For a lot of folks and a lot of reasons, 2017 was a lousy year. For the Giants, it was so uncharacteristically terrible, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy are giving last season the cold shoulder, holding firm to the belief that, crazy weather patterns notwithstanding, lightning will not strike twice.
The Giants will not lose 98 games. Madison Bumgarner will not fall off his dirt bike. Brandon Belt will duck away from the pitch next time. Right?
Even after failing to acquire the coveted Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, the organization is conceding nothing. Rebuilding is a brutal process. Perhaps because they are all a little spoiled, the Giants are in no mood to travel down that path, hence, Monday’s acquisition of five-time All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen from the Pittsburgh Pirates to augment the recent addition of third baseman Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays.
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But this approach is not without risk. It requires a heavy reliance on good karma, frequent visits by the tooth fairy, the lessons from those not-too-distant World Series blueprints and the ability of the two respected veterans to turn off the clock, at least for the foreseeable future.
“As I look on our roster and see McCutchen’s name there, I have to continue to do a double-take,” said Evans, the general manager, during a teleconference call Tuesday with reporters. “This was a long time coming in our minds.”
Sabean called McCutchen the “apple of our eye.” Bochy sounded downright giddy.
The Giants, who parted with reliever Kyle Crick and outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds, along with $500,000 in international bonus slot money, answered the first obvious question: McCutchen will play right, with Hunter Pence moving to left. The search continues for a center fielder, with luxury tax considerations a potential detriment.
McCutchen, a Gold Glove center fielder earlier in his career, shifted to right field a year ago to accommodate Starling Marte, only to return to center during Marte’s 80-game drug suspension. No problem, though. The newest Giant sees similarities between right field in AT&T Park and center fields everywhere.
“That’s one place people can’t pick on me, saying my defensive metrics are so bad,” said McCutchen, 31, flashing a sense of humor. “There is a lot of room out there to run. They call it Triples Alley for a reason. For me, it’s another center field. I’m just moving over a little bit, still going to be running a lot. And if it saves my legs a little bit, I can steal more bases.”
Bochy said Pence embraced the change in similar and typical Pence fashion, which is to say, without any reservations. He also indicated that the Giants’ best option in center (and leadoff) might be to experiment with a young Steven Duggar, while giving another look at veteran Gorkys Hernandez.
Stay tuned on that one. At least for now, the longtime Giants manager, who endured his own health issues last season and will arrive at spring training with several new coaches on his staff, is delighted by the latest developments.
“Look at the numbers they put up and their durability,” Bochy said. “Between he (McCutchen) and Longoria, they are out there a lot, run producers, guys you want up there when you need a big hit or the game is on the line. We had a hard time putting runs on the board last year. With Cutch, he scores runs, gives us that added element of speed, can steal a base, go from first to third.”
McCutchen, who had a bounce-back season after an injury-plagued 2016, hit 28 home runs and batted .279. Beloved in Pittsburgh for his uplifting presence and joy for the game, he joins a lineup in desperate need of a boost offensively and defensively, and perhaps emotionally as well. The Giants not only lost 98 games, they finished last in the majors in runs, home runs and OPS, and 26th in defensive runs saved.
But the outfield was far from the only culprit. Belt was en route to a career high in home runs when he was hit by a pitch and lost for the season with concussion symptoms. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval was welcomed back and given the opportunity to reclaim his old job, only to be a liability in the field and at the plate. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, admittedly shaken by his sister-in-law’s shocking death from asthma, earned his third consecutive Gold Glove award, but saw most of his offensive numbers decline.
So about that tooth fairy and good karma. Some of what ailed the Giants in 2017 was just plain bizarre. Bumgarner fell of his dirt bike, injured his shoulder and missed three months. Other than Jeff Kent, what Giant is such a klutz? Matt Cain went 3-11 on the road to retirement. Johnny Cueto had an off-year. Ty Blach had a poor second half. Jeff Samardzija ate up innings, but not always effectively. Matt Moore struggled and was subsequently traded.
Collectively, the rotation’s ERA jumped to 4.58, with Bumgarner (3.32) the only regular to finish below 4.40.
The bullpen is fraught with uncertainty, with Mark Melancon (forearm) and Will Smith (elbow) both coming off season-ending surgery. Unless a young Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum or Tim Hudson drops from the clouds, these Giants in no way resemble the Giants who grabbed three rings with tremendous pitching and defense, a blend of youth and veterans, and gritty, opportunistic offense.
Yet on this particular Tuesday, Sabean was looking at the glass as half-full and enjoying the moment.
“Short of what else we are able to do,” the executive vice-president said, “this is a feel-good story.”