Giants may avoid the big­gest free agent stars

SF has money to sign Cole, Stras­burg, oth­ers

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Kerry Crow­ley

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> Dur­ing his ten­ure with the Giants, closer Will Smith be­came known for his abil­ity to shut the door.

This off­sea­son, he opened a big one.

Smith kicked off MLB’s free agent pe­riod by sign­ing a three­year, $40 mil­lion deal with the At­lanta Braves and opened the door to what prom­ises to be a fas­ci­nat­ing win­ter.

The Giants now have the tough task of re­plac­ing their sin­gle 2019 All-Star, but that’s not the only key chal­lenge the team faces as the off­sea­son rolls along. With Win­ter Meet­ings set to be­gin in less than two weeks, here are 10 thoughts on the Giants’ ros­ter needs and how the club’s ex­ec­u­tives will try to ad­dress them.

1. LET'S SEE THAT BRAINPOWER >>

The Giants’ ap­proach to ac­quir­ing tal­ent changed dras­ti­cally in pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Farhan Zaidi’s first year at the helm as fans be­came ac­cus­tomed to waiver claim ac­qui­si­tions and con­stant ros­ter churn. The fran­chise should have more

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fi­nan­cial flex­i­bil­ity in Zaidi’s sec­ond year, and it’s up to new gen­eral man­ager Scott Harris to as­sist with build­ing a more ex­cit­ing team.

In Zaidi and Harris, the Giants now have a pair of younger, well-re­garded ex­ec­u­tives who boast ex­pe­ri­ence with or­ga­ni­za­tions that are com­fort­able man­ag­ing larger pay­rolls. Af­ter a third con­sec­u­tive los­ing sea­son, Giants fans ex­pect more cre­ativ­ity from the front of­fice given the rep­u­ta­tions and track records Zaidi and Harris have in the game.

2. IF THE GIANTS MAKE A SPLASH, A START­ING PITCHER MAKES SENSE >>

With more flex­i­bil­ity comes more ex­pec­ta­tions and Giants fans won’t be sat­is­fied if the team fails to sign or trade for play­ers who rep­re­sent ob­vi­ous up­grades at a hand­ful of po­si­tions.

The free agent mar­ket isn’t par­tic­u­larly ro­bust in cer­tain spots, but there’s no short­age of ap­peal­ing start­ing pitch­ers and the Giants should have lit­tle trou­ble en­tic­ing a vet­eran or two to call Or­a­cle Park home. Zaidi may not want to pur­sue free agents such as Ger­rit Cole or Stephen Stras­burg on long-term deals, but there’s no rea­son the Giants can’t scour the next tier of the mar­ket for qual­ity arms.

Re-sign­ing Madi­son Bum­gar­ner makes plenty of sense, but if the big lefthander goes else­where, fel­low south­paws such as Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dal­las Keuchel should be viewed as re­al­is­tic op­tions.

3. THE GIANTS MIGHT NOT BE READY FOR A LONG-TERM COM­MIT­MENT, BUT THEY NEED ANOTHER SOLID OUT­FIELDER >>

There’s no doubt the Giants need to add power to their lineup and there’s a hand­ful of qual­ity right-handed-hit­ting out­field­ers in­clud­ing Nick Castel­lanos and Mar­cell Ozuna who re­main avail­able. It’s dif­fi­cult to en­vi­sion the fran­chise mak­ing a four or five-year com­mit­ment to any po­si­tion player this off­sea­son, but the Giants can’t af­ford to watch the sweep­stakes for free agent out­field­ers from the side­lines.

For­mer Rays right fielder Avisaíl Gar­cía ap­pears to be a good fit while for­mer Dodgers and Reds light­ning rod Yasiel Puig is an in­trigu­ing free agent op­tion. It might take some time for the Giants’ long­est-tenured play­ers to warm up to Puig, but he has the type of skill set the club is seek­ing.

4. A MID­DLE INFIELD AC­QUI­SI­TION WILL BE IN­TER­EST­ING TO DISSECT >>

One of the most in­ter­est­ing sto­ry­lines to fol­low next spring prom­ises to be how the Giants han­dle their mid­dle infield depth. Fol­low­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of Mauri­cio Dubón at the trade dead­line, the club now has a ver­sa­tile spark plug who can han­dle both sec­ond base and short­stop.

It’s pos­si­ble the Giants will in­stall Dubón as their reg­u­lar sec­ond base­man and leave Bran­don Craw­ford in a full-time role at short­stop, but af­ter a mis­er­able sea­son at the plate, it wouldn’t come as a sur­prise if the Giants found Craw­ford a pla­toon part­ner.

That part­ner could be the right-handed hit­ting Dubón or it could be another player with the abil­ity to shift from po­si­tionto-po­si­tion in the infield. For­mer Mets and D’backs in­fielder Wilmer Flores doesn’t have a great glove, but he’s able to play al­most any­where while for­mer Red Sox in­fielder Brock Holt might be an op­tion if the Giants show in­ter­est in a left-handed util­ity bat.

5. THE CEN­TER FIELD MAR­KET ISN'T WORTH EN­TER­ING >>

There’s been plenty of de­bate over whether the Giants will ten­der Kevin Pil­lar a con­tract for next sea­son, but un­less the fran­chise plans on ac­quir­ing a cen­ter fielder through a trade, it’s un­likely any­one other than Pil­lar will be man­ning the mid­dle of the out­field on Open­ing Day.

The free agent mar­ket for cen­ter field­ers is so weak this off­sea­son that it’s un­likely the Giants would even con­sider try­ing to find a backup on the mar­ket. With Pil­lar likely to re­turn and Steven Dug­gar hav­ing re­cov­ered from a shoul­der surgery, the Giants should have some in­ter­nal con­fi­dence that the po­si­tion won’t be a dis­as­ter next year.

If it is, wel­come to the show, He­liot Ramos.

6. THE NON-TEN­DER DEAD­LINE WILL STILL BE WORTH FOL­LOW­ING >>

Pil­lar’s name may not end up on the list of non-ten­dered vet­er­ans this off­sea­son, but there are cer­tainly teams that will run out of room for play­ers who can still be pro­duc­tive ma­jor league as­sets.

Zaidi has demon­strated a skill in eval­u­at­ing fringe tal­ent and it wouldn’t come as a sur­prise if the Giants were ac­tive in shuf­fling their 40-man ros­ter fol­low­ing the De­cem­ber 2 non­tender dead­line.

Some fran­chises have al­ready made tough de­ci­sions on play­ers as the Rays did with Matt Duffy, but there are a num­ber of clubs still weigh­ing choices as the dead­line ap­proaches.

7. DON'T BE SUR­PRISED IF THE GIANTS DON'T TOUCH THEIR BULLPEN (WITH A MA­JOR ADD) >>

Smith al­ready found a new home with the At­lanta Braves, which has led many fans to won­der who will close games for the club next year.

There’s plenty of in­ter­nal op­tions, but there are also ar­gu­ments to be made in fa­vor of pur­su­ing a free agent such as Steve Cishek or Dellin Be­tances. The guess here is the Giants will make a hand­ful of low-pro­file ad­di­tions in­clud­ing play­ers who sign mi­nor league deals that will be ex­pected to con­tend for bullpen jobs.

De­spite lock­ing up Ken­ley Jansen to a long-term deal with the Dodgers while he was the team’s gen­eral man­ager, it’s un­like Zaidi to spend gobs of money on re­lief pitch­ers. The Giants aren’t in a po­si­tion where they’re ready to con­tend for a pen­nant and they are in a spot where they want to eval­u­ate some of their more in­ex­pe­ri­enced arms in high­lever­age sit­u­a­tions, so it could be a quiet win­ter as far as the bullpen is con­cerned.

8. CATCHER MAR­KET IS THINNING AL­READY >>

Zaidi has gone on the record in stat­ing his de­sire to ad­dress the team’s catch­ing depth, but the Giants might be run­ning short on time to do so.

The Giants were never go­ing to se­ri­ously pur­sue Yas­mani Gran­dal or Travis d’Ar­naud with Joey Bart in their pipeline, and Stephen Vogt on Tues­day signed with the Di­a­mond­backs. Nei­ther the new nor the old regime has ever dis­played a ton of con­fi­dence in Aramis Gar­cia’s abil­ity to play a ma­jor role, but there aren’t many catch­ers avail­able who are clear up­grades over the in-house backup to Buster Posey.

Zaidi likes hav­ing a left­handed hit­ting op­tion to pla­toon at the game’s most phys­i­cally de­mand­ing po­si­tion, but he also stresses po­si­tional ver­sa­til­ity.

9. THE FARM IS BET­TER, BUT ARE PROSPECTS WORTH SURRENDERI­NG? >>

As men­tioned above, fans are crav­ing cre­ativ­ity from the front of­fice to break a cy­cle of los­ing, largely bor­ing play the Giants have sub­jected them to of late. Save for a dom­i­nant run this July, the Giants haven’t given their fan base much hope in the last three years.

That’s be­gin­ning to change with the tal­ent be­ing amassed in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s farm sys­tem, and it’s fair to won­der if the Giants have enough to con­sider part­ing with some prospect cap­i­tal to ac­quire a proven big league tal­ent.

The Giants won’t trade Ramos, Bart, Marco Lu­ciano or Hunter Bishop, but they now have a sec­ondtier of promis­ing prospects who would draw in­ter­est from other clubs. Is sac­ri­fic­ing a fu­ture piece worth­while at this point of a soft re­build? We’ll know how the front of­fice feels by Open­ing Day.

10. THE TREND OF TEAMS AN­NOUNC­ING CON­TRACT TERMS IS A PLEAS­ANT SUR­PRISE >>

The fi­nal thought is a mi­nor, some­what in­signif­i­cant point but one worth men­tion­ing as the off­sea­son ac­tion be­gins to heat up.

In re­cent days, the At­lanta Braves and Chicago White Sox have both made nu­mer­ous an­nounce­ments re­gard­ing free agent sign­ings that in­clude the length and salary of a player’s con­tract. This breaks with tra­di­tion, as ma­jor league teams have pre­vi­ously shied away from pub­licly not­ing how much a player is earn­ing.

Even­tu­ally, we all find out any­way. Whether con­tract de­tails come from a re­porter who is close to a player’s agent or an ex­ec­u­tive will­ing to leak the in­for­ma­tion, player salaries have been the worst-kept se­crets in base­ball for quite some time.

It was re­fresh­ing to see teams show some trans­parency and con­trol the mes­sag­ing, par­tic­u­larly so fans could dis­cuss the de­tails in con­ver­sa­tion right away. Player con­tracts are a talk­ing point that drum up in­ter­est in the sport, and it’s nice when fans (and writ­ers) can have in­formed de­bates right away.

RAY CHAVEZ — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

Start­ing pitcher Madi­son Bum­gar­ner warms up with catcher Buster Posey be­fore their game against the Rock­ies at Or­a­cle Park in San Fran­cisco on Sept. 24.

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