DENVER — When Nolan Arenado’s game-winner cleared the wall Sunday, the third baseman had his 21st homer in 80 career games against the Giants. He also has 32 doubles and 75 RBI, but there’s another Arenado-related number that might be even scarier.
The dude who has been terrorizing the Giants for the last five seasons just turned 26 years old.
Arenado is younger than every current Giants starter except for Austin Slater, the left fielder who has been in the big leagues for all of two weeks, and it’s a trend up and down the Rockies' roster.
Kyle Freeland (24), Jeff Hoffman (24) and Antonio Sentazela (22), three pitchers who have helped the Rockies get into first place — and sweep the Giants over the weekend — are all younger than the rookie starter on the other side, 26-year-old Ty Blach. German Marquez is in the Rockies’ rotation at the age of 22. Their injured ace, Jon Gray, is just 25 years old. DJ LeMahieu (28), Trevor Story (24), Pat Valaika (24) and Raimel Tapia (23) all did damage in Colorado's first four-game sweep over the Giants. Both of the team's catchers are under the age of 27.
The series dropped the Giants an astounding 19 1/2 games out of first place in the division. It’s their biggest first-half deficit since 1985, and it has made the situation crystal clear: The front office needs to move on to the next step, and as they do so, they can no longer just keep an eye on the Dodgers. The Giants have three of the National League’s best teams in their division, and while the Diamondbacks still could pivot and sell veteran pieces at some point in the next year or two, the Dodgers and Rockies look poised to field contenders for years to come. Both have farm systems that were generally ranked in the top 10 before the season.
“They’ve got all the tools,” Mark Melancon said Sunday, after taking the blown save and loss. “Speed, power, average — all the way through the lineup. You’ve got to tip your hat.”
If you’re Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans, you have to wonder when the same can next be said about your Giants. Speed? The only notable burner in the lineup, Eduardo Nuñez, turned 30 during the series and is a free agent after the season. Power? The Giants are last in the majors in homers, and it isn’t close. Average? They’re 27th there, and they rank 28th in on-base percentage.
All those numbers add up to the same reality. It’s time to revamp the lineup, and there were rumblings in Denver that some around-the-edges moves could be made soon. Ryder Jones, a 23-year-old having a good year in the Pacific Coast League, is said to be the closest to a call-up. Bruce Bochy has been eyeing Jones for a while, and given what Slater has provided in left, it’s about time to see what Jones — who plays outfield, first and third — can do with his next challenge. Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean infielder, has an opt-out on July 1. Shouldn’t he get a look as a potential bench bat?
Christian Arroyo will have an MRI on his sore hand on Monday, so he’s not currently in the picture, but Arroyo will be back at some point and other young players like Joan Gregorio (25), Kyle Crick (24) and Tyler Beede (24) figure to be in line for second-half auditions. Chris Shaw (23) has had a slow adjustment to Triple-A, but he could hit his way into a September call-up. The front office also needs to figure out what Jarrett Parker (28) and Mac Williamson (26) can provide moving forward, because left field is now the least of the concerns in the outfield.
The Giants were a step behind seemingly every fly ball and line drive over the four-game series, and they talked often of bad luck. Another way of looking at being a “step behind” is that you've lost a step or three. This is a team that regularly starts five players in their 30s -- including 34- and 33-year-old outfielders -- with a matching bench.
The Giants won’t be able to compete in 2018 with this kind of outfield play, and the easiest way to find a fix would be to sell a big piece or two for young outfield prospects. In that respect, the organization has given no hint that a decision to sell has been made.
Sources say a “we’re open for business” meeting has not been had, noting that the draft was the main emphasis in recent weeks. Johnny Cueto, the most talked-about player in trade circles, has not been approached and asked about his future plans. Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco, and those familiar with his thinking say he’s in no rush to immediately head back to the American League and he doesn’t have an issue with the clubhouse. His biggest concerns have always been about winning and losing. No matter how Cueto feels, there will be pressure to opt-out and seek a bigger deal, and the Giants need to figure out exactly where all this stands.
They have other potential chips in Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, who despite a poor start is young and still oozing with talent. Trading Nuñez should be an easy decision; he can help any contender with his versatility and speed. Brandon Belt’s name will come up as it always does, and perhaps there’s a contender that sees bench value in the likes of Aaron Hill, Conor Gillaspie or Nick Hundley. While many fans will scream for a complete teardown, the truth is that most of the oft-mentioned names are untradable because of performance, contracts, or age.
The July 31 deadline is fast approaching, but the Giants have been in the same situation for weeks. The series at Coors Field was never going to change the math, but it did end up being instructive. The Rockies are younger, deeper, and more talented than the Giants, and they’re only going to get better. As the deadline gets closer, it’s up to the front office to figure out some way to try and keep up.