SAN FRANCISCO -- The end-of-season press conference is generally a time for team executives to reveal more thorough injury updates, evaluate the progress that new players made and lay out a path for the offseason. But when Farhan Zaidi sat down in the Giants dugout early last month, there wasn't much talk about Alex Cobb's hip, Mitch Haniger's struggles, or how Zaidi might rank his offseason needs.
The Giants' president of baseball operations had fired his manager just a few days earlier, and Zaidi spent most of that session with reporters talking about the search for a replacement and the overall health of the organization.
The new manager turned out to be Bob Melvin, the early frontrunner, and because the San Diego Padres didn't put up much of a roadblock, the Giants were able to get Melvin in place and introduced well before the start of the offseason. The leadership team ended up with a couple of weeks to fully prepare for the start of the offseason and evaluate organizational needs, which are a bit more ambitious than in a usual winter.
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The Giants have specific areas of the roster to bolster, but as we look at three areas to address this winter, we're aiming bigger. This is not the year to spend much energy on another left-handed reliever or figuring out the depth behind Thairo Estrada. The Giants need to have more ambitious goals this offseason ...
The Giants did not sell out their final game of the season, even with the Los Angeles Dodgers in town and Brandon Crawford saying goodbye. They did draw 38,000-plus for all three games of that series, but the lower deck was filled with Dodger blue.
The final week got the Giants to 2,500,153 for the season, an increase of 216 fans per game. On the surface, that sounds like a positive given that the season went so poorly at times, but the Giants finished just 17th in the big leagues in attendance and the small bump lagged well behind most of the rest of an industry that saw nearly 10 percent growth in attendance overall. Eighteen franchises enjoyed a year-over-year increase of more than 1,500 fans per game.
San Francisco Giants
At that press conference, Zaidi acknowledged the issue, but also brought up something he has mentioned often over the last three years when the ballpark has been half-full more often than not.
"People vote with their feet, right?" he said. "As a baseball group, I think it's our responsibility to put a compelling product on the field. We've talked a lot about how if you win, that usually drives attendance, and I still think that's true. From where we were in August, if we had played better, if we had a chance to clinch the playoffs during the last homestand, would the attendance and the energy have been different in the ballpark? I think almost certainly so.
"I continue to think that's our primary responsibility, just to win games because that's what fans want. That's what's going to attract fans to the team."
Winning certainly helps. Coming off a pennant, the Philadelphia Phillies had the largest attendance increase in baseball. The top five included the 100-win Baltimore Orioles and the World Series-winning Texas Rangers, along with a Cincinnati Reds club that boosted its win total from 62 to 82.
But in this market, one that includes Steph Curry's Warriors and a loaded 49ers team, the Giants also need more star power.
Logan Webb is a Cy Young candidate and is becoming the face of the franchise, but he pitches only once a homestand. Perhaps over time Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, Kyle Harrison and others will develop into All-Stars, but this front office really can't wait that long.
The good news for the Giants is that this year's free agency class includes the game's biggest star, but just about every big market team figures to be in on Shohei Ohtani. Signing him would just about single-handedly fix the organization's marketability problems, but the Giants will have to outbid the Los Angeles Dodgers and many others.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto could be a superstar, too, and perhaps the Giants will return to their roots a bit, building a rotation of players that fans want to see. They'll be in much better shape if fans who buy a Friday night ticket have a strong shot of seeing Webb, Yamamoto or Harrison.
Other than those two, the winter class is light on star power. Cody Bellinger would qualify if he can duplicate 2023 and not his late-Dodger years, but the next best position player is Matt Chapman. The trade market isn't fully developed, but there could be some better options there if Juan Soto and Pete Alonso are made available.
Either in money or prospects, the Giants will pay a heavy price this offseason to add star power, but it's a bill they have to accept. Before they became outright bad in August and September, they dealt with another 'B' word.
The fan base believes this team is boring, and that needs to change.
The Arizona Diamondbacks shocked most baseball fans, but the Giants weren't surprised to see them in the World Series.
Late last season, members of the staff started to talk about the Diamondbacks becoming a serious problem. This spring, Gabe Kapler brought them up often while discussing the state of the NL West. His firing came in part because of two games in Phoenix in September, when the Diamondbacks ran circles around a Giants team that was desperate for wins.
The Diamondbacks are young, fast and athletic, and they were perfectly built to take advantage of the new rules. It would take years for the Giants to build that kind of roster, but they have fallen far behind others, too.
When you think of the Phillies, you think of a group of sluggers who wait for the three-run homer. But their roster includes 25-year-old second baseman Bryson Stott, who stole 31 bases and played Gold Glove-caliber defense. Rookie center fielder Johan Rojas stole 14 in a third of a season and played outstanding defense in center.
J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos and Bryce Harper all would have ranked second on the Giants in stolen bases. Eleven different Diamondbacks and seven Phillies stole more bases than Michael Conforto and Blake Sabol, who tied for second on the Giants with four stolen bases apiece. The Rangers finished near the bottom of the AL, but still stole 22 more bases than the Giants, and they shined defensively in the postseason.
If you take out Estrada (23), the Giants got just 34 stolen bases from their roster after the rules were changed specifically to make life much, much easier for baserunners. The lack of athleticism was particularly glaring in the outfield, where the Giants ranked 28th in Outs Above Average. The Diamondbacks were fourth and the Rangers seventh.
In a lot of ways, it was almost like the Giants never flipped the calendar to 2023 and Zaidi's quotes after the season even fit in with 2022. When asked what the front office needs to prioritize, he said the exact same thing as last winter.
"I think some of these quotes will be compared to what I said last year, because they're going to sound pretty similar, but one of the big things is just going to be to go into next year with as good a defensive club as we can have," he said. "We had a significant issue with our outfield defense last year. It was improved this year, but it still wasn't where we wanted it to be."
Zaidi talked about "being more athletic and having more range," noting that players like Luciano and Tyler Fitzgerald could be solutions. Most notably, he said that some of the solutions might have to come from "just giving younger guys more of an opportunity to play and working through their offensive struggles because we know we're going to get that defense."
That could mean carving out more time for players like Fitzgerald and Casey Schmitt and waiting for growth at the plate. But there's plenty to be done this offseason, too.
South Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee, a five-time KBO League Golden Glove Award winner, is the most obvious fit and is near the top of the front office's wish list. Bellinger would be a game-changer in center, allowing guys like Mike Yastrzemski and Matos to put strong gloves in the corners.
The Giants also figure to turn to the trade market. They have a surplus of young, controllable starting pitching, and there are plenty of teams -- the Reds, Red Sox, Brewers, Cardinals, etc. -- who could match up as trade partners, sending a young, athletic position player to Oracle Park.
This one is more specific, and a year after the Giants pushed for Aaron Judge, it's still a need.
When you have the worst offense in the big leagues for three months, you're not likely to rate particularly high at any position, and that was the case for the 2023 Giants. They didn't have a single position group rank in the top five in OPS, and only three -- designated hitters, the first basemen and right fielders -- ranked in the top 10, finishing ninth, 10th and 10th, respectively. By Baseball Reference's version of WAR, their first basemen were the only group that finished in the upper third of the league.
The roster needs a lot of help, but there's only so much that can be done in one offseason, and some groups look to be in decent shape.
Every team could use another frontline starter, but the Giants do have a lot of pitching depth, even with Alex Cobb's setback, and their farm system is strong on the starting pitching side. The key pieces in the bullpen -- Camilo Doval and the Rogers Twins -- will be back.
The infield isn't a strength, but it should be pretty set. LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores are a solid pairing at first, Estrada was the team's best position player, and Luciano is just about a lock to be the Opening Day shortstop. Schmitt might not be fully ready, but his defense at third would be a big help, and J.D. Davis is coming off a good year, even if he did run out of gas in the second half.
The Giants need star power and they need to get more athletic, and in terms of just purely upgrading position groups, the outfield stands out.
Giants left fielders ranked last in the big leagues in OPS and their center fielders were 24th. They were 25th in bWAR in left, 28th in center and 20th in right. It was the second straight year that all three positions ranked in the bottom third of the league in value.
The tricky part for Zaidi is that his outfield is also relatively full, with Haniger signed for two more years, Conforto potentially back, Yastrzemski and Austin Slater eligible for arbitration, and Fitzgerald, Matos, Wade Meckler and Heliot Ramos on the 40-man. But it's a group that didn't produce much in 2023 and is in need of an infusion of talent, whether through free agency or the trade market.