Aging San Francisco Giants off to hot start in National League West
By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
The San Francisco Giants are old — but are they good?
Please trust what I’m about to say. OK? I swear I’m not chain-yanking. The San Francisco Giants have the second-best record in the National League.
No team has had bigger 74-win-season energy the past few years than San Francisco. And not only has the team been bad, but it has also been boring. There were a few cool Mike Yastrzemski months in there, but besides that? Thanks, but no, thanks.
But apparently, the Giants are good this year. Or at least fake good. They're definitely, at least, fake good after a month.
Let’s do a little point/counterpoint investigation to find out if the Giants are actually good.
Why they might be good: Farhan Zaidi knows what he’s doing.
Before becoming San Francisco's president of baseball operations in 2018, Zaidi was a major architect behind the Josh Donaldson-era Oakland teams and the current Dodgers juggernaut. This is not a front office throwing darts blindfolded in a wind tunnel. The Giants have strategies, plans, organizational ideologies and the like.
In an offseason when similar midlevel teams, such as Cleveland, the Cubs and the Reds, took steps backward by slashing payroll, Zaidi and the Giants were relatively aggressive. They added Tommy La Stella, Alex Wood and Aaron Sanchez on the free-agent market and brought Kevin Gausman back with a qualifying offer. The Giants are unequivocally Trying To Get Better, which nowadays is more than half the battle.
Why they might not be good: They’re still pretty boring.
There have been many good, boring baseball teams throughout history, and Giants fans won’t give a crap about entertainment value if there are Ws on the board. The real issue here, though, is that a large part of the boredom comes from the fact that the Giants don’t have a single superstar.
Apologies to the rejuvenated Posey, but there’s no one on the roster whom you can envision finishing in the top-five of MVP voting. There isn't an "MLB The Show" cover star anywhere near Oracle Park. It’s a squad full of 30-year-old white guys named Brandon with negative amounts of sauce, and in a division with Fernando Tatis Jr., Mookie Betts and Manny Machado, that lack of energy will hurt San Francisco.
Maybe a healthy Yastrzemski is the next Mike Trout, but probably not.
Why they might not be good: They’re old.
Like I mentioned, the 2021 Giants are shockingly old. Their everyday starting lineup usually features just one player under 30 (mostly Steven Duggar, Mauricio Dubon or Austin Slater in center field). Four of six starting pitchers (Gausman, Wood, Anthony DeSclafani and Johnny Cueto) are in their 30s. The bullpen is a tick younger, but closer Jake McGee is almost 35.
So far this season, the Giants have used a league-leading 19 players aged 30 or older. The league average is just under 10 "olds." The Dodgers have used 13, the Rockies have used eight, and Texas has used the fewest, with two.
No one builds a boat out of old wood. An older team is a more injury-prone team. An injury-prone team leads to (1) unproven, unprepared rookies or (2) bad, veteran free-agent fill-ins. Neither of those is an ideal recipe to keep pace with San Diego and Los Angeles.
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Why they might be good: They’re old.
There are also some perks to aging. I’m 25, and my back hurts way worse than it did when I was 18, and I get more hung over after a night out, and I’ll never play a meaningful game of organized baseball again. But I also know the difference between a lager and an IPA now, and I have meaningful, emotionally vulnerable friendships with other people, and I can legally rent a car. Maturity — you love to see it.
Sure, the Giants’ have rickety bones, but they also have the great cliché buzzwords. Experience. Knowledge. Composure. Dependability. Professionalism. An old team is probably less likely to combust and completely lose its cool. The Giants have *puts on old sportswriter cap* veteran leadership.
Also, the most recent team to win a World Series in a full season, the 2019 Washington Nationals, was one of the oldest teams in the wild-card era, with a whopping 26 players 30 or older.
Why they might not be good: They’ve played the Rockies 85 times.
Yes, I’m aware of Colorado’s inexplicable, bottom-of-the-last comeback against the Giants on Tuesday. But even after that Rocky Mountain Magic, the Giants hold a 6-2 record against their definitely-not-good division rivals.
And it’s not just the Rox; San Francisco’s full schedule thus far has been pretty easy. Seven games against the last-place Marlins, three against the meh Reds and those eight, soon-to-be nine, games against the rudderless Rockies. The Giants have played the Padres six times so far, splitting those.
They have the Padres this weekend and then have a few more softballs against Texas, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati again before their first series against the Dodgers on May 21. That’ll be the Giants' first big test.
Why they might be good: The pitching reclamation magic is working.
Developing reliable starting pitching is very hard. The Cubs' current contention window looks to be shutting because they couldn’t find a homegrown hurler for, like, a half-decade. Cleveland has stayed relatively competitive despite dealing away an All-Star every year because its minor-league pitching network churns out Shane Bieber after Shane Bieber.
The Giants are doing something slightly differently. They’ve yet to really mold an impact starter from their farm system, but they’ve been nails on the reclamation project pitching market. Every year, there are about 30 free-agent pitchers who sign one-year deals somewhere, and that news pops across your phone, and you go, "Oh, wow, yeah that dude used to be good," and then you forget about it, and maybe two or three of those guys actually do anything.
It’s still early days, but four-fifths of San Francisco’s rotation is some version of that. They scooped up Gausman after his disastrous 2019 in Atlanta and Cincy and worked some magic, and since then, he has been a top-15 pitcher in baseball. Sanchez was a beast for the Bautista Jays, but he struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Well, the Giants picked him up, and now he has an ERA around 3.00 and has made all his starts so far. DeSclafani and Wood were reliable guys elsewhere but have taken enormous leaps forward this year.
Whatever the Gigantes are telling their pitchers, it seems to be working.
Why they might not be good: Pablo Sandoval is on the Braves now.
Yeah, he’s on the Braves and has approximately 74 pinch-hit homers so far this year. A Giants team without Sandoval has no shot. Those are the rules of the universe.
Why they might be good: They could trade for Sandoval.
DO IT. Give the Braves some random Double-A pitcher named Kyle, and win yourself a World Series. Who says no?
Why they might not be good: They’re in the NL West.
This is less about the team’s true talent and more about its prospects of making the postseason. If the Giants were in the NL Central or NL East, I think they’d be legitimate contenders to win a division. But they’re stuck out west with the Padres and Dodgers, the consensus two best teams in the National League.
San Francisco’s season might boil down to how it performs against those two clubs and whether those two clubs live up to their lofty expectations. Maybe the Giants can ask MLB if they can move back to New York for the season and play at the Little League field next to where the Polo Grounds used to be so they can run away with the NL East.
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Why they might be good: Posey and Evan Longoria might be back.
This is the big one. Let’s start with Posey.
For a while there, the career arc of one Mr. Gerald Dempsey Posey seemed pretty predictable. After an iconic, seven-year run from 2010 to 2016 that included three World Series titles, a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award, it looked like time had caught up to Posey. The arrow was red and pointing down. His 2019 was pretty abysmal. Then he opted out of the 2020 season. We could have understood and respected it if Posey had just ridden off into the sunset.
But no, Buster Posey is back, baby. He has seven taters in 19 games, equaling the seven he hit in 114 games in ‘19. The peripheral numbers aren’t even that fluky — he’s barreling balls up and hitting them really hard. To put it simply, he looks like Buster freakin’ Posey again.
Longo’s bounce-back is arguably even wilder. After a decade of bad-assery in Tampa, he’d been an underwhelming, league-average hitter since 2017. But right now, he’s second in all of baseball in hard-hit percentage, behind only Giancarlo Stanton! What the heck!
For the Giants to contend all season, these bounce-backs can’t be flukes. This team needs Posey and Longoria to keep turning ahead the clock, sleeveless, maroon, Mariners cut-off style. Will it continue? Who knows, but there’s something inspiring about these dudes finding themselves again in their mid-30s.
Makes me feel pretty good about my future, tbh.
So are they good?
I dunno. Call me in a month.
Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.