Whenever a large, extremely valuable piece of property runs full speed into a huge iceberg the first reaction of those in charge is to try and make things look better.
In the case of the early season stumblings of the San Francisco Giants, a quick look around the old ship shows the best the front office can do is maybe move the salad forks to the right side of the dinner plates and perhaps fluff the napkins up a bit.
Because the 2014 Giants are a team built not to last.
They came into Spring Training with zero wiggle room to replace anyone on the 25 man roster. A roster that included two overpaid starters past their prime, a number of offensive players that needed to equal their best career year to contribute, a ragged defense allergic to turning the double play, and a random group of non-contributing bench players.
The Giants began the season with a 5-1 false start, as they say in the NFL, and quickly followed that up with a 6-9 run. Understand, I still see them improving from last season’s 71-86 finish (16 games out of first place), and the third week of April is way too early to start shoveling dirt on top of the 2012 World Series champs.
What’s annoying is the organization’s continual excited celebration of mediocrity, which many Giants fans eat up like pie.
More and more after a Giant loss you hear the team’s various post game analysts and sport talk callers blaming the umpire strike zones, the away ballpark, the turf, the weather, bad calls– anything but the team’s actual performance.
Of course left out in these mindless rants is the fact that the other team faced the same conditions. And won the game.
Better sit down for some breaking news: the worst is yet to come for the Giants in 2014. They will have to play way above themselves to finish anywhere near 85-90 wins this season.
What we’re seeing unfold are the results of a thin, one-dimensional franchise unable to help itself at the Major and Minor League levels. And San Francisco’s 25 man roster has yet to see the normal number of player injuries every team experiences each season.
At this point even if San Francisco finally decided to open the bank, the run-producing hitters and starting pitchers the Giants need to in order to win are hard to come by in mid-July.
Playing the cards we’ve been dealt, let’s wish for two things.
First, that the Giants don’t repeat the costly mistake they made last season when Ryan Vogelsong went on the DL. At the time, Vogelsong was in the middle of his current two and a half year slide, at 2-4, with a 1.73 WHIP and a 7.19 ERA.
The front office made the disastrous decision to pull the excellent Chad Gaudin out of the bullpen to replace Vogelsong (while the Dodgers and Boston were replacing their injured starters with quality trades). The bullpen suffered and Gaudin, not built to regularly start, lasted until mid-August before he went out with an elbow injury.
Once again Ryan Vogelsong (0-1, 1.96 WHIP, 7.71 ERA) is the problem. And once again the Giants might be tempted to fill his spot in the rotation with the long guy in the bullpen, this time Yusmeiro Petit.
The difference is, in 2013 Gaudin was doing an excellent job anchoring the bullpen; Petit doesn’t have half of Gaudin’s ability and will only add to the mediocrity of 2014. Either make a trade for an established starter or bring someone up from the minors.
Which brings me to my second wish: that the Giants loosen their 1950s bow tie and bring up several of the few talented young players in their farm system: reliever Heath Hembree, starter Edwin Escobar, second baseman Joe Panik or third baseman Chris Dominguez.
Analytical and smartly managed MLB franchises have disproved the tired old cliche that it’s better for talented young ballplayers to play everyday at the Triple A level than being on the bench in the big leagues.
Research by Bill James and Baseball Prospectus shows the long revered traditional “prime” years for a player, ages 28-32, is historically incorrect. In general players peak at age 27, 28 years old and begin to decline at about 30. The actual “prime” years for the average MLB player are ages 25 to 29.
So organizations that keep their talented young players in the minors too long are wasting run and pitching production at the minor league level. There’s a lot about a team that can be learned from the quality of their Major League bench, and we’ve already seen this season how often bench players get into games on a thinly built team like the Giants.
For San Francisco, there’s nothing to lose and the future to gain.