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Why the Giants could be contenders next season, despite a horrible 2017

There are a lot of reasons why a franchise might decide a complete rebuild is the best thing for its future. A team full of veterans on pace to lose close to 100 games in a season? Yes, that would qualify as a major reason. Probably the best reason a team could come up with, really.

But the Giants don't seem to care about that. As one of their worst seasons in team history slogs to its inevitable end, the Giants are already starting to look ahead to next year; and, don't be surprised if the roster looks a whole lot like the one from this year.

It was easy to get a sense of what the Giants might have been thinking at the trade deadline, when the only veteran piece they moved was free agent-to-be Eduardo Nunez. They hung on to their higher-priced veterans, many of whom could have helped a number of contenders. That probably had something to do with the salaries of some of those players, but a team with an eye on rebuilding likely would have eaten money if it meant getting younger prospects in return.

The Giants didn't, and that speaks to what their plans are for 2018. They've made it clear that they're a team that doesn't rebuild, but rather tries to reload. With the success they've enjoyed this decade and the fan support and ticket sales that come with it, it's not hard to figure out why they might be averse to multiple losing seasons while trying to restock the system. But what is hard to figure out is whether the Giants are making the right move or just delaying the inevitable.

Taking a look at the Giants' roster, there are signs that they could be on to something in thinking they can contend again next year. Johnny Cueto, who can opt out of his deal this winter, recently indicated that his mindset has been staying in San Francisco and playing out his contract. Injuries have limited his effectiveness recently, but if he's healthy next year he can give the Giants a formidable top of the rotation with Madison Bumgarner and the resurgent Jeff Samardzija. The last two spots might be up for grabs, but that's already a solid foundation.

The bullpen has been buoyed by the addition of Sam Dyson, a return to health for Mark Melancon, and contributions from younger arms such as Kyle Crick and Hunter Strickland. If Will Smith can return from Tommy John surgery next year and become the reliable left-handed option they currently lack, the Giants have the makings of a pretty good relief corps, especially in the late innings.

So while the future of their pitching staff might give the Giants hope, their offense is another story entirely. If they had to point to one thing that has sunk their chances this year, an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category would be it. Finding solutions won't be easy, either: it's not an especially great year for free agent hitters that fit the Giants' needs, and there aren't a lot of hitters who'd put AT&T Park at the top of their lists of best places to hit.

The Giants will try, though. They've been linked to Giancarlo Stanton and have been one of the most aggressive suitors for him, according to reports. Tuesday they were linked to Justin Upton, who'd make a lot of sense for them in left field. If they somehow pull of a Stanton trade — unlikely, given the state of their farm system, but stranger things have happened — it would go a long way towards making their lineup respectable again.

Even if they don't land Stanton, they'll need to upgrade their offense somehow if they're to have any hope of getting back to October. Whether that's by signing someone such as Upton or trading for another bat, they can't just sit back, do nothing and hope their veteran hitters will rebound next year.

The Giants aren't crazy in thinking they could get back into contention next year with only a few tweaks, rather than a total rebuild. They've under-performed significantly this season, but they have a roster full of players with long enough track records to make someone think this year could just be an anomaly. And if they add the right pieces in the right places, it's not hard to picture them right back in the thick of contention by this time next year.

But it's just as easy to imagine this year being a precursor to even worse times, and the Giants being forced to start the rebuilding process next July while having already wasted a year's time. That dichotomy of potential results will make San Francisco one of the most fascinating teams to watch this winter — a championship club fallen on hard times trying desperately to return to relevance.


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