5 key questions for Giants, A’s as they enter spring training.
Giants: What is future for Bochy, Bumgarner?
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.
Managers Bob Melvin, left, and Bruce Bochy have plenty to figure out before opening night.
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.