Giants may avoid the biggest free agent stars
SF has money to sign Cole, Strasburg, others
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.
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.