Many of the Giants don’t like to look back. They prefer to stay in the present.
That mindset starts from the top with Gabe Kapler. When he’s typically asked about a previous pitfall or decision, or even a record accomplished, he’ll often go to the well with a patented phrase “I think it’s appropriate to reflect on that.” He will, then he’ll move on.
Even after San Francisco’s heart-wrenching 2-1 loss to the archrival Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS, there was still an opportunity, even if just for a brief moment, to reflect. It was almost like he let it slip.
“I’m not saying we’re turning the page to next year,” Kapler said, already tiring of relitigating things like check-swings. “I think that’s not true, but what I’ll say is we’re excited about building on this foundation.”
The key word: foundation. Key structural pieces of Kapler, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris are there, propping everything up. The players in the Giants clubhouse won’t be the same next year. There’s uncertainty up and down the roster heading into the offseason. But after four losing seasons, the Giants organization has proven it has the savvy and established the culture to cultivate sustained success.
“I just respect the hell out of a team-first mentality,” Kapler said after the Game 5 loss. “I’ve never seen it like this. This is the best I’ve ever seen. So if there’s a message, it’s continue with that and we’re going to build on this season and be better because we have that foundation in place, that foundation of trust and unselfishness.”
SF’s front office inherited the nucleus of the Even Year teams, but supplemented it by finding market inefficiencies. SF traded Shaun Anderson for LaMone Wade Jr.. A prospect who might never make the big leagues for Mike Yastrzemski. They exchanged no-names for key pieces like Donovan Solano and Alex Dickerson. One day, out-of-town GMs will learn to just hang up the phone on Zaidi.
In free agency, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood signed small, mutually beneficial “bet on myself” contracts. Both they and the Giants hit the lottery.
And in the mother of all market inefficiencies, the Giants signed Darin Ruf — one of SF’s best hitters — to a minor league deal after he spent three years in Korea.
“I think (Zaidi) sees value in different people and different areas that other people might not look at or think about,” Wood said. “Really, what he does is, it’s gambling, right? Like, they’re identifying what he thinks could be higher ceiling choices, like steady guys, whatever it may be, and he goes out and he bets on them, you know what I’m saying? I think that’s a huge reason why we, our team, is at the point we’re at this year.”
That’s essentially how the 107-win, record-breaking Giants were assembled. SF’s front office has its work cut out for it again, though.
First on the Giants’ offseason agenda is franchise cornerstone Buster Posey. That’s also an item out of their hands.
Posey has a player option for $22 million next year. The 34-year-old told reporters in the dugout he hasn’t made a decision on his future yet, but he’s looking forward to being a full-time dad of four kids for the first time this offseason. Posey grinded through a grueling season with playoff-intensity from September-on, but the load management plan he stuck to is a blueprint that could allow him to continue to thrive.
If Posey is item No. 1, then Kris Bryant is 1.B. The trade deadline acquisition likes the city of San Francisco and his win-first mentality meshes well in SF’s clubhouse. His willingness to play anywhere on the diamond and hit anywhere in the lineup fits the Giants’ core tenant of unselfishness. He’s expressed interest in returning, but anything is possible.
Despite an ice-cold September, he reminded everyone why he’s worth big money in the NLDS, when he was San Francisco’s best position player, hitting .471 with a 1.147 OPS in five postseason games. The Giants had 16th highest payroll in 2021 at about $136 million and have committed just $104 million to 2022. That could change if Bryant and the Giants renew their vows.
Brandon Belt is also hitting free agency. The lack of his power showed in the NLDS, when SF hit .182 as a team. The market for his services will certainly be robust, especially if the universal designated-hitter rule is installed.
There’s even more question marks in the pitching staff. Everyone not named Logan Webb is hitting the open market. But Webb — and the closer of the future — isn’t a bad place to start.
“He proved he’s a guy you can build a staff around,” Posey said of Webb. “He enjoys being the guy in a big situation. Ultimately those are the guys that you can bring four other starters together and really elevate their games as well.”
Wood is a particular case in which the organizational structure directly led to wins. San Francisco empowered Wood in a way Los Angeles wouldn’t by entrusting him with a full-time starter role. He earned it, going 10-4 with a 3.83 ERA and out-dueling Max Scherzer in Game 3.
The real tangible key to sustained success in MLB, and in all team sports for that matter, is competing in the present while simultaneously building for the future. That’s how the Dodgers, Zaidi’s former club, is able to make transactions like the Scherzer and Trea Turner trade.
San Francisco is on that trajectory, too. On the same day the Giants won their 100th game, their low-A and high-A affiliates hoisted their respective league trophies. That’s in addition to all the contributions the two-way players from Triple-A Sacramento gave the big league club all year.
No matter what the Giants roster looks like in the future, SF is in position to turn 2021 into success for 2022, 2023 and beyond — even if they have what appears to be an aging core. San Francisco has cultivated an environment that should be appealing to any free agent. Players notice it.
“I just think from the top down of the organization, starting with people that we get to deal with, Farhan, Scott, it just, they know what guys to go after, like team guys, good people,” Ruf said. “That clubhouse in there is extremely special and it’s because it’s full of great people that you want to be friends with your whole life. When you take the field with them, everyone’s got your back, you know, everyone is pulling in the same direction and going to step up, step up for you — you saw examples of it all year.
“Guys go down, next guy steps up. LaMonte Wade shows up in spring training and turns into one of the best players on the team. You have that confidence that going into spring next year, this whole off-season, things are going to work out. And we exceeded so many expectations this year that I think the bar’s going to be raised for us going into next year and going into spring and early in the season. So we’re not going to sneak up on anybody, but I know that the guys in that clubhouse are guys that are ready for that too.”