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With a new manager and general manager in the fold, the Giants head into the post-Bruce Bochy era as perhaps a dark horse for some significant offseason business.
- Evan Longoria, 3B: $58MM through 2022 (includes $5MM buyout of $13MM club option for 2023)
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $49MM through 2021 (includes $5MM buyout of $22MM club option for 2022)
- Buster Posey, C: $45.8MM through 2021 (includes $3MM buyout of $22MM club option for 2022)
- Brandon Belt, 1B: $32MM through 2021
- Brandon Crawford, SS: $30MM through 2021
- Jeff Samardzija, SP: $19.5MM through 2020
- Tony Watson, RP: $2.5MM through 2020 (exercised player option)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Kevin Pillar – $9.7MM
- Tyler Anderson – $2.625MM
- Donovan Solano – $1.2MM
- Alex Dickerson – $1.2MM
- Joey Rickard – $1.1MM
- Wandy Peralta – $800K
- Non-tender candidates: Pillar, Rickard, Peralta
- Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith (signed with Braves), Pablo Sandoval, Stephen Vogt, Fernando Abad, Scooter Gennett, Kyle Barraclough, Mike Gerber, Dan Winkler, Pat Venditte
Reports surrounding Will Smith’s three-year, $40MM deal with the Braves contained the detail that Smith’s representatives used the Giants’ $17.8MM qualifying offer as a bargaining chip with other teams. If no rival club was willing to step up and offer Smith the type of multi-year contract he was seeking, Smith would just have accepted the Giants’ one-year offer and returned to San Francisco for the 2020 season.
As it happened, Atlanta came up with a suitable offer and Smith will now be working out of the SunTrust Park bullpen. It’s possible the threat of an accepted qualifying offer was just a negotiating tactic on Smith’s part, but taken at face value, the closer was seemingly willing to be a Giant next year.
It creates an interesting sliding-doors scenario for the Giants as they head into what could be an intriguing offseason. If Smith had remained in the fold, would president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi have been more inclined to go for it in 2020, showing the same competitive zeal that led him to keep Smith, Madison Bumgarner, Tony Watson and other seemingly surefire trade chips at the deadline? Or, with Smith gone and the Giants now in possession of an extra compensatory draft pick, will Zaidi further focus on rebuilding what is still one of the older teams in baseball, and one that suffered its third straight losing season?
It could be that both avenues will be explored, as Zaidi has indicated he will continue the rebuilding-while-reloading strategy that he has deployed throughout his first year running the Giants’ front office. Zaidi recently said his club is “open to anything” this winter. “We’re still in a mode where we want to compete next year,” he explained. “… But we want to do it in a way that creates flexibility for us and keeps us an organization moving in a positive, healthy direction.”
Zaidi will have a new voice alongside him in the decision-making process, as Scott Harris was hired as the Giants’ new general manager and Zaidi’s top lieutenant. Though Harris has seven years’ experience as the Cubs’ assistant GM and director of baseball operations, he is also only 32 years old, continuing the recent trend of younger executive hirings (Zaidi himself recently turned 43) and more modern approaches to roster-building around the game.
That same direction extended into the team’s search to replace Bochy as manager, as almost all of the names linked to the Giants job were younger coaches who would have been first-time managers. As it happened, the club went with a younger name who did boast some dugout-leading experience, as the 44-year-old Gabe Kapler was hired just over a month after being fired from a two-year stint managing the Phillies.
Kapler’s appointment came with no shortage of controversy and even some dismay from some Giants fans. While in Philadelphia, Kapler amassed only a 161-163 record over two seasons, earning criticism for everything from player discipline issues to questionable in-game tactics and bullpen management. Nonetheless, there’s a long list of managers who improved after struggling in his first job, and Kapler and Zaidi have a long relationship dating back to their days in the Dodgers’ front office.
Zaidi, Harris, and Kapler will go into their first offseason together looking at an everyday lineup that is technically filled at every position. Longtime catcher Buster Posey will look to get back on track now that he’s over a year removed from hip surgery, though the Giants will look to spell him with a backup who could play more often than your average second-stringer. A reunion with Stephen Vogt is already being explored, though the Athletics have also shown interest in bringing Vogt over to the other side of the bay and other organizations are sure to be involved.
The quartet of Brandon Belt, Mauricio Dubon, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria are penciled in around the infield. The Giants’ outfield was a revolving door in 2019 but the team finally unearthed a couple of hidden gems in Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson, while Kevin Pillar hit 21 homers and provided at least some stability in center field, even if Pillar’s glovework (-1.6 UZR/150, -5 Defensive Runs Saved) has taken a big step back from his defensive heyday in Toronto.
With a $9.7MM projected arbitration salary, Pillar has a big price tag for a player who is seemingly declining on defense and has never been an above-average bat. There are arguments on both sides as to whether San Francisco should retain or non-tender Pillar, and this is one of several positions that the Giants could address in a bold fashion. A trade for the Pirates’ Starling Marte, perhaps, since the Bucs could decide to rebuild under new GM Ben Cherington, though he’s sure to be targeted by multiple contenders and may come at too steep a price. If the Giants prefer a younger player at a lower acquisition cost and salary, they could consider names like Manuel Margot and Michael A. Taylor or look into much less experienced performers. The free agent center field market isn’t teeming with great options, though Japanese star Shogo Akiyama has some intrigue, and his on-base skills would be a big help to a Giants lineup that struggled to get runners aboard.
In fact, the Giants struggled at basically everything on offense last season, so there’s certainly room for upgrades within their everyday lineup. Contractual obligations, however, are a big obstacle to creating space — with Crawford, Belt and Posey all coming off subpar years and Longoria owed $58MM for his age 34-36 seasons, rival teams won’t exactly be lining up to make trade offers. Of that group, Belt probably has the widest trade value since he could be helped the most by a move to a more hitter-friendly ballpark, but he’s also in an era where teams aren’t willing to pay top dollar at first base for anything less than top-flight production. (Belt’s ten-team no-trade clause further complicates matters.)
This isn’t to say that a creative trade couldn’t be found, if the Giants were to eat money to accommodate a deal or perhaps arrange a multi-team swap. Perhaps lightning could even strike twice for Zaidi and he’d find another team willing to entirely absorb one of the Giants’ big salaries, such as how the Braves surprisingly paid full freight on Mark Melancon at last year’s trade deadline.
If the veterans could largely be seen as placeholders, San Francisco will look for some offensive improvement from within, if Dubon hits well in his first full MLB season, or if Yastrzemski and Dickerson continue their hot hitting into 2020. Zaidi has said that the Giants will look to acquire a left-handed hitting infielder who could spell Dubon or Longoria. While rookie Kean Wong has already been claimed off waivers from the Angels, a more proven veteran option would likely be preferred. Options abound in free agency. Donovan Solano (a right-handed hitter) is also on hand for infield depth, looking to build off a very strong performance in part-time duty in 2019.
Neither Yastrzemski or Dickerson have long track records of success, so the outfield depth will again be an area of concern. Dickerson’s injury history makes him more of a question mark, so the Giants could consider him as a fourth outfielder type while looking for a more reliable everyday option (probably a right-handed outfielder, as both Yastrzemski and Dickerson hit from the left side). Cameron Maybin could be brought back for a second consecutive winter, though his pre-season 2019 stint didn’t end in the best of circumstances. Avisail Garcia could be a youthful upside play … or the club could even bring in Yasiel Puig. Odd as it would be to see Puig in a Giants uniform, he does have ties to Zaidi and Kapler.
The Giants could also see this as an opportunity to land a bigger-ticket outfielder. Nicholas Castellanos’ defensive limitations make him an imperfect fit for Oracle Park’s spacious outfield, though he’d certainly add plenty of pop. Castellanos could be signed without draft pick compensation, while Marcell Ozuna would cost the Giants a pick since he rejected the Cardinals’ qualifying offer.
Spending on an Ozuna, Castellanos, or even a more expensive free agent can’t be ruled out since the Giants are starting to see daylight after being buried under a pile of pricey veteran contracts for the last few years. Longoria is the only player under contract past the 2021 season, and the Giants are in no danger of surpassing the $208MM luxury tax threshold, with an estimated current tax number of slightly under $144.6MM. Then again, Zaidi may not be anxious to slot in future obligations unless he sees a real opportunity for value.
Since San Francisco has the extra Smith pick and potentially another choice coming if Bumgarner signs elsewhere, could they make a splash by signing a QO-rejecting free agent of their own? Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson aren’t really options unless third base is opened up by a Longoria trade, though any of the other players who declined the qualifying offer could all fit. Beyond Ozuna in the outfield, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, or Zack Wheeler would immediately bolster a shaky Giants rotation.
Such a signing (of the pitchers in particular) would also announce that San Francisco is fully intent on contending for a playoff berth in 2020, and it remains to be seen if Zaidi is willing to make such a big strike this early in his tenure, especially since the Giants are far from being one player away. One major signing that can’t be ruled out is Bumgarner, yet the Giants might balk at a bidding war that could develop, considering how much interest Bumgarner is already generating.
Even if the Giants avoid the top of the pitching market, some rotation help is certainly required. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are the only hurlers who seem certain for the Opening Day starting five, and even that might not be set in stone if Samardzija is dealt before the final year of his contract. Tyler Anderson was added on a waiver claim from the Rockies, a move that has some upside potential but is something of a lottery ticket addition for now given Anderson’s lack of big league success. Tyler Beede, Dereck Rodriguez, Shaun Anderson, and Logan Webb are the other contenders for the three open rotation spots, leaving the Giants in need of experienced arms. Names from the second or third tier of the free agent market (i.e. Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, Tanner Roark, Jordan Lyles, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley) all make some sense.
After losing Smith to the Braves and Reyes Moronta for much of 2020 due to shoulder surgery, the relief corps got some good news when Watson remained with the Giants by exercising his player option. Watson is by far the senior member of a young bullpen, so some experienced help is a must, and the closer role stands out as the biggest question mark. It stands to reason that trade candidates like the Blue Jays’ Ken Giles could be on the Giants’ radar. Free agents with late-inning experience, such as Steve Cishek or Pedro Strop, could be considered. Former Giant Sergio Romo can’t be ruled out, or the club might take a chance on Brandon Morrow, who was in L.A. with Zaidi and Kapler.
While the Giants’ 77-85 record actually exceeded some expectations in 2019, it’s worth noting that the club only had a winning record in two months (a 14-13 mark in June, and then a scorching 19-6 run in July). Much work needs to be done in order to turn San Francisco into a true wild card contender, and this offseason could potentially look a lot like the last — Zaidi swung multiple low-level signings, waiver claims, and trades to shuffle around the fringes of his roster last winter. This time around, however, Zaidi has a bit more room to maneuver in exploring a higher-priced version of those same transactions.