Round 1 of the San Francisco Giants’ shake-up is here, and the ace of spades has been dealt to general manager Bobby Evans.
Larry Baer had said there would be changes two weeks ago, and since most folks looked at a roster with few desirable pieces and a threadbare farm system, the obvious next choice was in civilian clothes. Since that wasn’t going to be baseball operations head Brian Sabean, Evans was the logical goat to be scaped.
So it came Monday, as the Giants came home to finish off a season that never got much traction and has slowly deteriorated since the All-Star break. Evans, ever earnest and hard-working, would be reassigned for what has been a precipitous fall since the summer of 2016.
It seems unlikely that Baer would go after either Sabean or manager Bruce Bochy next, as it is difficult to make a convincing case that they both turned into bad baseball men at the same time. Their combined work has given the Giants two decades (one decade in Bochy's case) of mostly admirable results, and whatever Baer’s skills might be, building a baseball organization from the top down would not seem to be one of them.
But Evans as the sole reason the team has gone so far off the boil is not convincing, either, which probably is one reason why he wasn’t fired outright. Sabean likely will undertake a dramatic change beneath him, or at least to bring in a new version of Evans whose skills better match a changing sport, and can buttress Sabean’s gifts.
It simply might be a case of reordering what the franchise looks for in a prospect. It might be a renewed interest in power hitters to fit in a park that typically punishes them. The questions far outnumber the answers, and even with a reconstructed starting rotation centered on Madison Bumgarner and Dereck Rodriguez, the Giants are well behind in bullpen and outfield construction, and their once-envied infield strength now is aging and league average.
In short, the shake-up that Baer advertised has started with Evans, but the best guess from here is the rest of the changes will range from the physical to the philosophical, and everything will be on the table -- save dynamiting the right field wall.
The Giants won early in the decade by working against the conventional math-driven wisdom and using old-school wisdom, but the grain has moved further away from them as time has passed. The A’s now are the prototypical late-teens operation, using power, defense and a deep bullpen to fulfill what their starting pitching cannot. They might be a surprise, but the elements are in place for them to maintain course for several years if they choose.
And what the Giants need will not come immediately. Bullpens, outfields and farm systems don’t turn on a dime. It’s been more than a decade since the organization has had to exhibit patience in reconstruction, and the fact that Sabean oversaw that reboot and included Bochy in the blueprint means it can be done again.
But their windows might be closing as well, so a five-year-plan probably won’t be mentioned. Indeed, these past three seasons have shown how quickly surprise turnarounds can be done. Oakland, Tampa Bay and Atlanta all made swift course corrections, though they chose different methods to get to where they are now.
But don’t expect the Giants to be one of those teams. There is too much to do and too little off-season in which to do it.
Evans is being taken out of the firing line, but the shake-up isn't going to stop with him. It’s just a matter of how you choose to define “shake-up."