The core identity of some MLB teams is fluid– certain franchises are adept at quickly and creatively reinventing themselves when needed.
Think Atlanta Braves, who from 1991 to 2001 were known for the dominant pitching that put them in the post season 10 out of those 11 years. Now it’s the Braves’ powerful offense getting them into the playoffs three of the last five years.
In recent seasons the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, and Minnesota Twins have been convenient doormats for better teams looking to easily pad their win columns.
“Doormat” is not a franchise identity that generally pleases the fanbase.
But the Astros, Cubs, Mets, and Twins will soon shed their “loser” identity over the next several years as the amazing wealth of outstanding minor league talent these teams possess starts to work their way up the big league ladder.
On the other hand, a team’s identity can stick around so long it starts to smell and becomes a tired cliche.
The San Francisco Giants’ ubiquitous “good pitching with just enough offense” formula has been around so long even Icelandic children can recite it. Finally, hopefully, after five plus years that tired profile may actually be changing.
To be clear, the 2014 Giants will not be an offensive powerhouse. But the pitching-centric paradigm devised by General Manager Brian Sabean fifteen years ago, and rubber stamped by Giants’ ownership, appears to be fading.
Here’s something to tell your grandchildren: offensively solid Major League Baseball teams are no longer made up of three guys who can hit followed by two guys who are old but still might hit, followed by a poor-hitting shortstop, then a minor league player who doesn’t belong in the big leagues, and one more veteran infielder who, now that I think of it, never really did hit very well either.
Yet this formula, plus some very good pitching, has been the blueprint for every San Francisco Giants team the past six years. Having said that, give San Francisco’s front office and ownership group their due: two World Series Championships over that time does get our attention.
The problem confronting the Giants is that their template of slapping together teams, year by year, is not the blueprint of a top organization. It’s not what big market, high revenue, historically revered Major League franchises do.
What professional MLB teams do is build an internal business model that displays excellence– from their farm system to their twenty-five man roster each year, every year.
What professional MLB teams don’t do is sign cheap veteran players and have a bunch of other guys that require media “back stories” in order to engage the fans.
In 2009 the Giant scored 657 runs (26th in MLB); in 2010, 697 runs (17th); in 2011, 570 runs (29th); in 2012, 718 runs (12th); in 2013, 629 runs (21st). The top ten teams in baseball averaged 757 runs scored in 2013.
The Giants are in a spooky transitional period. The high end starting pitching they had in 2010 and 2012 has faded away. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain are the team’s only quality starters, and the bullpen looks like a middle of the pack group in 2014.
The big news is that the 2014 San Francisco Giants have more potential offense than any Giants team since the Barry Bonds-Jeff Kent era over ten years ago.
The 2013 extension of Buster Posey, the 2014 extension of Hunter Pence, the hoped for signings of Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval, and the upgrade in left field of Michael Morse indicate the Giants front office is finally taking offense seriously.
But like much of what this old school, stuck-in-the-1990s franchise does, the Giants’ move to finally address their lack of offensive is slow and tentative. And there are difficult decisions to be made.
As much as the fans have been taught to love shortstop Brandon Crawford, it looks more and more like he will not magically become a run-producer.
In this era of superglove shortstops who can also hit (Jean Segura of the Brewers, Troy Tulowitski of the Rockies, Ian Desmond of the Nationals, Starlin Castro of the Cubs, Jed Lowrie of the A’s, J. J. Hardy of Baltimore, Hanley Ramirez of the Dodgers, Andrelton Simmons of the Braves, Xander Bogaerts of Boston, Jose Reyes of Toronto) Crawford doesn’t make anyone’s top fifteen list.
At some point in the near future San Francisco will have to replace Brandon Crawford. The team faces the same issue at second base, and in the next year will have to also deal with the center field and left field problems. That’s a lot of offense to create, but we know the Giants have the resources to get it done.
In the meantime, the San Francisco has had a good 3-1 start to the 2014 season with several exciting come from behind victories. Not only are the Giants averaging a crisp 5.75 runs per game, the offense scored 12 of their 23 runs in the last three innings.
That’s what a quality offense can do.