The Giants’ front office thought it had constructed a winner.
Even after a 98-loss season, executives Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans were determined to keep a core group of players with a championship pedigree together.
They added to that core with Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson and Tony Watson and built out depth by signing minor league free agents like Dereck Rodríguez and Alen Hanson. The Giants expected to be deep enough to withstand the injuries that derailed their 2017 season.
But at the end of August, Sabean and Evans acknowledged the 2018 train carrying the Giants also ran off the tracks.
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That realization led the Giants to trade McCutchen to the New York Yankees in exchange for two prospects Friday in a move that builds momentum for the future, even as Sabean struggles to accept what’s transpired in the recent past.
“Contrary to some other general managers, our front office, we don’t necessarily relish the trade deadline and being involved in this,” Sabean said. “You’ve got people going out the door that you’re invested in and you’re never really sure of the return, etc. We all know the drill.”
The Giants softened the blow on the front office with a resounding 7-0 win in the hours following the trade. A quartet of rookies led by high school travel ball teammates Andrew Suárez and Aramis Garcia led the charge, offering the club a glimpse into what the future may look like.
But the future in baseball is never easily predicted, and a one-game sample size is hardly an indication of what’s to come.
Though the Giants have 24 games left to play this season, they won’t suddenly find answers to the big picture questions they expect to take into the offseason. Injuries ravaged this season’s roster, leaving the Giants with several regulars including Buster Posey and Steven Duggar on the disabled list for the remainder of the season.
“Most of the year, we were in a position where we either had one hand tied behind the back or two,” Sabean said. “Taking a body blow. Guys couldn’t stay on the field. There were major injuries. Lost people for the season. I’m pretty amazed with the record although the record could be better if we could just be league average with runners in scoring position and finish some games we should have finished. But that didn’t happen.”
The Giants can’t spend the final month of the season evaluating an outfield of Duggar, Chris Shaw and Austin Slater. They won’t know what their lineup looks like if Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Evan Longoria were all healthy and playing together.
Even if Chris Stratton turns in a fantastic September, can the Giants pencil him into next season’s rotation? The same question can be asked about Suárez, who has recorded back-to-back scoreless outings after a rough stretch of starts after the All-Star break.
Under the direction of Sabean and Evans, the Giants’ goal every season is to win and to develop. It’s a strategy that’s served them quite well in the past, but after finishing with 64 victories last year and posting a .500 record through their first 136 games in 2018, wins appear harder to come by and developing isn’t a process that’s completed overnight.
Shaw knocked in the go-ahead home run in Friday’s win, but he’s not in the lineup Saturday as the Giants don’t want to expose him to left-handed Mets starter Steven Matz. Instead, they’ll play 35-year-old left fielder Hunter Pence, who will be a free agent after the season.
Even if Shaw did gain four extra at-bats Saturday, the Giants know they won’t be able to make a full evaluation on him until next year. The same goes for Duggar, who was robbed of a critical chance to develop after dislocating his shoulder.
Do the Giants have enough talent in the outfield to contend in 2019? Does the club have the type of pitching depth it needs to withstand the rigors of a 162-game schedule? Are members of the core like Belt and Panik worth hanging onto, or should the franchise consider a more dramatic roster overhaul?
The Giants have a small head start on preparing for 2019, but they’re facing too many questions concerning the future of the franchise and one more month of games won’t provide satisfactory answers.