The Giants tried hard last offseason to pry Bryce Harper away from the Washington Nationals. Both teams ultimately watched as Harper chose a record deal from the Philadelphia Phillies, with the Giants continuing their rebuild and the Nationals then ... winning the World Series without him.
It was a stunning run, and not just because it came without Harper. Even with him in the lineup, the Nationals had one of the saddest postseason résumés in recent history, repeatedly taking loaded rosters into October and losing in the first round.
The Giants contributed to that in 2014, but Friday they would have hosted a team that found a way to finally win a championship. The Nationals were scheduled to be at Oracle Park this weekend, and NBC Sports Bay Area will air an MLB The Show 20 simulation of the first game on Friday night at 7 p.m.
The Nationals now represent what the Giants hope to once again become, so let's look at their roster from last season and figure out which parts the Giants can replicate in their own rebuild.
Veterans Aren't Bad!
The Giants have actually embraced this, partly because they have to financially. Farhan Zaidi inherited an older roster overflowing with big contracts, but he has chosen to keep those players around to keep the team somewhat competitive and mentor the next generation.
The Nationals were a reminder that it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick a couple who can still be here with Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, Marco Luciano, etc. even after their contracts expire in a year or two.
Howie Kendrick, 36, provided 2.5 WAR as a part-time infielder and hit a massive go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the World Series. Ryan Zimmerman, a beloved figure in D.C., played just 52 games in his 15th season with the franchise, but he provided moderate production during the season and hit homers in the NLDS and World Series.
Asdrubal Cabrera, 33, went 6-for-21 in the World Series. Brian Dozier, Matt Adams and Adam Eaton were on the wrong side of 30 and combined for 55 homers. Kurt Suzuki, Yan Gomes and Gerardo Parra contributed on the field and in the clubhouse.
What would this look like for the Giants in two or three years? Perhaps Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are still around, just in lesser roles and with more positional versatility. Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt look like reasonable bets to keep producing into their mid-30s, and the Giants are light on corner infield prospects. Maybe Pablo Sandoval is still pinch-hitting and teaching younger Giants how to enjoy the big leagues, or a Kevin Pillar type is once again brought in.
The point is, don't be so fast to try and turn the whole roster over. At some point the lineup will be filled with prospects and younger players, but the Giants will still need veterans in the mix.
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The Nationals got 34 homers, a .949 OPS and a magical postseason (5 homers, 14 RBI, plenty of hilarious stare downs with pitchers) from Juan Soto, who didn't turn 21 until the World Series. There's no way to duplicate that. Soto is one of the best young hitters the game has ever seen, and he allowed the Nationals to draw a line with Harper.
The Giants do have one of the fastest-rising farm systems in the game in large part because of international signees who are showing flashes of stardom in their teens. Marco Luciano is the biggest name, and the 18-year-old shortstop has at least a shot to follow most of Soto's trajectory. Alexander Canario hit 16 homers in 59 games at two levels of the minors last season, and he doesn't turn 20 until next month. Luis Toribio and Luis Matos are both teenagers who have already hit for power since coming to the United States.
It'll be hard for any of them to come close to matching Soto, because that's just how good he is. But if a couple of them jump on the fast track, the path back to a parade gets a lot smoother.
This is where it gets difficult. The Nationals followed the same blueprint as the early-2010s Giants, riding a deep and dominant starting staff through October. Just as Bruce Bochy did so successfully, Dave Martinez turned to his starters to soak up bullpen innings, too.
The Giants will not be able to form a Max Scherzer-Stephen Strasburg-Patrick Corbin trio anytime soon. Those are three legitimate aces, and they'll be happy if they get one out of the current group of Logan Webb, Seth Corry, Sean Hjelle, Tyler Beede etc.
It's rare that a team has this kind of frontline depth, and the Giants won't be able to duplicate it. But they can still learn a lesson here. The Nationals took Strasburg first overall in 2009 but Scherzer and Corbin signed as high-end free agents.
Under Zaidi, the Giants rightfully haven't given out a multi-year deal to a starting pitcher, and they got burned the last time they splashed cash in that end of the market. But whenever they get close to contention, they should go out and add an ace. That's needed in October, and the Giants will have plenty of money to spend on veteran pitching if their young hitters pan out.
Look, a lot has to go right to even sniff a World Series title, and we haven't even hit on Anthony Rendon (a first-round pick who turned into an MVP candidate) or Trea Turner (a trade acquisition who churns out 3-WAR seasons). It will take years to know if the Giants have succeeded in any of the previous areas, but you can already see how things are taking shape for one group of the roster.
The Nationals have had relief issues for years, but they closed opponents out with Daniel Hudson, who had four saves in October and recorded the final three outs of 2019. Hudson, who got released by the Los Angeles Angels in spring training, came over from the Toronto Blue Jays in a minor deal.
Sean Doolittle was the best reliever the Nationals had in October and they once paid a heavy price for him, but overall, this was a team that didn't put a lot of resources into the bullpen. It wasn't a very good group, and the Giants should aim much higher, but they should also remember the lesson we learn often: You can find good relievers in creative ways. Ironically, they did it in a trade with the Nationals, getting Trevor Gott for cash considerations.
The Giants know all of this, of course. The Core Four was not put together through spending in free agency, and with the exception of a regrettable decision in 2016, they haven't gone big on relievers in recent years. It's not necessary in October, something they hope to show again sometime soon.