"A lack of star power and box office draw," reads one local publication. "Insulting your paying customers doesn’t seem like the best idea for selling tickets," reads another. "These Giants project to be a mediocre team with a mediocre farm system," says yet another rag of the San Francisco Giants' prospects.
Batter up! Let the 2023 season begin!
As Major League Baseball tries to redefine itself and draw more viewership (or at least try to avoid losing viewers) by speeding up the game, the Giants are, once again, a superstar-less team hoping to catch lighting in a bottle. Or maybe this is just what the Giants came up with — the silver lining pasted onto a disappointing, fruitless offseason where San Francisco cast their hooks, but failed to land a big fish.
"This season, [the Giants and Oakland A's] don't seem to have much to sell beyond 'baseball.' Even the people who are paid to talk about them offer up relatively muted takes — both teams are asking their fans to embrace rosters full of mystery," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle. (I guess I'll acknowledge the existence of the A's, though they seem to have gone from baseball to Moneyball to possible real-estate moguls.)
A quote from Giants' CEO Larry Baer circulating in the local press exemplifies the Giants' underwhelming roster and unspectacular offseason moves. Baer admitted that some elucidation (maybe mansplaining) was necessary: "I think we're finding that some of it takes some explaining, because it’s not in the headlines. I think the explanation is going well with the fans. We're getting reactions. Fans are like, 'OK, we get it, we understand now... I get it. You did a lot of moves that added up.' The lightbulb went on, but the lightbulb didn’t go on immediately. So it's been a little bit of a lag effect."
If ever there were captivating metaphors to get you fired up for the start of a new season, it's a flickering lightbulb that took a few tries to turn on, and a "lag effect." Ominous metaphors abound: "The SF Giants organization is treading water," read a Dieter Kurtenbach headline in the Mercury News. (Kurtenbach actually has a somewhat positive take on the Giants' prospects.)
But I digress. And I'm being unkind. It's easy to jump on the haters' bandwagon and almost gleefully root for a team's failure or abject mediocrity. And if there's one thing the Giants have proven over the last decade, it's that they can come out of nowhere with a team of nobodies to surprise everyone. I sincerely hope that someone points to this and other articles in October and says, "Look how utterly wrong these a--holes got it!"
While writing this story today, Aaron Judge hit a home run in the first inning in the Giants' season opener at Yankee Stadium. How slap-in-your face fitting. Judge was, hands down, baseball's biggest star last year, and for a moment, it seemed like he was destined to return to the Bay Area just as his career was peaking. But Judge was probably never going to sign with the Giants.
"I knew in my heart that I wanted to re-sign with the Yankees, but I decided to listen to the other teams... at least go through with the process," Judge told NJ.com. Did Judge really have some kind of boyhood dream of playing for the Giants, the team he rooted for growing up? Maybe. Did Judge feign interest in the Giants, and other teams as a negotiating tactic? Probably.
Landing Judge might have been a longshot, or a chimera, but adding superstar shortstop Carlos Correa to the roster —who could have been the new cornerstone of the franchise — had seemed like a done deal, until it wasn't.
So the Giants made their now age-old pivot, according to Kurtenbach. "They’re building up from the bottom of the major league roster once again. But here’s the strange thing: It could work. You'd be a fool to discount it before the start of the season." Ahem. I've already played the fool in this story. "At least wait until June."
The Giants are leaning into the unpredictability of their non-superstar, non-franchise-cornerstone players, Kurtenbach said. "They want the rest of baseball to overlook their roster. Surprise enough teams, and you might have a pretty good one yourself.
"There might not be a deeper team in baseball than San Francisco."
OK, forget all the talk about rosters and decided dearth of superstars. Forget the ominous predictions. Let's talk about shorter games and beer.
This year's addition of a pitch clock seems to have been met with success in spring training. "Pitchers will have 15 seconds to begin their motion with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on. If they don't, they will be assessed a ball. Batters not in the box by the eight-second mark will receive a strike," the New York Times reported.
In spring training, the pitch clock whittled 26 minutes off games, bringing the average down to 2 hours and 35 minutes from just over 3 hours, according to ESPN. The Times said that the pitch clock "got mostly positive feedback, even if there were more than a few awkward moments when an automatic strike reared its ugly head. There was also a 20-second strikeout, so stay alert!"
There's also a ban on defensive shifts, which is expected to generate more offense and stolen bases. "Baseball, a game marketed largely on tradition and tension, is suddenly joining the other major sports in pivoting from its century-old rhythms to a future that was once unthinkable," the New York Times said. "For baseball fans, many of them nostalgic for the days of shorter games, higher batting averages and more stolen bases, the changes might feel like a throwback. But to the pitching coaches who work to get their players ready, the changes to the game represent some of the biggest in MLB. history — and a giant leap into an unknown future."
These rule changes might give you slightly less time to drink cheap(er) beer at Oracle Park. Select concessions at the stadium have lowered the price of beer from $14 to $9. This time, Giants' CEO Larry Baer's explanation to the fans for the reduction in prices was no doubt welcome: "Coming out of two years with the pandemic, and the lockout last year, it’s kind of like our fans deserve a break,” Baer told the San Francisco Chronicle.
"I mean, it’s been three tough years."
Top Image: Logan Webb started in the Giants 'season opener today against the New York Yankees in the Bronx. The Yankees beat the Giants 5-0. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)