Sports

The San Francisco Giants are a study in patience

Who saw this coming?

Who saw this coming?
Illustration: Getty Images

I had about four different drafts of this in my head before I actually sitting down (or in my case, stand up, as I work in reverse) and writing it. I wanted to proclaim the Giants as the anti-rebuild success story, which they kind of are. But not wholly, because it’s one year.

So then I thought I might pivot, and say they’re the ultimate lightning in a bottle team. Which I don’t think is a distasteful thing to be, because 90 percent of baseball fans would love it if their team could catch lightning-in-a-bottle like this. But can a team that simply decided to hold onto its bedrock of stars — Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt — really be that?

Not especially.

And while it’s easy to say there’s no way they would have ever moved Posey, there were certainly times in the recent past that it felt very possible, even likely, that Crawford and Belt would find new postal codes.

So maybe, I thought, the Giants signal a different way of doing things, somewhere in between the other two. And perhaps they are. Except… I doubt any MLB front office would be looking to copy them, both for valid and invalid reasons. You could run this same Giants team out next season, even re-signing Kris Bryant to have him for a full season, and they probably win… 88-90 games?

Maybe Kevin Gausman is more the pitcher he was in the second half than the first, which is still a good pitcher, but nowhere near a Cy Young candidate. Darin Ruf likely doesn’t run a .344 BABIP. Brandon Belt isn’t likely to have his best offensive season at 34 the way he just did at 33. This list could go on.

Then I thought there was an angle on how the Giants did what the Dodgers did, but for one season, they did it better.

While the Dodgers have had one of the best systems in baseball, producing MVP-caliber players like Bellinger, Seager, and Buehler, or trading for that level of player in Betts, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, what’s added to their success is being able to take discarded players, wipe off the grime, and get All-Star level production from them. Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor immediately spring to mind. I’ve derided Taylor in the past, mostly for those 12 minutes the Cubs actually tried to dance with the Dodgers in the penthouse of the NL, as “Bruce Banner,” because guys don’t just break out at 27 like Taylor did after being drainage gunk their whole career. Dodgers fans haven’t exactly shied away from this kind of derision of the Giants this year, wondering exactly what’s going on with players like Ruf or Wade or Guasman or whoever else.

And the Giants did do that. They added to their established, homegrown core with players that were hardly hotly pursued, who then produced at All-Star levels. Fuck, they even traded for a former MVP (Bryant) in the Dodgers’ mold.

Maybe with a couple more well-placed and sneaky signings next year the Giants could run it all back and compete for the division again. But then it’s hard to know that they’ll get the same output from their mid-30s core in the future, and that’s if Belt re-signs. The Giants very well might need a whole new rotation, given that everyone is a free agent and Johnny Cueto has a club option they’re not likely to pick up. The Dodgers are just the far surer bet for 2022 and beyond.

Perhaps, because I’m still in my anti-Cubs rage — which may never dissipate — I wanted the Giants to be the anti-rebuild heroes. Proof that you didn’t have to burn it down every five-to-seven years and that you can feel like you “owe” your stars that brought you success in the past and your fans every attempt to keep winning until it’s absolutely not possible. And that you can pay them!

Heaven forbid!

Except that the Giants did kinda suck there for years. They won 64 games in 2017. They weren’t over .500 until this season since their last playoff appearance in 2016. They even passed on one of the big trades they could have made in 2019, holding onto Giants legend and legendary red-ass Madison Bumgarner because they were, like, a $30 cab ride from a wild-card spot at the deadline.

Except it wasn’t a rebuild. The Giants just sucked. No one on the roster now is a result of harvesting prospects and picks the past four years and watching them blossom. This roster is just a study in patience until guys rebound, other things fell into place, and unexpected surprises.

And it isn’t really sustainable. At least it doesn’t look like it. And the other playoff teams such as the White Sox, Braves, Astros, and to a lesser extent the Brewers, are products of going back to zero and starting over. And all of them look to be around for the coming years. Same for the teams that just missed out, like the Jays or Mariners.

So maybe the Giants are the exception that proves the rule. Except the Yankees never went through a rebuild. They haven’t been under .500 in 26 years. The Red Sox, as wonky as they are, never really stepped back for more than a year or two. The Cardinals… are the product of some jaded and resigned wizard in some forest somewhere who doesn’t realize the breadth or consequences of his actions. The Dodgers exist on their own plane. So what is the rule?

All I’m left with is that the 2021 San Francisco Giants are just an amalgamation of a bunch of stuff that happened. Good stuff. Fun stuff. Stuff just about everyone can root for. Would Giants fans trade this season for the four that sucked before it and perhaps the two or three or 10 after it that might only be OK at best? Something tells me yes.

The Giants don’t really have to mean anything. They just are. One of those weird baseball things that happens because it’s baseball. The kind of BASEBALL thing that MLB and its front office have actively tried to neuter. So maybe I’ll just rejoice that they haven’t been able to kill it, yet.

And that they take good care of my sweet son Kris.

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