SAN DIEGO — A certain percentage of the Giants’ fan base believes a rebuild is worth stomaching.
A rather significant portion would prefer the front office do everything in its power to field a club capable of contending deep into the postseason on an annual basis.
A fan’s desires, however, do not always align with an executive’s instincts. The direction new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi took the Giants this offseason managed to frustrate diehards on both sides of the aisle.
Those feelings were only amplified after the team’s 2-0 shutout loss on Opening Day in San Diego.
The Giants did not shed any of their big contracts to clear the way for prospects to play. Nor did they land Bryce Harper or any other highly-coveted stars available through free agency or on the trade market that would have turned the team into an instant contender.
Instead, Zaidi made personnel decisions that allow him to tinker with the roster as he sees fit throughout the 2019 season. The Giants, as currently constructed, are built to provide Zaidi with the flexibility to wheel, deal, waive and claim with an eye on moving toward a more competitive future.
The Giants didn’t make a single multi-year commitment in Zaidi’s first offseason, but it wasn’t for a complete lack of effort. They pursued a mega-deal with Harper, yet didn’t appear close to signing any other free agents to a long-term contract.
“That wasn’t a line we drew in the sand,” Zaidi said on Opening Day. “We obviously did make some multi-year offers that were made public.”
Zaidi also indicated the Giants pursued a handful of players via trades that would have remained with the club for multiple seasons, but San Francisco lacks the prospect capital to acquire game-changing talents and Zaidi wasn’t keen on parting with his top relievers.
“It was a really deep reliever market in free agency this offseason and we like our relievers, so they weren’t just fodder for us to trade and acquire other pieces,” Zaidi said. “A deal like that certainly made sense on paper, but we didn’t line up on anything that made sense for us.”
The Giants haven’t executed any major deals yet, but there’s potential for Zaidi to completely reshape the roster if the club falls out of contention in the first half.
Three of the Giants’ starting pitchers – Madison Bumgarner, Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz – can become free agents at the end of the offseason and veteran left-handers are often sought-after at the trade deadline. Three relievers – Will Smith, Sam Dyson and Tony Watson – have experience pitching in high-leverage situations and could provide depth for teams destined for October.
The Giants can’t and won’t trade Buster Posey or Brandon Crawford, but Joe Panik is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and could boost his trade value if he carries over the smooth swing he showed off in spring training. It’s unlikely the Giants will find a deal for well-compensated veterans like Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Belt or Evan Longoria, but Zaidi hasn’t ruled out eating a major salary to start fresh at a given position.
Even two of the team’s minor league free agents, Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra, could be dangled as trade pieces this summer if a contender is looking for another bat off the bench.
While it’s unlikely Zaidi will completely overhaul the roster with a midsummer fire sale, he has given the Giants the flexibility to turn over personnel at a variety of positions if they aren’t receiving the production they desire. The vast majority of players with expiring contracts in San Francisco can either be traded or cut with minimal financial repercussions.
Even Connor Joe and Michael Reed, the two Opening Day corner outfielders acquired within the last week, are easily replaceable if they struggle to provide consistent production during their first extended look at the major league level. The Giants are paying both players the minimum salary and have players waiting at Triple-A like Henry Ramos, Austin Slater and Mike Gerber who will all likely find their way to the big leagues at some point this season.
The Giants may not have many players with minor league options on their opening day roster, but fans should expect the club to swap out players on the 40-man roster with regularity this season. In Zaidi’s final season as the Dodgers general manager, Los Angeles used 52 different players.
If the Giants slump during the first half, that number could be the floor in his first season as Zaidi looks for new sources of production in San Francisco.