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What the SF Giants Will Look Like on Opening Day 2018

The San Francisco Giants will close their disappointing 2017 season in six weeks with a complex, and contradictory, set of expectations for the 2018 MLB season.

San Francisco’s ownership and front office management are more than ready, though.

They’re promoting the embarrassing “Believe in the magic—we’ll be back next year” line to their fanbase, who are understandably more than eager to make the past three seasons magically go away.

Giants? What Giants?

It’s telling where Giants franchise is right now. Not just their Major League win/loss record, but the team’s reputation and image throughout the national baseball media, where references to San Francisco baseball are rare.

And not just this season– I think it began after the team’s 2014 back-door World Series win.

Anyone who watches the MLB Network, for instance, knows that the Giants are virtually never featured or even brought up in program discussions because there’s little to analyze or deeply discuss about a throw-back franchise that is so far behind the modern curve of the game.

Giants ownership and front office management can’t publicly admit it, but they must have a sense that this franchise is in a very deep hole. To climb out of that hole they will need to make a series of very smart moves over a period of several years.

We have talked frequently here about San Francisco’s expensive and unproductive 40-man roster, and their desultory farm system which won’t soon be producing the young impact MLB players this franchise desperately needs.

And we also know a Giants rebuild isn’t just off the table, it’s not allowed in the room.

Giants President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer did not construct the massive money-making machine known as the San Francisco Giants with an “off” switch.

The Likely Plan Moving Forward

I’m guessing that CEO Baer already has his marketing team developing shiny-object strategies for 2018 and beyond to distract the faithful and promote the cringing canard that new glory is just around the next corner.

And the Giants’ devoted, but generally compliant and unquestioning, fanbase is usually more than happy to drink the front office Kool-Aid.

Given all this, there are two available lifelines for the San Francisco Giants moving forward:

  • Take a deep dive into the 2017-18 free agent pool. And then jump even higher and deeper into the wildly valuable 2018-19 free agent pool.
  • Take on high-end massive salary dumps from other teams. Think Giancarlo Stanton, Zack Greinke, etc.

But there are several major obstacles in choosing the free agent or salary dump solutions to the Giants’ pitching and run scoring problems.

Let’s Talk Contract Commitments and Money

Here’s the first part of the math.

On Opening Day 2018, the San Francisco Giants will come to the plate with about $162 million in existing player salaries. That’s approximately 90% of their 2017 payroll, which totaled $180.8 million.

The wild card here is starter Johnny Cueto who was expected to opt out of his six-year $130m contract at the end of the 2017 season. If Cueto does opt out, it will add an additional $21 million a year to the Giants potential 2018 payroll pot.

But ironically, that “extra” money won’t be nearly enough to pay for a Cueto-level replacement.

Cueto’s recent injury issues might cause him to play it safe and not exercise that opt out clause. For the purpose of this piece, let’s assume (and hope) Cueto doesn’t opt out.

The 2018 MLB luxury tax line-of-death is set at $197 million for all MLB teams. If the Giants are determined to avoid paying the 50% fine on all luxury tax overages, they are left with about $35 million a year to toss at potential free agents after October.

Understand, San Francisco can easily pay for any level of payroll, and any amount of luxury taxes, without blinking an eye (or both eyes).

As we have discussed a number of times, Forbes.com has documented that the Giants have the wealthiest ownership group in the Majors. In fact, principal owner Charles B. Johnson is the 4th richest sports team owner in America ($5.8 billion).

The Giants are also ranked as the 5th most valuable team in the Majors ($2.65 billion, $428m in revenues), just behind the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs.

The difference between the Giants and the Yankees/Dodgers/Red Sox is that those teams have been more willing than the Giants to actually spend money.

 Let’s Talk Needs and Gets

Right now the San Francisco Giants have a discouraging number of immediate needs just on the 25-man roster: specifically all three outfield spots, third base, two starting pitching spots, and at least two bullpen spots.

At the same time, they’ve seen very poor run production this season at 2nd base, 1st base, and shortstop.

The first big 2018 roadblock is the number of poor performing and declining players who will be returning to the Giants starting line-up.

Outfielders Hunter Pence and Denard Span will be making a combined $27.5m in 2018, and unless they are released or traded along with a boatload of their contract money, both players will be on the Opening Day roster.

Recent talk from the Giants front office has Span moving from center field to left field in 2018. Which is like moving the elephant in the room into another room; somehow you haven’t solved the real problem.

Subpar starters Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija will be making a combined $27m next season. Add to that the $7.5 buyout the Giants will pay Matt Cain to not pitch for them again, and that’s another $34.5m.

So the 2018 rotation begins with aces Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, then quickly drops off into the land of fourth or fifth place in the NL West.

And please, stuffing poor performing starters into an already struggling bullpen only causes a dramatic increase of elephants in various other rooms.

The three-year hole at third base will continue to be a very big problem in 2018.

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

If 31-year-old Pablo Sandoval is the starter on Opening Day 2018 I predict alcohol sales at AT&T Park will go through the roof (which actually may be one of the Giants’ new marketing plans).

But Sandoval is a shiny object fan favorite at AT&T Park, and that’s currently more important to the front office than actual performance.

The Giants can’t climb out of the hole they’re in by signing, or trading for, non-impact players. So how many premier free agents can San Francisco realistically sign to begin to plug so many holes?

The potential top three 2018 free agent pitchers available are Yu Darvish-LAD, Jake Arrieta-CHC, and Lance Lynn-STL.

Darvish will want a 6 to 7 year deal worth around $30m a year. Arrieta will be at $30m+/year and Lynn should break the $20m/year level. One of these impact pitchers alone will cost the Giants 60-90% of the $35m available before they hit the luxury tax penalty line.

Third base? Center field? Kansas City free agents 3B Mike Moustakas and CF Lorenzo Cain will fetch $18-$22 million per year and will be looking at 5-6 year deals.

So just two quality free agent signings this off-season will put the Giants into luxury tax penalty territory, where they don’t want to go again.

Does anyone really believe that signing just two high end free agents this off-season will turn this franchise around in 2018?

11 thoughts on “What the SF Giants Will Look Like on Opening Day 2018

  1. Absolutely astounding. Your last couple articles have presented a practical and complete overview of where the Giants stand today and in the not too distant future. The only thing missing ( and a hopefully a future column may include ) is something even more challenging and hard to predict: a managment change.
    If you look over SF Giants history many times winning baseball usually followed a change in ownership/management that was brought about by financial necessity. Names like Bob Lurie, Al Rosen, Peter Magowan. As a result some winning names followed in the dugout like Alvin Dark, Herman Franks, Roger Craig, Dusty Baker and more recently Bruce Bochy.
    The big problem for Giants fan today: Is just how financially insulated are CEO Larry Baer and his cohorts from either being forced or forced out by ownership to make changes within their system ? The Giants money printing press is imposing and their financial interests ( such as Mission Rock ) are also in the process of reducing the Giants to a smaller financial profit center of less importance. The result: years ahead of mediocre baseball.
    As you so deftly pointed out they are even able to some degree to control the narrative through the press and broadcasting.
    So this may go on. It may be only through the loss of attendance and revenue that will create enough pressure to prompt a new approach in management. Anyone reading your columns can see the disconnect but it all comes back to one question: How financially insulated has Giants ownership become to even care or put their interests aside to make meaningful change ?
    The first clue may be when they have to stop increasing game ticket prices each year. As ridiculous as it may sound that might be the first signal after years of dutiful jacking up the cost to its loyal fanbase.




    1. honest answer imo is the dodgers spend and dont care about their luxary tax line. plus if your a giants fan can you take 3-5 years of a rebuild or would you stop going to games? being a phillies fan ive had to watch years and years of rebuild and im hopeful this young core of players can produce.


      1. Jason–
        Good points. Although the San Francisco Giants ownership group is much wealthier than LA’s ownership, the Dodgers are more willing to spend money.

        And the current LA owners inherited a financial mess when they took over four years ago– their payroll has actually gone down the past several years.

        Team rebuilds can be ugly and when they are done correctly it takes time. And your question about how the fans might react is on point.

        As a Phillies fan I’m sure you know that you are about to be rewarded for your patience. Philadelphia and the San Diego Padres will be the next two National League teams to emerge from full multi-year rebuilds and both teams will be fun to watch and could become dominant.


  3. The erosion of talent on the Giants is to be expected post 3 World Series titles. It was inevitable & the decline was further enhanced when the Cubs managed to overcome a deficit winning the Championship series.
    Bad too long duration contracts on declining “Stars” such as Pence/Linsecum/Cain/Span/Pagan, normal age regression combined with previous rings on fingers which translates into frequent small injuries requiring long rehab times have decimated the potential for continued success which will carry forward another 2 additional seasons before its lingering effect has cleared.
    Add to this debacle is Bruce Bochy tendency to hold back younger players in favor of declining end of the road vets & you have a Farm system in which traded elsewhere is the best option.


  4. Seems like they could get Ellsbury from NYY for cheap and maybe dump span in the same move, or trade prospects for Brett Gardner from NYY who may not have space, sign a back end starter like Cahill, hope for a big bounceback. Maybe sign Kintzler, and Todd Frazier as cheap alternatives. Bum-Cueto-Shark-Cahill-Moore-Depth is a perfectly fine five if Cueto and Shark regress to the mean. I think the team should push the chips all in for the next two years, Spend Big, Sell the farm, Accept poor contracts, but give Posey-Bum another chance.


  5. I’d give Ryder Jones the first chance in left field. Christian Arroyo a chance at third base. Sign a good Center fielder like Lorenzo Cain. Let Chris Stratton get a chance to start (but sign a good triple A guy as insurance). Bullpen get Brandon Kintzler, call up Derek Law (pretty good pitcher actually).


  6. Richard – good clarity. I agree the need a more complete approach to building a baseball team – one that includes hitting. I’m trying to write a blog for the Sports Daily. I wrote one that covers all this. Could you give it a short critique? It would be greatly appreciated.
    Go Giants, Steve

    The Giants need to get Serious about Hitting 091317

    The Giants have to change their philosophy. The old philosophy of pitching and defense, started by Brian Sabean and continued by Bobby Evans, has hit a wall. It was a unique approach. It was a historically successful approach. (Would it have ever worked without Bruce Bochy?) But now, it has left this team in last place. It is ranked 25th in batting average, dead last in home runs, and dead last in OPS. In AAA they are ranked 12th out of 16 in batting average and home runs. They are ranked 14th in OPS. They have to make hitting a bigger priority throughout the organization.

    In the big leagues they have to turn to free agency. They can’t trade because they need to keep the talent they have. They could replace Belt but he has 64M left on his contract. They don’t have many prospects. In the minors they just have to start drafting for hitters – quality hitters who hit for power and average.

    In free agency they could use either a 3rd basemen or an outfielder who can hit. If they find a 3rd basemen they can put Slater in left. He is hitting 286. If they find an outfielder they can start either Pablo or Tomlinson at 3rd. If Pablo’s production falls off, Tomlinson can start. He hit 303 filling in for Joe Panik in 2015. Tomlinson is a scrappy, picking, hitting, overachiever who can start.

    JD Martinez is the top free agent at the moment. He hits for power (38 home runs) and average (296.) He’s an outfielder. Mike Moustakas of the Royals plays 3rd. He has ripped 36 runs, has a solid batting average at 275, and, most importantly, is young at 28. Jay Bruce plays outfield, and has 33 home runs (he missed a week recently.)
    It won’t be easy signing these guys. They will be as much in high demand over the off season as they were at the trading deadline. It’s a slugger’s market. The teams who Martinez, Moustakas, and Bruce play for will try like hell to re-sign them. But the players will go to the highest bidder. Where will the Giants find the money? Cain is coming off the payroll which will mean 13M. And, if they don’t re-sign Moore, that will mean another 8M. That 21M would more than make the signing of a big bat revenue neutral. They would even have money left over for raises. (Although Moore would make good insurance in case the 5th starter slumps – assuming Moore doesn’t get that job.)
    It will cost a lot but the Giants need to find a power bat in free agency. It’s high time they get serious about hitting the way every other team does. Three relatively unknown Cardinal hitters (Badder, DeJong, and Martinez) crushed 4 homers in 3 games at AT&T last August. Three of those homers were off of Bumgarner! That kind of deep supply of young sluggers is what the giants need to build up. At the big league level they need a guy who will start and hit 35 home runs. It may mean not picking up Moor’s contract. But they need to get serious about hitting. They need to improve it at every level.


  7. Richard—Loved your last two essays. Two requests:
    1. Address directly the disasterous Sabean roster shaping decisions of the last 3 seasons.Bochy can only play the cards he’s dealt and everyone knows bobby is just a sock puppet. In the business world he be held totally accountable and had a gold watch by now.
    2. Update your predictions about the 2018 staring lineup and rotation.


    1. Daniel–

      Appreciate the comments.

      Actually I think predicting the Giants’ 2018 opening day line-up would be a good exercise for all Giants fans. Kind of a way to look beyond the rolling disaster of the 2017 season.

      But I’m guessing anyone who does that will be absolutely stunned at how little the 25 man roster will change from this season to 2018.

      After Saturday’s second consecutive loss to Arizona, Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that for Giant pitchers to lower their ERAs next season, the 2018 outfield will have to be a lot better defensively. But they’ve already got Denard Span scheduled to be the starting left fielder and Hunter Pence back in right.

      Virtually all the poor performing players on the current roster will be back next year because they’re part of the Giants $165m+ in 2018 payroll commitments.


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