SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Not once was there a mention of Bryce Harper. At least within earshot.
There was talk about the Giants’ pitching rotation for the first few exhibition games, Chris Stratton starting Saturday against the Angels, Madison Bumgarner on Sunday in the home opener against the Cubs.
There was an explanation from manager Bruce Bochy as to why he feels a need to play regulars at times during spring games. He skipped school as a high school ballplayer in Florida to watch the Reds. “I wanted to see our guys,” said Bochy, the fan.
Good info, but nary a dropped hint whether the idea of the Giants spending, what, $300 million is in any way realistic or just as much a fantasy as the Seven Cities of Cibola, which 500 years ago the Spanish searched for someplace beyond the right field fence.
Yes, the melting of winter — whenever that occurs, with the high temperature on Wednesday where the Giants, Athletics, Dodgers, Cubs and others work out a chilly 55 degrees — is always a time for hopes and dreams.
A year ago, there was a misplaced thought that the Giants could sign Giancarlo Stanton. So don’t get too excited. Then again, if the Padres can pony up $300 million for Manny Machado, perhaps somebody in the San Francisco executive feels compelled to keep pace.
Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations for the Gigantes, has frequently expressed his disagreement with what could be called the Big (checkbook) Bang Theory of administrating his sport, choosing to construct a franchise carefully and economically. However, the Giants are close to the bottom of the National League West, and understandably there has been a decline in fan interest and season ticket sales.
As you know, sports is a morass of impermanence. A team works its way to success and then, whoosh, the kids who got you there are in their 30s and hitting .240.
Maybe those outrageous contracts, as Machado received and apparently Harper will receive, are financially reckless. But it’s always been the belief here (meaning me) that in cars, wine and ballplayers you get what you pay for, with exceptions.
A man who is a reflection of that idea is Buster Posey, to whom the Giants in 2013 gave a nine-year, $167 million contract. He was the National League MVP and batting champion in 2012, helped the team win three World Series titles and, as both a ballplayer and an individual involved in charity work, has become the face of the franchise.
But he is about to become 32, and he is returning after hip surgery. That doesn’t mean Posey isn’t any good, but he certainly isn’t the ballplayer he used to be, especially when it comes to driving in runs.
Bochy correctly will move slowly with Posey. Buster won’t play in a game until March and then only as a designated hitter. Not as a catcher. Presumably he again will be able to go deep. Posey, restricted by the injury and unable to drive into the ball, hit only five home runs in 2018.
Oracle Park (nee AT&T, nee SBC, nee Pacific Bell), as we are aware, is not a stadium for home runs, except for visiting teams and for Barry Bonds. Still, this is the era of launch angle and long ball in the majors. The big inning is mostly a foreign concept to the Giants.
Bochy announced that he will retire as manager after the 2019 season, but he remains very much in the present. The Giants’ strength was, is and will be pitching. Also, without a solid closer, and with all those injuries to Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, their weakness.
If the other team doesn’t score, to steal an old line from football, you’ll never get worse than a 0-0 tie. Of course, if you don’t score — the Giants were shut out nine times in 2018 — you’ll never get much of anything.
As directed by Major League Baseball, every squad in spring training is wearing a sweatshirt warmup, in appropriate colors, with the same slogan, “Whole Team Ready.”
Ready for what? A decision to sign a star free agent? Um, maybe you’d be interested in who’ll be the starter in the third exhibition game. That would be Dereck Rodriguez, followed by Jeff Samardzija in the fourth.
Doesn’t have the kick of a Bryce Harper story, does it?