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NL West 2020 preview: San Francisco Giants are rebuilding

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Offseason moves, 60-man player pool, and season outlook

San Franciso Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers
Johnny Cueto is back after missing most of the last two seasons
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season will start later this week, but first the Oakland A’s are playing two exhibition games against their local rival San Francisco Giants. The two teams will also face each other six times in the regular season, which accounts for 10% of their 60-game schedule — that’s almost the same percentage they play against their division foes in a normal season.

*** AL West 2020 previews: A’s | Angels | Astros | Mariners | Rangers ***

The competition between these two Bay Area clubs is usually more of a cultural one, but with all those dates together this year they’ll be more relevant to each other in the regular season standings than they’ve ever been before (not counting World Series meetings, of course). Let’s remind ourselves of what the Giants look like in 2020.

San Francisco Giants

2019 record: 77-85 (finished 3rd in NL West)

Quick season review: They were under .500 for most of the first half, but then made a spirited run in July to get as high as two games over. That was just enough for them to not trade their biggest free agents at the deadline to help further spur their rebuild, but not sufficient to actually sniff legitimate contention. The dreaded in-between of mediocrity.

Much of the former championship core was still intact, but didn’t play up to their old standards. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford didn’t hit at all, and Brandon Belt wasn’t much better, with only Posey clearing 1 WAR on either scale (and only in fWAR). Pablo Sandoval returned and hit well, but then had Tommy John surgery late in the year. Joe Panik was DFA’d.

Madison Bumgarner was the best of the bunch, and even he was only barely above-average. Along with solid contributions from starter Jeff Samardzija, All-Star closer Will Smith, 3B Evan Longoria, and breakout rookie outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, they weren’t completely devoid of production.

Even still, they’re clearly in a rebuild period. The old glory days are over, and it’s time for them to start looking toward their next window. Here’s a quick look at their offseason moves from last winter.

Hello Goodbye
Free Agency
IF Wilmer Flores (2/$6m)
RHP Kevin Gausman (1/$9m)
LHP Drew Smyly (1/$4m)
DH Hunter Pence (1/$3m)
LHP Tyler Anderson (1/$2m)
RHP Trevor Cahill (minors)
C Rob Brantly (minors)
C Tyler Heineman (minors)
C Chadwick Tromp (minors)
1B Darin Ruf (minors)
IF Yolmer Sanchez (minors)
OF Billy Hamilton (minors)


Trades
None
Free Agency
LHP Madison Bumgarner (to ARZ)
LHP Will Smith (to ATL)
LHP Fernando Abad (to WAS)
RHP Kyle Barraclough (to SDP)
C Stephen Vogt (to ARZ)
OF Kevin Pillar (to BOS)
OF Mike Gerber (to COL)

Trades
RHP Burch Smith (to OAK)

Opt-Out (2020 only)
C Buster Posey

They lost their biggest star in Bumgarner, though they did bring back an old favorite in 37-year-old Pence. That might seem like merely a consolation prize, but of the two of them Pence was the only one who went to the All-Star Game last summer. And with a universal DH spot to work with, Pence gets even more useful.

They also lost their closer in Smith, and one of their solid scrap-heap finds in the veteran Pillar, who would have been due a raise in arbitration. Vogt got a better offer elsewhere in the division.

Meanwhile, the Giants made some additions but didn’t splurge on anything. There are a couple sensible rotation pickups, a couple affordable veteran hitters, and a slew of notable minor league free agent depth names. They have some young players to develop, and now they’ll be surrounded by some competent veterans. One more move not listed above: They acquired a salary dump of veteran infielder Zack Cozart from the Angels in order to net an extra prospect in the trade, and then turned around and released Cozart a month later.

Here’s the player pool, which stands at 59 players out of the 60 maximum. The Opening Day roster is so up in the air that it’s not even worth trying to predict. Players in —italics are not on the 40-man roster; only 32 rostered players are included in the pool for now.

San Francisco Giants 60-man pool
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Johnny Cueto (R)
Jeff Samardzija (R)
Drew Smyly (L)
Kevin Gausman (R)
Tyler Anderson (L)
Dereck Rodriguez (R)
Logan Webb (R)
Shaun Anderson (R)
Conner Menez (L)
Andrew Suarez (L)
--Caleb Baragar (L)
--Trevor Cahill (R)
--Rico Garcia (R)
--Luis Madero (R)
--Trevor Oaks (R)



Relievers

Jarlin Garcia (L)
Trevor Gott (R)
Tyler Rogers (R)
Tony Watson (L)
Sam Coonrod (R)
Dany Jimenez (R)
Wandy Peralta (L)
Sam Selman (L)
--Tyler Cyr (R)
--Carlos Navas (R)
--Andrew Triggs (R)
--Sam Wolff (R)
--Camilo Doval (R)
Catchers

--Rob Brantly (L)
--Tyler Heineman (S)
--Chadwick Tromp (R)
--Joey Bart (R)
--Patrick Bailey (S)


Infielders

Brandon Belt (L)
Brandon Crawford (L)
Evan Longoria (R)
Wilmer Flores (R)
Donovan Solano (R)
Mauricio Dubon (R)
Abiatal Avelino (R)
--Zach Green (R)
--Darin Ruf (R)
--Yolmer Sanchez (S)
--Pablo Sandoval (S)
--Marco Luciano (R)
--Luis Toribio (L)
--Will Wilson (R)


Outfielders

Alex Dickerson (L)
Steven Duggar (L)
Hunter Pence (R)
Mike Yastrzemski (L)
Jaylin Davis (R)
Joe McCarthy (L)
Austin Slater (R)
--Billy Hamilton (R)
--Joey Rickard (R)
--Jose Siri (R)
--Alexander Canario (R)
--Heliot Ramos (R)

A few of these players are already hurt. Belt (heel) and Longoria (oblique) will both begin the season on the injured list, though neither is expected to be out long. They’ll also be without Cahill (fingernail) and Jarlin Garcia, with the latter being for undisclosed reasons. Hamilton hit the IL this month and already returned, but won’t quite be ready for Opening Day after missing most of training camp.

The rotation features Cueto, Shark, Smyly, and Gausman, with several candidates for the fifth spot. Those are four established names, but not an intimidating list in 2020. Cueto missed most of 2018-19 to injury, and Smyly missed the entirety of 2017-18 and returned last year to a 6.24 ERA. Gausman wasn’t much better at 5.72. Shark was solid, but it came after four straight bad-to-mediocre seasons, and he’s now age 35 with a career line that rates below-average.

The bullpen has no closer, and will presumably go by committee. There’s barely even a setup guy there, beyond Watson. After him, Gott, Rogers, and Peralta have varying levels of lotto-ticket promise, as does Jarlin when he returns, but this is pretty much what it looks like to punt your bullpen, cross your fingers, and hope it all just works out somehow — and in their defense, sometimes it totally does just work out, because bullpens can be random (especially in only 60 games).

While the pitching looks like a dealbreaker-level weakness, the offense could be alright. If you squint you can see an above-average hitter at most positions — in particular, Belt, Longoria, Pence, Sandoval, Flores, Solano, Dickerson, and Yaz all have chances to be productive, and there are surely other sleepers and promising top prospects mixed in.

The biggest shortcoming, though, is at catcher. With Posey opting out earlier this month, the Giants don’t have a single catcher on their 40-man roster. The whole group is minor league free agents and distant top prospects, including two of their last three 1st-round draft picks in Bart and Bailey. They’ll be fortunate if they get more than absolutely nothing out of this position, and even just replacement-level value would be an accomplishment.

Put it all together, and the most likely conclusion is that the 2020 Giants are going to be bad. Maybe not terrible, but probably not good. Every team has an extra chance this year due to the increased volatility of a short, small-sample season, but anything higher than third place in their division would be unexpected. Fourth place might be more likely, with the Padres improving significantly to pass them, and last place isn’t out of the question. Then they can look forward to an upcoming youth movement in the next couple years.

The A’s and Giants will play one more scrimmage Tuesday night, at 6:40 p.m. at Oracle Park. Then they’ll meet for the first time in the regular season from Aug. 14-16, again on the road in S.F. That’s Game Nos. 20-22 of the season.