Rebuilding Giants hope to be competitive in a top-heavy division

BY ALEX NAVARRO

With Gabe Kapler having the opportunity to manage his first full season with the Giants, what are San Francisco’s expectations in 2021 ?

The club hasn’t made the playoffs in four seasons, including Kapler’s first year managing the team. However, he squeezed the most out of the roster’s talent (29-31) in an unprecedented truncated season.

With an incredible load of talent in the farm system, Buster Posey’s possible last year with the team and a division that features two championship contenders, the Giants could exceed expectations and make another playoff push.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Buster Posey should be well rested after opting out the of 2020 season due to the Covid pandemic. The six-time All-Star is the only player remaining on the roster from the Giants three World Series championship teams

Even though there was no minor league last season, the Giants have a pipeline of young talent headlined by Joey Bart, who already has big-league experience. The rookie’s tough 2020 outing showed that he could still use more time in the minors to develop. The other exciting prospects are Helio Ramos, a 21-year-old Puerto Rican who has extraordinary power and could be called up later in the year.

Joining Bart and Ramos, 19-year-old third baseman Marco Luciano and 25-year-old starting pitcher Seth Corry were ranked in the preseason top-100 prospects.

Luciano has star written all over him. Come this time next year he will probably headline this list. One of his few downsides is inexperience, but it seems like that won’t matter much with his potential. With an ability to see the ball and his smooth bat swing, he could find himself in the majors in no time.

Posey opted to sit out last season, citing the health of his two premature daughters he adopted the previous summer. Now, the catcher who’s spent his entire 11-year career with San Francisco finds himself in a territory of uncertainty.

His contract has a club option of $22 million for the 2022 season, but Posey will be 34 by Opening Day and the Giants are looking to the youthful Bart to step up and take the mantle. Many deemed that he would be the eventual replacement for the three-time champ whenever that time comes.

Bart struggled on both his offense and his defense. After an underwhelming, brief stint in the majors, the second overall pick was sent back to Sacramento in the middle of the Giants playoff run. He will undoubtedly get better and having Posey as an every day mentor will only benefit him.

The last time San Francisco saw Posey was in 2019, when he batted .257 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in 114 games before having hip surgery. The last time he suffered a significant injury was in 2011 on a home-plate collision, coming back the following year to win the NL MVP award. He’s had a full year to rest his body and fans should expect more productivity this time around.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
With Mike Yastrzemski preparing for his first full season in the Majors, Giants fans are excited to see if he can continue to flash the power that has produced 31 home runs and 90 RBI’s in just 161 career games.

Posey’s bat will add to an offense that did well over 60 games. The Giants finished with 299 runs (8th in majors), a .263 batting average (5th) and a .451 (6th) slugging percentage. San Francisco’s primary offensive catalysts start with Mike Yastrzemski.

Yastrzemski finished with 10 home runs, 35 RBIs and a .400 OBP in 54 games. He had a career year and remained a top defender in the right field. He kept the Giants in the playoff hunt to the end, but the question is whether the third-year player replicate his numbers over 162 games. Our prediction for him is 25 home runs, 84 RBI and a .420 OBP.

Second baseman Wilmer Flores and shortstop Donovan Solano will help Yaz keep San Francisco’s offense rolling. Flores had a team-high 12 home runs and was second in RBI’s (32). Solano won a Silver Slugger award. The 33-year-old had a career-best .326 batting average and a team-high 62 hits, becoming the first Giant to win the award since Posey in 2017.

The veteran signings of starting pitchers right-hander Aaron Sanchez and left-hander Scott Kazmir are low-risk, high-reward. If these signings hit, they could contribute to a competitive team.

Both signings will support Johnny Cueto in the rotation. The 35-year-old Cueto will be the Giants’ ace. He had an ERA over five the past two seasons, but hasn’t pitched as poorly as the numbers suggest. In 2018, Cueto had Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He made his return in 2019 and the right-hander threw well.

The Giants lack depth in their starting rotation, which could be an issue this season, especially if there are injuries. Their starting rotation could look like Cueto, Logan Webb, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Aaron Sanchez. Tyler Beede, recovering from Tommy John surgery, could also make his debut at some point in the season.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
35-year-old Johnny Cueto is listed as the Giants ace in spite of only pitching 70 innings the past two seasons following Tommy John surgery during the 2018 season.

It’s a pitching staff that looks to improve its pedestrian 2020 stats—their 4.64 ERA ranked 18th in the majors, 16th in WHIP and a .241 BAA ranked 15th.

The NL West is top-heavy with two teams: The defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. In the offseason, LA re-signed key players Justin Turner and Blake Treinen while adding National League Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to a rotation already fronted by Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Kershaw has dominated the Giants with a career 1.75 ERA.

Two hours down south, San Diego has made moves of their own. They signed shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million deal which locks in the 22-year-old thru the 2035 season. The Pads also added starters Blake Snell and Yu Darvish to their rotation.

Each team had their way with San Francisco last season. The Giants’ combined record against both their rivals was 6-14. They’lll need to improve that to have a chance to sneak into position for a wildcard.

San Francisco nearly snagged a playoff berth, but losing three out of four in their series finale against the Padres crushed their playoff hopes. Even though the team had the same record as the Milwaukee Brewers, a better divisional record gave the Brewers the nod.

A transition from the early 2010’s dynasty era to a new baseball age is on the horizon as $100 million will come off the books from aging stars next season. This team has no quit in them and Kapler will continue to get the most from it. The challenges are there but don’t count out the Giants as a potential dark horse.

Our forecast sees the Giants finishing third in the division with an 83-79 record, putting up a fight for the last wild card spot before ultimately coming up just short.

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