By Matt Citak
2017 was a big disappointment for the San Francisco Giants. After making the playoffs as a Wild Card team in 2016, the Giants were expecting another trip to the postseason the following year. Heading into the season opener, FanGraphs projected that San Francisco would win 88 games, giving them a 66 percent chance of making the playoffs.
However, the Giants could not get through the month of April without injuries derailing their season. It began with reliever Will Smith needing Tommy John Surgery, continued with Buster Posey being placed on the DL after being hit in the head by a pitch, and cultivated in ace Madison Bumgarner’s first career trip to the disabled list after suffering rib and shoulder injuries from a dirt bike accident. San Francisco’s season was done before it really ever got started, and ended in the Giants finishing tied for the league’s worst record.
But, based on general manager Bobby Evans’ moves this off-season, it was clear that the Giants were not planning on rebuilding. Evans went out and traded for two established veterans to join San Francisco’s starting lineup. Third baseman Evan Longoria was added in December, and a month later, the Giants traded for outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
The Giants will enter the 2018 season with MLB’s second-highest payroll at $203 million, trailing only the Boston Red Sox’s $223 million. Yet even with the incredibly high payroll, things are already starting to mirror their dismal 2017 season.
We have not yet reached Opening Day, but San Francisco is already down two important pieces for at least the first month of the season.
It began last Thursday when starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija suffered a pectoral injury, which will likely force him to miss three weeks- to-a-month. This injury would have been bad enough for San Francisco, as Samardzija was projected to play a big role in the rotation. But the news became even harder to swallow when the next day, Bumgarner, in his final spring training tune-up before Opening Day, was drilled by a line drive in his pitching hand. This resulted in a broken bone for the team’s ace, who is now facing a prolonged stay on the disabled list to start the season.
These two injuries provide a significant blow to San Francisco’s postseason chances. With Samardzija likely out for the first month of the season and Bumgarner possibly out until June, the Giants will have to scramble to replace them in the rotation.
Besides Johnny Cueto, San Francisco will now have to hope that guys like Derek Holland, who posted a 6.20 ERA in 135.0 innings last season, and Tyler Beede, who finished with a 4.79 ERA in 109.0 innings in AAA last season, can keep them afloat until their reliable starters are back.
The Giants’ outlook is hurt even more by their high payroll. With San Francisco already set to dish out $203 million in salary this season, they are not in a position to add more salary due to MLB’s luxury-tax threshold. The Giants want to stay below the tax threshold so the 50 percent penalty they would currently face resets to 20 percent after the season. This prevents the team from going out and acquiring another reliable starting pitcher via trade unless they can somehow find a way to shed payroll in the deal.
There’s no doubt San Francisco rolled the dice with their aggressive mindset this off-season. While the rest of the market was generally passive, the Giants went out and added big-name veterans to try to rebound from their 98-loss season in 2017.
But after the unfortunate start to the season, we are already left wondering if this was the right move. San Francisco will boast one of MLB’s oldest rosters in 2018, and with the way things are going so far, they could find their season essentially over by the time Memorial Day rolls around.
While things may look bleak for the Giants, you never know what could happen. Maybe a rotation of Cueto, Holland, Beede, Ty Blach, and Chris Stratton can keep San Francisco within striking distance until they get the studs of their rotation back. It seems unlikely, but we have seen crazier things happen in baseball.
And if this makeshift rotation can keep San Francisco afloat until Samardzija and Bumgarner return, then that could be just the motivational boost that this veteran Giants club needs to make one more World Series push.
However, that will be no easy feat. The starting rotation was expected to be the foundation of the team, and without two of their best arms to start the season, the Giants could find themselves in a hole too deep to dig themselves out of.
With Opening Day just 48 hours away, we are about to see just how much moxie this veteran Giants team has.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.