Yesterday was defensive awards day. Brandon Crawford won his first Gold Glove. Buster Posey was named a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year for his work behind the plate. Today was Silver Slugger day. Crawford, Posey and Madison Bumgarner were named the best offensive players at their respective positions.
Just to have three players like that in the same lineup is pretty impressive, but the Giants’ ideal starting nine also includes the following players.
Hunter Pence: One of the most powerful hitters in the sport; often thought of as the team’s MVP for his athleticism, all-for-one mentality and constant kinetic push.
Joe Panik: The rightful NL Silver Slugger at second base if not for that back injury; probably would’ve given Dee Gordon competition for the Gold Glove, too.
Matt Duffy: The 30th-best position player in either league according to Baseball-Reference WAR calculations; the 21st-best position player according to Fangraphs WAR.
Brandon Belt: #BeltBash this — Baseball-Reference had him as the No. 49 position player in MLB; Fangraphs had him 34th.
One could make the argument that if Panik and Pence didn’t get hurt, the Giants had six of the top-50 position players in Major League Baseball last year. Six! Gregor Blanco had a fine year as well, as he enjoyed his best offensive numbers while his defense took a bit of a step back.
Their top six relievers (Hunter Strickland, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, George Kontos and Josh Osich) finished with ERAs under 3.00.
As for the starting staff, there was Bumgarner and, well, other than Chris Heston’s start and some solid month-long or so stretches from Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, a lot of replacement-level stuff going on. In fact, the bullpen might have performed better if they weren’t overused due to the starting rotation’s shortcomings throughout the season.
The Giants were a very, very good team with some unfortunate injuries and a very mediocre rotation in 2015. All of their starting infielders (including the catcher) are in their 20s. With a core like this (including Bumgarner, of course), it’d be almost criminal for this team to half-ass this offseason and pick up No. 4 starters.
A lot of people who read this site regularly might be surprised to see those words on the screen. I don’t have incredibly high expectations when it comes to the Giants inking a top-o’-the-line ace from outside the organization — not after seeing how this team has operated since the Barry Zito contract. Larry Baer doesn’t sound like he’s changing his stance on over-30 starting pitchers anytime soon, either.
“Could we? Yes,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said during an interview that will run on SportsTalk Live on Thursday night.
“I think the thing we always look at is there’s not a great history with that,” Baer continued. “The sample size is not huge but it’s big enough. Name me a successful signing of a pitcher 30 years old or older, five-years-plus — there aren’t a lot of them.”
The Giants don’t have a blanket policy for these types of deals. Baer said there’s nothing “written in stone” about giving an aging pitcher a nine-figure contract. But, Baer said, “we can’t ignore history.”
Baer is right. A much safer option is to groom your own stable of awesome young starters with veins full of piss and vinegar and arms made of titanium and teflon, like the Mets of this year and the Giants of the late-‘oos/early-10s. Except the Giants, who drafted pretty high for a few years due to some wretched teams (think back to the mid-2000s teams to get a little perspective on how much talent the Giants currently possess around the diamond), ended up with three ridiculously good starters in Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Bumgarner. This kind of good fortune just doesn’t happen very often, and unless Tyler Beede and Phil Bickford go into next spring looking like immediate stars instead of young minor leaguers still trying to figure out how to make it, they’re going to need to spend money to keep the rotation from being a weak spot for the third year in a row.
That’s right, third consecutive season. That’s how many years it’s been where Bumgarner was the only Giants pitcher to start 20 games and finish the year with an ERA+ over 100 (anything below 100 is worse than league average).
Complaining about anything the Giants do or don’t do makes you sound spoiled. So instead of thinking of it in terms of the Giants spending money on, say, Zack Greinke or David Price to please the fans who fill the park and buy the merchandise, think of the players. Sure, they’re handsomely paid, but Posey, Crawford, Bumgarner, Duffy, Belt, Panik, Pence, Blanco and the bullpen work extremely hard and produce an awful lot. They could be the core of the best team in baseball next year, but only if they get another starting pitcher or two who matches their level of excellence.