I get requests to “grade” the San Francisco Giants from other bloggers, sport talk radio shows and so on who want an assessment of the Giants and every other MLB team going into the 2014 season.
What "grade" do the Giants get for their 2013-14 offseason? What about Spring Training? How do they look going into the 2014 season?
There's no sugar-coating San Francisco’s 2013 performance– it was a terrible disappointment: finishing third in the NL West, 16 games out of first place and 5 games under .500.
And forget about the injuries excuse—every MLB team has injuries to key players; well-built teams have the depth to survive injuries and continue winning.
So let's bend to the pressures being put on me by America's largest media corporations and give out a couple of grades to the former World Champion Giants. Spoiler alert: there's a big surprise in San Francisco's report card.
The Giants did very little in the 2013-2014 offseason. In terms of improving the team’s most glaring weaknesses (left field run production, having only two quality starting pitchers, lack of power, second base questions, a weak bench, a questionable bullpen, and little help from the farm system) the Giants get a solid “D”.
The following comments accompany that "D" grade:
> Needs more improvement in all areas– parent company needs to get more involved.
> Doesn't play well with others (in the NL West, the rest of the National League, and Inter-league games).
San Francisco made two moves to jumpstart their third place team: they swapped veteran Barry Zito for veteran Tim Hudson, and they swapped veteran Michael Morse for veteran Andres Torres. These moves don’t come close to keeping up with what other NL West teams have done this offseason.
Add to that, Spring Training hasn't even ended and the shaky wheels of this poorly built wagon are starting to come off. Second baseman Marco Scutaro appeared to have broken down last season and he obviously hasn't come close to recovering.
Scutaro is starting the second year of a three year $20 million contact with the Giants and he's 38 years old. Oddly enough, if he's healthy and ends up not being a starter that means Scutaro would be a quality pinch hitter and utility player off the bench.
Which would begin to address one of San Francisco biggest needs: lack of quality depth on the 25 man roster.
The team's back-up candidates for second base? Tony Abreu, 29 years old, who has a lifetime .661 OPS and a lifetime .285 on base percentage. In other words, the exact opposite type of player the Oakland A's would have on their roster. Go figure.
Also apparently in line for the second base job is lifetime bench player Joaquin Arias. Also 29 years old, Arias sports a lifetime .669 OPS. But Arias has a little power and he's one of the few semi-bright spots on the Giants bench. So making him fulltime at second base only further exacerbates the team's weakness in another area.
Nick Noonan, 24, is a defensive whiz and the Giants could use an upgrade up in the middle of the infield, especially making double plays. Noonan only has 105 Major League at-bats and the offense may not be quite there yet.
Brandon Hicks, 29, is a lifetime minor leaguer in the mold of former Giant Brett Pill. The fact that Hicks and his lifetime .493 OPS were both invited to Spring Training gives you an idea of how desperate the Giants are right now for position players.
Minor league prospect Joe Panik, 23, doesn't look to be Major League ready at this point. Picked in the first round of the 2011 Amateur Draft, Panik is a former St. John's University shortstop who projects at second base because of an injury. Look for Panik to be a lead candidate for the Giants infield by 2015-16.
But let's look at another grade on the Giants report card. The category is "Marketing" and San Francisco gets a solid “A”.
This is all about placing branding above baseball. By that I mean the front office is acutely aware that the Giants' fanbase often becomes inexplicably supportive of players who, because of age, lack of talent, or chronic injuries are no longer productive.
For some reason, many of these players are so popular among fans and the local media that the Giants front office is more than happy to ignore their lack of production or talent and simply bring them back year after year.
That’s why the Giants have made so many bad deals with so many unproductive or declining players over the last four years: Andres Torres $2 million (2013); Aubrey Huff $20 million (2011-12); Ryan Vogelsong $5 million (2014); Marco Scutaro $20 million (2003-15); Freddie Sanchez $18 million (2010-12, didn't play in 2012); Tim Lincecum $35 million (2014-15). And so on.
The Giants organization fully understands that player promotion, player imaging, and player labeling resonate strongly with the fanbase. That's why what you mostly hear about Giant players is their current backstory, their nickname, their latest diet, or how the player is approaching this season so much differently than last season.
What apparently isn't necessary for the team to talk up about Giants players are things like individual statistical analysis, production projections, or age and injury factors. Which means there's little need for ownership to be concerned with making player trades or looking into potential free agent options.
The Giants get an "A" in this area because this is exactly what a smart, creative business model should do: understand its consumer base and provide that base with what it wants.
And I don't mean that sarcastically, even though I completely disagree with branding over baseball.
I am not one of those so-called purists who believe the business of baseball is the antithesis of what baseball is all about. I am a firm believer that the business of baseball is as important to the game's health and integrity as the on-field side.
Both add to the quality of Major League Baseball, the vitality of the game, and the longterm success of baseball for fans, for players and for ownership.
What the heck, make San Francisco's grade in this category an A+.