(CBS SF) — The San Francisco Giants started off the last decade with a World Series title. They added another two years later and yet another two years after that. They made the playoffs again in 2016, but haven’t legitimately contended, or even reached .500, since. (Did anyone really believe last season’s hot streak would end in any other way than it did?)
The Giants enter the 2020 season in transition mode, with a lot of questions to answer. Gabe Kapler takes over as manager for the retired Bruce Bochy and inherits a roster that includes new faces mixed with established veterans. He knows that a repeat of their 2019 finish — 77-85 and 29 games behind the division-winning Los Angeles Dodgers — won’t get the team where they want to go. But he also knows that a fanbase which has grown accustomed to winning will probably have to endure some more growing pains.READ MORE: Police Officers Denied Service At San Francisco Restaurant Triggering Negative Reviews, Social Media Backlash
“There are a lot of question marks on this team,” says KPIX sports director Dennis O’Donnell. “I think there’s potential on this team. You have a mix of veterans and a lot of youth. This is a team now going with a new manager, new style, new drills, new analytics.”
The infield may be the team’s strongest position group, anchored by longtime shortstop Brandon Crawford. The 33-year-old veteran won’t light up the scoreboard with his hitting; Crawford produced at a .228 clip last season over his 500 at-bats, which included 11 home runs and 59 RBI. But the three-time Gold Glove winner is as sure-handed of an infielder as you’re likely to find. Evan Longoria, who had three Gold Gloves of his own with the Tampa Bay Rays, returns for his third season at third. Another longtime veteran Brandon Belt returns at first.
Buster Posey’s days behind the plate in San Francisco may be numbered. According to O’Donnell, “Posey’s coming off back-to-back difficult seasons, shall we say, a hip injury… If Posey gets either moved to first base or fails to hit, that might open the door for Joey Bart. He’s the guy to watch.”READ MORE: 4 Killed in Foggy Central Valley Plane Crash
Bart, the Giants top prospect, is having a decent Spring Training so far. The young catcher is hitting .438 in his 16 at-bats, which, of course, is too small of a sample size to predict much of anything. But Bart has hit a solid .284 in his 517 career minor league at-bats, and looks poised to move up to the majors sooner than later.
The outfield seems a little less reliable than the infield. “Yastrzemski [was] great last season,” notes O’Donnell. “Can he do it over the period of 162 games? Billy Hamilton is here, Steven Duggar. There’s a lot of talent on the Giants. The question is, can they all bring it together in one season?” Hunter Pence returns from Texas, where he put up respectable numbers in limited at-bats. But the 36-year-old on a one-year deal can’t be expected to fill an outfield spot long-term.
A similar uncertainty extends to the pitching staff. Longtime pitching ace Madison Bumgarner is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which probably elevates Johnny Cueto to the number-one starter position. Cueto underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2018 and returned last September to pitch four games. Those results were mixed. He should be better this season, but how much better remains to be seen. Jeff Samardjiza went 11-12 in 2019, with a 3.52 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, but he could be gone by the July 31 trade deadline. Kevin Gausman should find a spot in the rotation, as could Andrew Suarez.
The Giants are probably looking at another season like last season, as they continue to try to fit pieces into an aging puzzle. The team might even take a step back. They don’t have enough pitching or hitting to keep up with the Dodgers, who will cruise to another 100-win season, or the Diamondbacks, who could compete for a wild card spot. Nor can they expect to keep pace with the improved San Diego Padres. That just leaves the Colorado Rockies in the race to not be last in the National League West.MORE NEWS: SF Civic Center BART Station Reopens After 2-Hour Closure Sunday Morning
“I would say if the Giants get to .500, that is a more than a successful season,” says O’Donnell. “Giants fans are not patient. They want to contend. They don’t like the word ‘rebuild.’ The fact of the matter is that is exactly what this is.”