Oh–and a new GM: GM Scott Harris left several weeks ago to take a promotion with the Detroit Tigers. Zaidi was asked about the GM search, and while he hedged a little bit, it sure sounded like he expects to hire someone by early November. It also, oddly enough, sounded like he welcomes the new blood or “fresh perspective” that this new GM hire could bring. This surprised me a little bit.
Other “new characters,” not from the free agent market, could come from trades or from the minor leagues. Heliot Ramos, despite having a hugely disappointing year in AAA, is still only 22 years old. We thought Bart was a bust in June, but he’s not. Ramos could figure it out. Schmitt and Harrison will start the season in AAA and be ready to contribute to the 2023 Giants if they play well. There are also relievers, like Waites and R.J. Dabovich, in AAA, plus some good ones in AA who will likely be promoted. If some combination of those guys make a meaningful contribution to next year’s team, that could be an important step forward for the Giants as an organization.
In Conclusion (because that’s how my students think you should always end an essay)
Coming off a 107-win season, the Giants’ front office thought the team just needed a few edits for 2022 (“more playing time for Darin Ruf and Steven Duggar!”). As we have discussed ad nauseum over the past six months, they were wrong about that. Some fans might think that the Giants need to be blown up. They don’t want a sequel. And let’s be real: Sometimes sequels suck. You can run with something for too long. But it sounds like some of the main characters of 2021/22 are indeed coming back, whether we agree with that or not. And it remains to be seen whether the 2023 edition just has minor tweaks or lots of new characters and an engaging storyline. Fingers crossed that the “writers” and “editors” do a good job in the production process! Lefty out.