OAKLAND — The ball went high and deep and outta there, and while everybody was still admiring backup catcher Nick Hundley’s fourth-inning grand slam, Brandon Crawford had a wry, random, very Giant-y thought for Buster Posey.
“I think Craw was kidding Buster,” manager Bruce Bochy said approvingly after the Giants’ 6-3 exhibition-season closing victory over the A’s at the Coliseum, “‘Who’s going opening day?’”
Well, of course Posey — face of the Giants’ franchise, Captain America, the foundation piece of this whole thing — is starting Sunday’s season-opener in Arizona and just about every game possible after that one.
But Hundley’s spring power — that was his third exhibition-season homer — and the Giants’ comfortable banter about this and almost everything else these days are true indications of this franchise’s most mature, stable and deep roster in a long, long time.
It comes at a particularly urgent time: The Giants have more proven players than ever, even more than their three World Series champion teams, but their mainstays sure aren’t getting any younger or cheaper.
This is not a bunch of up-and-comers or a band of misfits. Opposite of all that, actually.
The 2017 Giants, if all goes well, will be a smooth, powerful squad led by big names and supported by players paid extremely well to do so.
The Giants have five players making $18 million or more this season, they’ve got a payroll moving towards $180 million, and yet they’re currently in their longest World Series drought since that first epic run in 2010.
And after paying $62 million over four years to land closer Mark Melancon and adding a few new role players, and after trading away several good young players last July to land starter Matt Moore, third baseman Eduardo Nunez and the since-injured Will Smith, they’re set at almost every position.
There wasn’t much juggling to do this spring, and the Giants didn’t do much. They’ve got what they’ve got, and now they have to go chase down the Cubs and Dodgers, and maybe a few other teams.
Here they go.
“We feel we’re as stable as we’ve been the last three or four years,” Bochy said. “Granted we’ve had some success, but I look at the depth — our bench right now, I’m going to be comfortable giving guys days off and try to keep them rested.
“The one setback was Will Smith (out for the season after Tommy John surgery); he was a guy that was going to help stabilize the bullpen. … That one was a tough one for us to take. But we think we have the arms, the depth to make that a little bit easier.”
If there’s one major question about this team: Where is the power coming from?
Hunter Pence will turn 34 in April, has experienced several injured-plagued seasons, and hasn’t hit more than 20 homers since he hit 27 in 2013 — when he was 30.
And Posey, who just turned 30, has seen his homer totals decrease in each of the last three seasons, from 22 to 19 to last season’s 14.
Who led them in homers last season? That’d be Belt, who hit 17; as a team, the Giants hit 130, third fewest in the majors and way below the major-league average of 187. Of course, the Giants have won titles recently with very little power — it’s not the easiest way, and it puts an extreme burden on the pitching staff.
But the Giants’ starting rotation is built to hold up — Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto at the top, Moore and Jeff Samardzija in the middle, and Matt Cain in the No. 5 slot, for as long as he can hold it.
Then the Giants will see if their bullpen can finish these games.
Really, this is most established and predictable team of the Bochy era, thanks to the superstars involved, the money invested in that pitching staff, the rise of Crawford, Belt and Joe Panik from the system, and the specific epic failure of the bullpen last season.
If they could’ve nailed down the ninth inning just one or two more times in September and October, the Giants might’ve won their fourth World Series in seven seasons.
That puts the entirety of 2017 under an atomic microscope, in a way.
Every game, every inning, every out is precious — starting Sunday in Arizona, Bumgarner vs. Zack Greinke.
Every day, every month, every season is precious — especially when they know this might not last too much longer, and they remember how sweet it was in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Every chance at a championship is precious, and no team understands that more than the Giants, who are established, expensive and understandably eager for at least one more shot at it.