SAN FRANCISCO — There are two sides of the Giants’ fan base at this point, and your view of Wednesday morning’s Evan Longoria trade likely depends on which path you embraced during a 98-loss season.
Should the Giants rebuild or should they reload?
It’s the question that started hanging over the franchise in May, when it became clear that the second half of 2016 was not an aberration. It lingered through an offseason that was remarkably quiet until Denard Span, Christian Arroyo and two low-level pitching prospects were shipped to Tampa Bay. The question will be asked after the next move, and Giants officials hinted Wednesday that another addition is coming soon.
Should the Giants rebuild or should they reload? Well, which version of events do you believe?
Do you believe that a championship roster simply moved past the prime years, a reality of baseball? Or do you believe that Brandon Crawford’s offensive production will bounce back after some rough breaks on and off the field, that Buster Posey’s power will resurface with better lineup protection, that Hunter Pence will be rejuvenated by a new offseason plan, and that all the others who were part of a horrifically bad offense in 2017 will put up bigger numbers a year later?
Do you believe that Johnny Cueto will stay healthy and be an ace again? That Jeff Samardzija simply needs better outfield defense? That Mark Melancon will be a frontline closer after having a minor elbow procedure to clear out an issue that hampered him in his first year in San Francisco?
Finally, do you believe that Longoria is the hitter who slugged 36 homers and posted an OPS+ of 127 in 2016, or the one who had a 100 OPS+ a year later and hit 20 homers in a season where power surged?
You can make a case either way. Longoria, Crawford, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Posey might form the best defensive infield in the game, and there are legitimate reasons to believe that Belt and Panik in particular have much more to offer at the plate. Just two years ago, Madison Bumgarner and Cueto were on Cy Young ballots, and Samardzija’s peripheral numbers were off the charts most of last season. On paper, a bullpen led by a healthy Melancon and Will Smith and a full season of Sam Dyson should be much improved.
The Giants still have moves to make — a defender in center field, another power hitter, another reliever — but Longoria certainly fills two huge holes: A power right-handed bat and an everyday player at third base. The front office believes it is bolstering a core that should be in win-now mode given the roster and Bumgarner’s looming free agency.
But the first significant move of the offseason also terrified anyone who believes in taking a step back. Arroyo is just 22 years old and showed flashes of being an impact hitter, and his departure further depletes a poor farm system. While the inclusion of Span makes the deal basically cash-neutral for 2018, the Giants are still taking on the bulk of a contract that guarantees Longoria $86 million into his mid 30s. The 2019 Giants owe about $125 million to seven players and the 2020 budget situation is about the same. The 2021 Giants already owe about $94 million to five players, all of whom will be at least 33 years old.
So, rebuild or reload?
The Giants emphatically made their choice on Wednesday.
“We’re convinced that this player is still a player of stature,” vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said, “And as we preached, we’re not the type of organization or fan base that can go through a rebuild. We need to press the reset button and that’s what we’re trying to do.”