It's an even-numbered year, and if you know anything about how the last few seasons have gone, you know that that is magic time for the San Francisco Giants. Bruce Bochy's squad has, of course, won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. And in 2016, they may be the favorite to win it all again after signing Denard Span to a thoroughly reasonable three years and $31 million. It's called the "even-year magic," but as Span's signing attests, there's nothing magic about it.
The Giants are caught in a recurring pattern of wild success and mediocre bouncebacks. Between 2010 and 2011, they re-signed Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, trying to recapture the magic the two veterans had used to lead San Francisco to glory. It didn't work. After 2012's wild success, the Giants did the same thing, bringing back Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt, who all fell flat. And after 2014, they made a point to bring back Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo (while losing Pablo Sandoval).
The Giants take the opposite route after disappointment, replacing players that walk with better and younger options, or at least inexpensive veteran ones. When they lost Carlos Beltran Cody Ross, and Pat Burrell, and released Aaron Rowand after 2011, they made two big deals to upgrade their outfield. Brian Sabean sent wild starter Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for Melky Cabrera, and middling center fielder Andres Torres and decent reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for Angel Pagan. They also smartly targeted Gregor Blanco as a minor league free agent. That drastically improved their outfield defense, and actually improved the group's offensive contributions as well in 2012, while making them younger and healthier.
And again after 2013, the Giants made reasonable deals to supplement a relatively static roster, bringing in Tim Hudson and Mike Morse as unextravagent, short-term free agents to upgrade two spots where the Giants were weak.
Again in 2015, they're trading up, bringing in better players for at or below-market rates to fill glaring holes. The Giants' starters struggled mightily in 2015 through injury and ineffectiveness. Over the offseason, the club has let go of Tim Lincecum, Mike Leake, and Ryan Vogelsong to free agency, while Tim Hudson retired. Drained, they acted purposefully and targeted pitchers with upside and good track records who weren't inspiring a huge bidding war: Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. They also upgraded from Nori Aoki and Marlon Byrd to Span, a move that should help both their offense and defense if he's healthy.
The Giants' success is not magic. It's not even that complicated. It's through improving that they actually, you know, improve. Yes, they've done incredibly well to develop dynamic talents like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Matt Duffy to serve as the club's core. But relying on that core while not working to improve the rest of the roster doesn't work.
When the Giants stop swimming, like any other club, they start to drown. When they start again, they move forward. It's a formula that has worked for them three times now, and if you're picking a favorite for the NL Pennant already, they've put themselves back on the short list.