Having won two World Championships in a three-year stretch has given San Francisco Giants fans the ultimate treat in recent years. After 56 years of waiting the Giants rewarded their ever-faithful fans a couple of magical rides in 2010 and 2012. After going a major-league best 42-21 over the first nine weeks of the season the Giants season has fallen off a cliff. The reality for this team is that they have lost six in a row, are in a virtual free-fall in the playoff chase, and has lost an unimaginable 21 of 27 at home since mid-June. The 2014 campaign is on a respirator and here is why.
First, the injury bug has hammered this team. These just aren’t periphery injuries. Big-time players with big-time names and big-time contracts have gone on the shelf and now San Francisco is just trying to piece together a serviceable roster. Injuries to Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt and Matt Cain are hard to overcome. As a franchise you do give yourself a chance to compete by continuing to replenish the big league roster with young players in the minor league system. The problem is the Giants just don’t have those players. The recent World Series titles were built on home-grown talent. An influx of young, energetic players who helped drive the Giants to a couple of titles. But, those can’t-miss blue chippers are nowhere to be found now. The Giants have whiffed on their recent drafts and don’t have an everyday position player on the cusp of big league stardom.
A Giants strength has now become a weakness. In times like these where you are facing mounting pressure from injuries and sub-par play it makes sense to cherry-pick talented kids from the minor league system and give them a shot. But, for the Giants the cupboard is bare. When you consider they just traded their second and 11th best prospects to Boston for Jake Peavy, one can see how dire the situation is in the Giants system.
Another problem emerges when you don’t have a minor league system with depth, it hamstrings your ability to trade for star players at the trading deadline. To put it succinctly the Giants don’t have the pieces to make such a deal. Unless other teams want to gamble on Giants pieces in the low minors, the Giants have no assets of value for other teams. So, while the Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates and Cardinals all bid for the services of a Jon Lester or David Price, the Giants have to sit by the sidelines and see which rival improves their team while the Giants sit idly by. The pitching rich Giants rolled the dice in 2011 when Carlos Beltran became available at the trading deadline, so they dealt young flame-thrower Zack Wheeler to the Mets. What Giants fan would do that trade over again ? None. San Francisco lost an electric arm for a three-month rental.
And that brings me to the other factor hampering this team, financial inflexibility. The Giants aren’t exactly broke. With a payroll of 157 million dollars the Giants are in the upper tier of teams in spending money on players. The Giants are not broke. They fill that jewel of a ballpark every single game and the money is flowing in pretty good these days. But, Giants CEO Larry Baer and the Board of Directors have made it perfectly clear that the Giants are at the upper end of their payroll ceiling. Publicly they have stated that by taking on more money for a Lester/Price or other big name free agent they won’t be able to compete to keep Pablo Sandoval in the a Giants uniform when he becomes a free agent. And, looking at how thin the third base free agent market is, the Giants figure to go hard after The Panda.
The kind of dilemma the Giants face here was their greatest fear when the Guggenheim Group bought the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guggenheim has unlimited funds. When the Dodgers need an improvement, they fork over the cash and make it happen. Basically the Dodgers can afford to make poor personnel decisions because of the largesse of their coffers. Another factor that has to trouble the Giants is that ever since Frank McCourt was jettisoned by Los Angeles the Dodgers have invested heavily in the minor league system. Five years ago the Dodger farm system was a wasteland with no talent on the horizon and no money being pumped into the drafting and developing of talent. But, over the last 24 months the Dodgers have leapfrogged the Giants’ farm system. The Dodgers farm is teaming with major league prospects. This depth gives the Dodgers a chance to make block-buster deals at the trade deadline, a luxury the Giants don’t have. Another card to play that your arch-rival doesn’t have.
So, with no farm, and no available cash, and an injury-riddled roster the Giants have been boxed into a corner. General Manager Brian Sabean has proven to be a magician at times with his ability to wheel and deal in times of need. He will need to pull the greatest of Houdini acts now as his team is on the precipice of falling out of the race.