Giants will need to catch up in game that has 'changed and evolved'

Giants will need to catch up in game that has 'changed and evolved'

SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, the Giants have talked about how everything done by the front office is a collaborative effort. They shared in the credit and the blame, and when the team lost 98 games last season, Larry Baer, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy sat side-by-side two days after the final game and tried to explain what happened. 

Eventually an axe had to fall, though, and on Monday afternoon, it was Evans, the general manager, who was let go first. In the aftermath, Baer, the president and CEO, said ownership and Sabean will look for a “next-gen” person to lead the franchise. 

So, what exactly does “next-gen” mean in this case? 

“The game has changed and evolved a lot,” Baer said. “We’ve had a lot of consistency here, which I think has served us really well, and a lot of stability, but nothing goes forever. We have to have somebody that’s going to present the blueprint for the next five to 10 years of Giants baseball. It’s time to have a fresh look at that.

“We’ve had a tremendous cycle here starting in 2010, 2009, really. But you always have to re-pot. Next-gen is finding someone who can put a great blueprint on this franchise given the ballpark and given the amazing fan base.”

If the Giants are to be successful, next-gen will mean finding someone who can catch up to the current generation of baseball executives. The outgoing regime won three World Series titles, but since the last one, the game has shifted. The Giants have fallen behind. Offenses now are built around homers, and this team won’t have a single player even hit 20 of them. While Sabean again mentioned the ballpark Monday, there’s no good explanation for how this same lineup can’t display power on the road. 

The Giants made a next-gen type of hire when they brought Alonzo Powell in as hitting coach after a stint with the slugging Astros, but the new head of baseball operations will need to find players Powell can mold. This current roster will finish last or second-to-last in the NL in homers. The first questions for any prospective hire should be about building a lineup that can handle AT&T Park, and perhaps the next set should be about doing so in part with international players. 

Even after opening a new academy in the Dominican Republic, the Giants still are woefully behind. When was the last time they developed their own international star? Well, it’s been a while since Pablo Sandoval’s debut. 

For as much as the Giants have done in recent years to address their gaps in analytics, they still are behind others, too. All you need to do to figure that out is walk past the old visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. It has been turned into an office holding the analytics people working for a team that is about to win a sixth consecutive NL West title.

The Giants are aware of the gaps, and they believe their farm system will be in much better shape under David Bell. But they haven't done enough. The develop-while-contending model broke down at some point, and it has led to a purge. 

Baer said an increased emphasis on analytics and international signings is part of what he means by next-gen, but he said there still will be a blend. 

“If you look at the really successful franchises, I wouldn’t say they’re all analytics and they’re not all scouting-based,” he said. “You need to have good people in both areas and a leader who will come in and appreciate both and lead the organization into the future.”

The search for that leader became public Monday, and there’s a lot at stake. The next-gen hire will shape the next decade of this franchise, and while it will be a sought-after job, it’s one that also comes with plenty of work to do.

The Giants have fallen behind. It’s been clear for two years, and on Monday, it was acknowledged. 

Giants veterans would be greatly impacted by MLB's proposal to players

Giants veterans would be greatly impacted by MLB's proposal to players

This is a short week for most workers in the United States, but for the two sides trying to get baseball back on the field, these could be their longest days of the year. 

Major League Baseball and the Players Association are trying to come to an agreement on a deal that could put players back on the field in July, but Tuesday's developments weren't positive. According to multiple reports, the proposal that MLB made Tuesday included a significant cut for the highest-paid players. The two sides already had agreed to a deal that prorates salaries, although MLB maintains that the financial situation has changed since it has become clear fans won't be allowed into games, significantly limiting revenue. 

The proposal was met with immediate backlash, with just about every national reporter tweeting that the union was disappointed and discouraged. It's easy to see why. Such a deal would have a huge impact on some of the game's biggest stars, including members of the Giants organization. 

Having missed out on Bryce Harper, the Giants don't have anyone in those highest price ranges. But they do have six players on contracts that were supposed to pay them at least $10 million this year -- including Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto above $20 million -- and 14 who would have made more than $1 million.

Most of their veterans would be taking a big cut. Jeff Samardzija, for instance, was supposed to make just under $20 million in the final year of his five-year contract. Per that proposal, he would instead play this season for just about $5 million. Cueto, who signed a few days after Samardzija, was due $21 million this year; the proposal cuts that to a little more than $5 million.  

MLB's proposal would benefit players making closer to the minimum of $563,500, just about making them whole on a prorated basis, and it does a sneaky job of potentially pitting different factions of the union against one another. But for a team like the Giants, just about everyone would be harshly impacted. There are players like Mike Yastrzemski, Mauricio Dubon and Logan Webb still breaking in, but the majority of the set roster has already gotten into arbitration years or signed lucrative free agent contracts. 

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What's the next step? Well, it doesn't sound like MLB is ready to back down at all:

Everyone knew this would be a nasty negotiation, and Tuesday's developments provided a reminder of just how much ground there still is to cover before players can start booking those flights to Spring Training 2.0. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Why Giants will have to make even faster evaluations if MLB returns

Why Giants will have to make even faster evaluations if MLB returns

One thing fans learned right away in Farhan Zaidi's first season in charge is that the new-look front office is remarkably fast when it comes to altering the roster. The Giants could move even faster in 2020, though. 

If the season returns in July as hoped, the Giants expect to play 82 games, meaning the long six-month grind is now a bit of a sprint to the finish line. That will have a big impact on roster moves, and during his last appearance on KNBR, manager Gabe Kapler said the staff is already discussing how to handle this, knowing they don't have nearly as much time to evaluate players. 

"We don't necessarily have 82 games to evaluate that and then have another 82 to put the best defense out there," he said. "We actually have to make decisions sooner, we have to evaluate better in this modified camp that we have coming up. So the 82-game schedule absolutely makes us think about the roster construction differently and also about game strategy differently, for sure."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kapler mentioned that one discussion going on right now is about center field and right, and which players will be the best options. Even though it might have seemed like Gerardo Parra got a quick hook last year, he did actually play 30 games before being designated for assignment. Yangervis Solarte, another veteran, lasted until May 7.

The Giants seemed set to take a long look at Billy Hamilton this year and potentially break with Darin Ruf in the mix, but if they're looking to stay in the NL West race over half a season, perhaps they'll lean more towards sticking Mike Yastrzemski or Mauricio Dubon in center every day, guaranteeing more consistency for the lineup. 

Dubon is also part of the flip side of this. The front office hoped to give some younger players a few hundred at-bats to sink or swim, but that's not really possible with 82 games. If Dubon struggles early on to stick in his new utility role, that experiment might be halted until 2021. Jaylin Davis might have started the season in Triple-A, but the Giants now won't have that option, and they could run Davis out there every day in right field. But they certainly wouldn't have as many at-bats to play with if Davis gets off to a slow start. 

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The rotation will be impacted, too. Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly have been viewed as potential 2020 versions of Drew Pomeranz, but Pomeranz struggled quite a bit before he was moved to the bullpen, where he became a good trade chip. That first relief appearance, though, didn't come until the Giants had played 101 games. There won't be nearly as much time to evaluate the pitchers who came in on one-year contracts. 

There are going to be a lot of wrinkles to an 82-game season, and this is an added one. The Giants made quick evaluations last season compared to what fans have gotten used to, but they're still going to need to pick up the pace if the game returns.