The Giants went into this offseason searching for an identity, which feels odd for a team that won 107 games just two seasons ago and still has a lot of familiar faces on the roster.
But their leader, Buster Posey, retired following that magical 2021 regular season, an up-and-down 2022 campaign ended with an unsatisfying 81-81 record. It was not pretty.
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Aaron Judge felt like the perfect fit for that new identity, the new Posey. He’s a superstar player and he’s an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. He’s from the area, too.
The Giants had the money, and they had the need. And the motivation to sign Judge wasn’t just about getting him in the lineup and in the clubhouse, it was about using him to attract other talented players. The Giants needed that draw. The club wants to be a contender again, quickly, but the 2022 season was … messy. The roster, as it stood entering the offseason, didn’t look like one that will compete for a playoff spot in 2023.
The Giants had needs, plural. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
And, folks, starting your free-agent pitch with “Hey, come play with Aaron Judge” is better than the alternative. In an ideal world, the Giants could have wrapped up Judge early in the Winter Meetings and spent the rest of the offseason using their new superstar as a hook.
Judge, as you know, chose to stay with the Yankees instead.
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On Tuesday night, the Giants moved on, too, in impressive fashion. Carlos Correa is not a second fiddle. He’s an elite shortstop, with the glove and with the bat, and he’s now with the Giants on a 13-year, $350 million deal.
He’s the star power the Giants have been missing, though he’ll never be a full replacement for Posey. The stain of his involvement with the sign-stealing controversy in Houston will keep him from reaching true Posey Status, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help the club win titles. It’s a bit odd, too, considering he’ll push franchise stalwart Brandon Crawford off his long-time spot at shortstop, even if at 36 everyone knows his time was short anyway.
But now that Correa’s in the fold, maybe others will follow. The Giants need others to follow. The path back to playoff competition is, well, complicated for this franchise.
For some teams, offseason needs were easily defined. Look at the Mets, for example. They faced the prospects of losing three free-agent starters: Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker. They needed to replace those three in the rotation, and they did, with Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana. The Phillies needed a leadoff hitter and middle infielder, and they signed Trea Turner. The Cardinals needed a catcher, and they signed Willson Contreras. The Blue Jays needed a starter, and they signed Bassitt.
The Giants, though, don’t have gaping holes in the roster, positions where, if nothing else is done, the spring training competition will be between a journeyman on his fourth team in four years and a still-green mid-level prospect who was in Double-A last year. The Giants have players with major league experience at every position.
But they did last year, too, and that wasn’t nearly enough.
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Again, it’s complicated. Because when you look at the 2021 Giants, the club that won 107 games in the regular season, you see that a collection of non-All-Star players with complementary skill sets can work. That club didn’t have a single player with more than 483 at-bats, and they only had two — Brandon Crawford and Mike Yastrzemski — with even 400 ABs. They did, though, have 18 different hitters take at least 120 ABs, most in the majors. Armed with incredible amounts of information supplied by the front office, manager Gabe Kapler and his staff mixed and matched to perfection all season.
It worked, with 22 different players — 12 hitters, 10 pitchers — turning in a bWAR of 1.0 or better. In 2022, though, the same formula did not. Only 13 players — six hitters, seven pitchers — met that same 1.0 bWAR benchmark. No position player even hit 2.0 in 2022, after six did in 2021.
It’s a fine line to walk, hoping to get exceptional performances out of average major league players. When that does occur, magical things can happen. But counting on it? It’s not a sustainable way to operate, and the Giants know it.
The Giants don’t need bodies, they need upgrades.
An infield with Brandon Crawford, Thairo Estrada, J.D. Davis, Wilmer Flores and Tommy LaStella around Correa isn’t bad, by any stretch, but it’s not elite. An outfield with newcomer Mitch Haniger, Joc Pederson, Lamont Wade, Jr., Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater isn’t bad, by any stretch, but it’s not elite.
Logan Webb is a legit ace, and the rotation should be solid — Ross Stripling was a nice under-the-radar addition — if either Sean Manaea or Anthony DeSclafani rebound after subpar 2022 campaigns.. It would look a lot better if the club could bring back Carlos Rodon, though. The bullpen still needs a lot of work, no doubt about that. A lot of work.
Upgrades. That’s what the 2023 Giants need. Carlos Correa was a massive upgrade, but he’s just one piece of the puzzle if San Francisco wants to be playoff-competitive again this year.