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MLB preview 2018: The San Francisco Giants and the awful, terrible, no good, very bad year

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McCovey Chronicles managing editor Bryan Murphy relives a series of terrible memories for the sake of our intellectual edification.

With the 2018 season just around the corner, it’s time to catch up with the other teams around the division. Instead of trying to figure out what we need to know about them ourselves, we thought it would be a good idea to ask our friends at our neighbors here at SBNation to help catch us up.

We asked newly minted managing editor of McCovey Chronicles, Bryan Murphy, to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming San Francisco Giants season. You’ll find his answers below, edited for length and clarity.

What went right for the Giants in 2017? What, ultimately, went wrong?

Absolutely nothing went right. It was so bad that when the Giants brought back Pablo Sandoval after he’d been cut by the Red Sox, he wound up hitting a walk-off home run on the last game of the season to knock the Giants out of the #1 draft position this June.

They were done in by aging players, aging organizational process, and a lack of organizational depth/versatility that was caused at least in part by their own recent run of success. They couldn’t bring up any talented young players to patch over their weaker spots because there simply aren’t that many in the system and the guys they were counting on either had negative regression issues or were victims of freak accidents.

Would you say that last year was a continuation of the struggles of the last half of 2016, or were the struggles of 2017 due to completely different factors?

Since the second half of 2016, the team’s record (including the Wild Card game against the Mets and the NLDS versus the Cubs) is 97-143, which is the absolute worst record in baseball over that stretch. The Giants have been the worst team in baseball for a year and a half.

Does the disaster that was 2017 make you feel better about a potential bounce-back 2018 or terrified that you’re due for more of the same?

There’s no way to feel good about this season after what happened last season, particularly when a good chunk of that roster remains.

That feeling of dread existed even before the Giants lost Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner in consecutive days. It very much feels now that they’ve fallen through the thin ice they were walking on and so a repeat of last season, despite the Giants’ best efforts to improve the team to prevent exactly that from happening, seems unavoidable.

The dread really kicks in when I consider the possibility of Buster Posey’s (likely) last All-Star caliber season going to waste and Andrew McCutchen’s only season in San Francisco being forgettable because the Giants can’t stop the other team from scoring.

The joke this offseason has been that the Giants failed to trade for one Face of the Franchise and instead traded for two more. Do you feel bad about taking those players and how much does this season ride on Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen reclaiming All-Star form?

Wouldn’t you feel good about having Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria on your team?

I have nothing against Pirates fans. Some of my best friends are Pirates fans (do not fact check this). McCutchen deserved to be the face of that franchise. That fanbase deserves a face of the franchise. I promise the Giants will treat him well, though, and Pirates fans can visit whenever they’d like.

As for the Rays fans, if they’re mad at the Giants and not their team’s front office, then I feel as though they’ve willfully displaced their anger and should consider focusing it on the guilty party. The Rays have treated their few fans like the A’s have treated theirs, and I’m not sure what their intentions are beyond pocketing revenue sharing money.

Anyway, adding both of these players to a lineup with Buster Posey and Brandon Belt is only a good thing. Longoria makes the infield even better and McCutchen, along with Austin Jackson, gives the Giants something they haven’t had in a couple of seasons: range in the outfield.

Since the Giants are unlikely to have any quality starts from their rotation in the first month of the season, they’re going to need to score a lot. McCutchen and Longoria will absolutely help them do that. Whether or not the offensive boost will be enough for the Giants to stay even close to contention until Bumgarner returns is up to the baseball gods.

What were the other most important moves of the offseason?

Austin Jackson and Tony Watson were solid additions to the major league roster that filled crucial needs, and both were made possible by the trade of Matt Moore for luxury tax reasons. I think not getting Giancarlo Stanton was important, too, in that it forced the Giants choose a direction. If they had completed a trade for Stanton, they would’ve blown past the luxury tax, and maybe made only one or two other big-ish moves that might’ve revolved around pitching.

Instead, they opted to make multiple moves to shore up the offense and improve their chances scoring runs while also staying under the luxury tax threshold. I’m not saying what they wound up doing was better than what they might’ve done with Giancarlo Stanton on the roster, but at least it’s a clear direction with a purpose; it’s unlikely they’re resetting the luxury tax to simply pocket more money. The Giants are still in a WIN NOW! mode, and if they show any sign of life this season, they’ll be able to keep that window open through 2019 with other big moves.

Who are some unheralded players we should keep an eye on this season? Prospects, role players, free-agent signees, etc.

Outfielders Steve Duggar and Heliot Ramos are the players I’m most interested in right now. Duggar should probably make the Opening Day roster, but if he doesn’t he’ll be a nice add in case/for when Hunter Pence flounders. He brings an offense/defense outfield dimension that only Austin Jackson currently brings to the roster, and he’s impressed so much this spring that it’d be nice to see what he can do at the major league level (which, come to think of it, would probably just be struggling a lot until he figured out how to adjust to major league pitching).

Heliot (pronounced Elliot) Ramos is the kind of prospect the Giants have rarely had this century: a prospect other organizations covet (Buster Posey being the only other example). He’s got power, speed, and a killer arm, and has been comped as “Puig with good makeup”. He won’t get near the ML club this year, but his season will be an interesting one to follow.

And also the return of Will Smith (not the star of BRIGHT) should be important. The Giants are hoping he can be the #2 lefty in the ‘pen behind Tony Watson, although his return from Tommy John surgery still leaves question marks about his durability and effectiveness. Frankly, I’m anxious to see what sort of Will Smith jokes we’ll be able to come up with this season.

The lineup is getting old fast. Is this the last push of the Giants dynasty?

Yes. That last gasp was probably 2016, but sometimes it’s hard to let our loved ones go.

What do you think is a realistic best case scenario for the Giants this year? What’s the worst case scenario? What would a successful season look like for the Giants?

This is not a playoff team, and if they do somehow make it, we’ll all be wondering how. Best case is staying in the playoff hunt until the end of August or mid-September. Worst case is 100 losses or more. Another facet of that worst-case scenario involves the Giants being very far out of it before the trade deadline and not moving any of their old players who still have value because they’re unwilling to take a PR hit. The Giants have been willing to be bad but unwilling to get near the idea of a rebuild. That’s a decision made by their marketing department and not baseball operations.

What will be the best part of watching the Giants this year? Or, put another way, why should the casual fan (who’s not scoreboard watching) watch a Giants game this season?

Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen are excellent reasons to watch a baseball game. Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt aren’t too bad, either. And if you want to see just exactly how bad a major league pitching staff should be, the Giants should be right there. Casual fans will see a lot of blown leads and high-scoring games. Isn’t that all we really want?