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Offseason-In-Review: San Francisco Giants

The Giants are looking to vault back into playoff contention after adding three former All-Stars this offseason.

MLB: San Francisco Giants-Workouts Photo by Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco Giants, (64-98)

Additions: Andres Blanco, Gregor Blanco, Chase d’Arnaud, Julian Fernandez, Alen Hanson, Derek Holland, Austin Jackson, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Rutledge, Hector Sanchez, Tony Watson

Subtractions: Christian Arroyo, Kyle Crick, Tim Federowicz, Matt Moore, Michael Morse, Denard Span

After a surprising 98-loss season in 2017, the Giants were at a crossroads this offseason — they could blow things up and go into rebuild mode like so many other clubs have over the past couple years, or they could try to find patchwork solutions in an attempt to turn things around quickly.

Ultimately, the Giants chose to try to emulate the Twins and Diamondbacks, who went from 90-plus loss seasons in 2016 to playoff appearances in 2017, by retooling instead of rebuilding. Though the Giants initially sought to solve their problems by spending big money and bringing Giancarlo Stanton to the Bay Area, they decided to take a rather unheard of approach after the reigning NL MVP used his no-trade clause to block a deal to San Francisco.

The Giants’ front office decided to reshape the roster while also aiming to stay under baseball’s $197 million competitive balance tax threshold, attempting to avoid the massive 50 percent tax brought upon clubs that exceed the threshold for three straight years. Their earliest moves this offseason were ones that cut costs as they admitted to two high-priced mistakes. The Giants dealt Matt Moore — who they paid a hefty price to acquire from the Rays at the 2015 trade deadline — to the Rangers in what was basically a salary dump, and they managed to move Denard Span — who they signed to a three-year, $31 million deal before the 2016 season — to his hometown Rays in the Evan Longoria trade. Those two moves saved San Francisco a combined $20 million towards the luxury tax limit.

The Giants took advantage of those savings and were able to acquire Longoria and former Pirates star Andrew McCutchen, both franchise players with their former teams, while also adding Austin Jackson to the outfield mix, boosting their bullpen with Tony Watson, and re-signing veteran backup catcher Nick Hundley — all while setting themselves up to remain under the $197 million threshold.

Understandably, there are some concerns about the Giants’ decision to add the 32-year-old Longoria and the 31-year-old McCutchen to a lineup that already featured 30-year-old Buster Posey, 31-year-old Brandon Crawford, and 34-year-old Hunter Pence. But Longoria and McCutchen — who combine for eight All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an MVP Award — fill two of the Giants’ three biggest needs going into the offseason (a third baseman and a corner outfielder). With both of their former teams retaining salary in the trades, the acquisitions of the two veterans gave the Giants enough financial wiggle room to sign a player in Jackson who could fill their third major need (a center fielder) while also creating the opportunity for them to bolster their bullpen with Watson.

While they’ve done a whole lot to improve this offseason, there are still question marks for the Giants. While the returns to health of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, and Will Smith will drastically change the look of the pitching staff, Watson was the staff’s only major outside addition this offseason. In addition to counting on their proven veterans to bounce back, the Giants will be putting a lot of faith in young, mostly unproven starters at the back of the rotation. At least a couple guys among Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Tyler Beede, and Andrew Suarez will need to step up. Some have suggested that it would make sense for San Francisco to go out and sign a starter such as Alex Cobb, though with the effort they’ve put into staying under the competitive balance tax threshold all offseason, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll do so, especially when Blach and Stratton showed signs of being capable big-league starters last year.

There are also questions about how well their outfield will hold up — ones that are understandable considering that they’ll be reyling on several players over 30, including Jackson, who’s spent time on the disabled list in five of the last six seasons, and Pence, who’s had DL stints for three straight years. One of the hidden blessings of the Giants’ horrific 2017 season, however, was that plenty of young outfielders had the opportunity to get experience at the big-league level, while several others have another full year of experience and are more realistic options to contribute this season. Austin Slater, Mac Williamson, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jarrett Parker experienced various levels of success in 2017, while Steven Duggar and Chris Shaw now have Triple-A experience and will be ready to push for big-league playing time this year. The 24-year-old Duggar, in particular, has made enough of an impression that he’s got a real chance to be the Giants’ Opening Day center fielder despite the fact that he’s never played in a major-league game.

If the Giants fail to regain their previous level of success, it won’t be a massive surprise; they need plenty of things to go right, and they’re in an NL West where the Dodgers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks made the playoffs last season and the Padres made significant improvements this offseason. Even if McCutchen and Longoria are great, they’ll almost certainly need Bumgarner, Cueto, and Melancon to regain their dominant form if they’re to have success this season. But two things are for certain: they’ve got much more star power than they had heading into 2017, and their roster is much deeper all around than it was at this time last year.