5 key ques­tions for Gi­ants, A’s as they en­ter spring train­ing.

Gi­ants: What is fu­ture for Bochy, Bum­gar­ner?

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Henry Schul­man

By the time we ask the an­nual five key ques­tions for the Gi­ants en­ter­ing spring train­ing, they al­ready have an­swered the over­ar­ch­ing question of what kind of team they will try to be. Usu­ally.

Spring train­ing 2019 will be dif­fer­ent. New pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Farhan Zaidi took the job with a plan to set the Gi­ants on a bet­ter course, but the dearth of player moves this off­sea­son has ob­servers scratch­ing their heads over the di­rec­tion that course will take.

Set­ting the big pic­ture aside un­til the team is rounded out, we can iden­tify these other key ques­tions.

1. Is this Bruce Bochy’s fi­nal year as man­ager?

Odds are it is. His con­tract ex­pires af­ter the sea­son, he turns 64 in April and new front-of­fice chiefs usu­ally want to pick their own man­agers.

There is a sig­nif­i­cant “how­ever” here. Bochy helmed three World Series ti­tle teams and re­mains pop­u­lar in San Fran­cisco. Zaidi has to re­spect who Bochy is and what he has done in 12 sea­sons with the Gi­ants.

Bochy has pledged to be open-minded about change, which goes be­yond the new­fan­gled way pitch­ers are used, or front-of­fice types walk­ing into the club­house and mak­ing “sug­ges­tions” on lineup changes. For in­stance, Bochy’s pen­chant for stick­ing with vet­er­ans — “our guys” — even through lengthy slumps, well, those days are over.

This will be the club’s most fas­ci­nat­ing dy­namic this sea­son.

2. Will Madi­son Bum­gar­ner be traded?

Like Bochy, Bum­gar­ner is a World Series hero, but fans in­creas­ingly un­der­stand the ben­e­fits of re­stock­ing the farm by trad­ing po­ten­tial free agents such as Bum­gar­ner ver­sus let­ting them walk for noth­ing or sign­ing them to nine-fig­ure con­tracts.

Zaidi said his of­fice has made no out­go­ing calls on Bum­gar­ner, but if the team fails to con­tend (and they’re not ex­pected to con­tend), he will get no short­age of in­com­ing calls from con­tenders that al­ways seem to be one big starter short at the trade dead­line — as­sum­ing Bum­gar­ner pitches like the Bum­gar­ner of old.

Re­mem­ber this mod­ern wrin­kle, though: The Gi­ants can hold on to the Big Fella all sea­son and ex­tend a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer, en­sur­ing draft com­pen­sa­tion if he signs else­where or hav­ing him for one more year at about $20 mil­lion in the un­likely event that he ac­cepts it.

3. Can the Gi­ants get bounce­back sea­sons from vet­eran play­ers?

Joe Panik, Buster Posey, Jeff Sa­mardz­ija, Mark Me­lan­con, Bran­don Belt, Evan Lon­go­ria. Holy Toledo, that’s a lot of play­ers who had down sea­sons be­cause of in­juries, in­ef­fec­tive­ness or both.

Fans tend to look at these play­ers as ze­roes or less-thanze­roes mov­ing for­ward, and all need to prove the is­sue is not merely nat­u­ral de­cline due to age. Zaidi has been kin­der, say­ing he ex­pects this “cham­pi­onship core of play­ers” to win more games. More than once he de­clared he saw no rea­son to “throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter.”

Posey is the player to watch, with hope that his long-needed hip surgery will al­low him to be the power threat he once was.

4. Who will man the out­field on Open­ing Day?

It’s pos­si­ble this question has not been as open-ended since play­ers drove to the ball­park in Model T’s. Who’s go­ing to start in right field, Bryce Harper or Drew Ferguson? It’s a pick-’em!

The Gi­ants have five out­field­ers on their 40-man ros­ter: Steven Dug­gar, Mac Wil­liamson, Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, and Ferguson, a for­mer Astros prospect and Gi­ants Rule 5 draft pick. They also in­vited mi­nor-lea­guers Henry Ramos and Anthony Gar­cia to camp, while Zaidi still hopes to add one or two vet­eran free agents.

The wild card is Harper, of course. The Gi­ants have some in­ter­est. Oth­er­wise, the player to watch might be Wil­liamson, whose 2018 sea­son was wrecked by a con­cus­sion that came in the fifth and fi­nal game of an ex­plo­sive call-up that had fans think­ing the Gi­ants fi­nally found their ver­sion of Big­foot: a home­grown out­fielder with pop.

5. Is there another Dereck Ro­driguez in the sys­tem ready to sur­prise in 2019?

If we knew now, it wouldn’t be a sur­prise, would it?

Zaidi’s A’s and Dodgers did a good job iden­ti­fy­ing un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated tal­ent. Gar­cia, who hit 25 homers at Triple-A last year, could be a can­di­date. Starter Lo­gan Webb, added to the 40-man ros­ter, made a huge leap in the Gi­ants’ sys­tem in 2018. They also have a home­grown in­fielder named Ryan Howard who might be a fac­tor.

As in past years, the farm sys­tem is not flush with ma­jors-ready tal­ent. Un­like past years, the prospects they do have should get long looks un­der a new man­age­ment team that is not mar­ried to the older play­ers who pre­ceded it to San Fran­cisco.

Ben Mar­got / As­so­ci­ated Press 2018

Man­agers Bob Melvin, left, and Bruce Bochy have plenty to fig­ure out be­fore open­ing night.

Thearon W. Hen­der­son / Getty Im­ages 2018

Steven Dug­gar dives for a ball against the Brew­ers last sea­son. The Gi­ants’ out­field is far from set­tled with Dug­gar, Mac Wil­liamson, Austin Slater and Chris Shaw among the top can­di­dates.

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