IN SPORTS: GI­ANTS MULLING OFF­SEA­SON MOVES

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Kerry Crow­ley

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Ma­jor League Base­ball’s best teams have it all.

Star play­ers, wun­derkind ex­ec­u­tives, and in many cases, de­jected di­vi­sion ri­vals to pad their stats against.

The San Fran­cisco Gi­ants, as cur­rently con­structed, are not one of base­ball’s best teams. But in a sports land­scape in­creas­ingly tol­er­ant of tank­ing and re­build­ing — of los­ing it all to gain it all back — the Gi­ants don’t ap­pear in­cen­tivized to lose 100 games.

Un­der new pres­i­dent of base­ball oper­a­tions Farhan Zaidi, the Gi­ants have yet to com­mit to a di­rec­tion for the 2019 sea­son.

Will Zaidi feel pres­sure to win im­me­di­ately and sign premium free agents in his first off­sea­son with the club? Or would the for­mer Dodgers gen­eral man­ager see the value in ship­ping off a fran­chise hero like Madi­son Bum­gar­ner to ac­quire prospect cap­i­tal?

Af­ter more than a month on the job, Zaidi has yet to pub­licly re­veal his pref­er­ence. In a league that seem­ingly begs teams to go for it all or pack it in be­fore pitch­ers and catch­ers even re­port to spring train­ing, Zaidi may be the rare front of­fice leader who finds value in build­ing from base­ball’s mid­dle ground.

De­spite los­ing a com­bined 187 games over the last two years, the Gi­ants en­tered both sea­sons ex­pect­ing to con­tend. Even af­ter ty­ing for a ma­jor league-worst 98 losses in 2017, the fran­chise’s front of­fice termed the sea­son an “aber­ra­tion” and vowed to add depth to a ros­ter that could com­pete for a play­off berth in 2018.

Though the Gi­ants be­gan the month of Septem­ber 68-68, the club never stacked up with the Na­tional League’s top teams and ul­ti­mately fin­ished 16 games un­der .500.

At his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence Novem­ber 7, Zaidi said he hoped the Gi­ants could com­pete as deep into the sea­son as pos­si­ble. The ex­ec­u­tive tasked with set­ting the blue­print for the fran­chise’s fu­ture was care­ful not to com­mit to “con­tend­ing” and he didn’t of­fer an es­ti­mate of how deep into the year the Gi­ants could re­al­is­ti­cally en­ter­tain post­sea­son hopes. But when pressed fur­ther, Zaidi also didn’t em­brace the idea of tear­ing down the ros­ter.

“I just think with where we are as an or­ga­ni­za­tion right now, we have to cast as wide of a net as pos­si­ble and not put too many la­bels on what this process is go­ing to be other than to make smart and sound de­ci­sions,” Zaidi said.

At last Fri­day’s non-ten­der dead­line for ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble play­ers, Zaidi of­fered some ini­tial clues re­gard­ing how he’ll ap­proach his first full year on the job.

The Gi­ants agreed to terms with se­cond base­man Joe Panik and re­liever Sam Dyson while also ten­der­ing a con­tract to left-han­der Will Smith, who served as the team’s closer for much of last sea­son. How­ever, Zaidi parted ways with the long­est-tenured mem­ber of the bullpen, Hunter Strick­land, and out­fielder Gorkys Hernán­dez.

Teams en­gaged in to­tal re­builds don’t re-sign re­liev­ers for $5 mil­lion, as the Gi­ants did with Dyson. Some gen­eral man­agers work­ing for cash-strapped teams

wouldn’t have brought back Panik, a mid­dle in­fielder with lim­ited power, for $3.85 mil­lion ei­ther.

In the com­ing weeks, Zaidi will likely trade for or sign mul­ti­ple out­field­ers, at least one vet­eran start­ing pitcher and a part-time catcher. The play­ers Zaidi pur­sues, the terms of their con­tracts and their over­all fit with the club will pro­vide a much more com­pre­hen­sive look at how the Gi­ants view their short and longterm chances of com­pet­ing, but a re­al­is­tic sce­nario is that San Fran­cisco ends up head­ing to Scotts­dale in Fe­bru­ary with a ros­ter des­tined for base­ball’s mid­dle ground.

The Gi­ants don’t ap­pear will­ing to fol­low the multi-year re­build process that led the Cubs and As­tros to re­cent ti­tles and they cer­tainly don’t want to be­gin Open­ing Day with ros­ters de­void of enough le­git­i­mate ma­jor league ta­lent, like the Mar­lins and Ori­oles will. In­stead, Zaidi and the Gi­ants seem more in­clined to add depth and value wher­ever pos­si­ble, set­ting the stage for more cli­mac­tic sea­sons in 2020 and 2021.

“I would an­tic­i­pate we’re go­ing to have a few moves be­fore this off­sea­son is said and done,” Zaidi said in an in­ter­view on KNBR Wed­nes­day. “You can never pre­dict what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

In Dyson, Smith, Bum­gar­ner and Panik, the Gi­ants have four as­sets who could eas­ily be flipped this win­ter or at next year’s trade dead­line. All four are set to be­come free agents be­fore the fran­chise will likely be able to field a World Series con­tender, so shop­ping them now or al­low­ing them to boost their value ahead of the sum­mer dead­line of­fers Zaidi im­por­tant flex­i­bil­ity.

The Gi­ants also have just 34 play­ers on their 40-man ros­ter, al­low­ing Zaidi to take some gam­bles. He can take a chance on a Rule 5 draft pick next week or sign mul­ti­ple vet­er­ans look­ing to re-es­tab­lish their value with a new team in 2019, much like for­mer gen­eral man­ager Bobby Evans did with pitcher Derek Hol­land last year.

JIM MCISAAC/TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

The San Fran­cisco Gi­ants’ Madi­son Bum­gar­ner, right, and Buster Posey cel­e­brate af­ter de­feat­ing the New York Mets in the Na­tional League Wild Card Game on Oct. 5, 2016, in New York. The Gi­ants haven't been to the play­offs since.

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