The clock is running on the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline and inside the San Francisco Giants front office that ticking noise must sound like thunder.
And well it should.
The Giants have a rare opportunity, right now, not only to improve their 25 man roster on the off chance they grab a Wild Card spot in October, but more importantly they can begin the complex process of re-framing their 25 and 40 man rosters in preparation for the 2015 season and beyond.
From a distance, July 2014 appears like just any other non-waiver trade deadline month for San Francisco, complete with the usual tired questions: what prospects are the Giants willing to give up, which positions will they try to upgrade, and will sports-talk radio callers continue to demand the Giants bring back Brett Pill and Andres Torres?
Of course a trade deal (or two) by the July 31st deadline can’t begin to solve this team’s myriad problems. But it is the first of several critical tipping points for the future of this franchise, leading up to Opening Day 2015.
All of which assumes Giants’ management is capable of conceptualizing and executing the long-term planning for, and restructuring of, the player personnel this team desperately needs. Which will take both the “baseball” and “branding” sides of San Francisco’s front office to work with each other.
Over the past ten years, the San Francisco Giants have achieved the kind of successful product branding that companies like Pepsi and Ford dream about and hire high priced PR firms to achieve. Well deserved kudos to team President and CEO Larry Baer and his management staff for making that happen.
It’s a fan-centric model of long-term success that other baseball franchises dream about.
On the product side, San Francisco fans have bought into the Giants’ labeling– using player nicknames, bonding with player stories, filling the stands, and ignoring or rationalizing poor player performance. The garlic fries are selling and the fiscal bottom line is blooming.
So the baseball side of the franchise better have a damn good reason for messing with the product formula. And sometimes “pure” baseball reasons just aren’t good enough. Which is why the Giants signed Andres Torres in 2013, gave an under-performing Tim Lincecum a $35 million two year contract after last season, and continue to sign and celebrate a string of low-paid mediocre players like Brandon Hicks.
The number of “good business/poor baseball” choices seem to have increased over the past five years.
As a local reporter noted recently, the one thing that will never happen in San Francisco is for the Giants to go through any “rebuilding” years. The mandate for General Manager Brian Sabean is to fix the engine of this expensive car while it continues to cruise down the interstate at 80 mile per hour. There will be no stopping for repairs or maintenance because the team can never seem to be in trouble to the fan base. Ever.
So where does that leave the San Francisco Giants?
Two critical decisions, and their domino effect, will define this franchise over the next five years:
1. Extending or trading third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Nothing is a bigger deal for the Giants right now. As MLB.com columnist Tracy Ringolsby pointed out several months ago, Sandoval has been the Giants’ #1 offensive player over the past five years. With better run production numbers than Buster Posey or anyone else.
Wrapping up Sandoval in a five or six year deal will insure the long-term offensive stability San Francisco is unlikely to find any time soon on the open market or from their minor league system. If the decision is not to sign Sandoval, the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline offers the Giants the best chance to optimize him in a deal.
The big hinge here is Buster Posey.
2. The Buster Posey stratagem.
I have long been in the “let Buster be Buster” camp of keeping Buster Posey behind the plate, where he has repeatedly stated he wants to be.
But, as Homer Simpson might have put it, that doughnut has sailed.
The longer he remains behind the plate the fewer at-bats he gets, and the more the Giants have to make up for that by playing him at first base which then impacts Brandon Belt.
And the cumulative negative impact on Posey’s body is the other obvious elephant in this discussion. The time to move Buster Posey from behind the plate is now.
Here are two scenarios:
> Sign Sandoval and move him to first base where his lack of range isn’t as big a negative. Put Brandon Belt in left field for the rest of his Giants career and turn third base over to Posey. With rookie Joe Panik looking to take over at second base, and Triple A Fresno catching prospect Andrew Susac continuing to excel, the Giants infield could become an offensive powerhouse.
> Trade Pablo Sandoval to add some quality minor league positional prospects, leave Belt at first base and move Posey to third base. Again, whether it’s for the Giants or someone else, Andrew Susac will be catching in the big leagues sooner than later
The Pablo Sandoval situation means these long range planning decisions can’t wait.
The branding side of the Giants front office would no doubt like to play the rest of the 2014 season without the team making any big moves that might upset the fan base and cause garlic fry sales to fall. They espouse the tired and inaccurate philosophy that “anything can happen if we make the play-offs”.
Here’s what almost always happens to badly constructed MLB teams who accidentally make the playoffs: they lose.
The baseball side of the Giants front office needs to step up and start making the kind of on-field decisions that allows this celebrated and successful franchise to continue to excel.