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The Giants reassigned general manager and longtime front office fixture Bobby Evans in order to bring some fresh ideas into the mix after two straight disappointing seasons. Now, newly-hired president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi faces a tall order in streamlining an expensive, veteran-heavy, underachieving roster and helping guide the Giants back to contention.
- Evan Longoria, 3B: $73.166MM through 2022 (includes $5MM buyout of $13MM club option for 2023)
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $71MM through 2021 (includes $5MM buyout of $22M club option for 2022)
- Buster Posey, C: $67.2MM through 2021 (includes $3MM buyout of $22MM club option for 2022)
- Brandon Belt, 1B: $48MM through 2021
- Brandon Crawford, SS: $45MM through 2021
- Jeff Samardzija, SP: $39MM through 2020
- Mark Melancon, RP: $28MM through 2020 (didn’t exercise opt-out clause)
- Madison Bumgarner, SP: $12MM in 2019 (Giants exercised club option)
- Tony Watson, RP: $6MM through 2020 (Watson can exercise player option for a $500K buyout to opt out of contract after 2019 season)
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B: $555K through 2019 (Giants exercised club option; Red Sox responsible for the rest of the remaining $22.445MM owed on Sandoval’s contract through 2019)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in brackets; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Sam Dyson (4.142) – $5.4MM
- Joe Panik (4.100) – $4.2MM
- Will Smith (5.155) – $4.1MM
- Hunter Strickland (3.163) – $2.5MM
- Gorkys Hernandez (3.013) – $1.6MM
- Non-tender candidates: Panik, Hernandez
The top eight names in the “guaranteed contracts” section (everyone except Tony Watson and Pablo Sandoval) are slated to earn approximately $135.84MM in 2019, coming off a season in which the octet generated a combined 8.3 fWAR. That’s a lower total fWAR than Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, and Jacob deGrom produced as individuals in 2018, which is indicative of the troubling situation in which San Francisco finds itself heading into this new season. Between homegrown names that haven’t been producing and high-priced acquisitions that range from underwhelming to disastrous, the Giants simply don’t know what to expect going forward from most of the biggest names on their roster.
Into this situation comes Zaidi, who brings more of an analytically-minded approach to the Giants’ more traditionally “old-school” front office. Zaidi has experience finding efficiencies while working with payrolls both small (from his time in the Athletics’ front office) and large (as the Dodgers’ GM). Ideally, the Giants would love to see Zaidi replicate what he did in Los Angeles alongside president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman — cut tens of millions in salary while still reaching the postseason every year. The Dodgers went from touching the $300MM mark in payroll at the start of Zaidi’s tenure to getting under the luxury tax threshold this past season.
Unlike with the Dodgers, however, Zaidi inherits a Giants team that doesn’t have many polished prospects ready to step into regular roles. And, while the Dodgers had their share of underperforming big contracts, injury questions weren’t quite as prevalent as they are for the Giants’ priciest assets heading into 2019.
Johnny Cueto, for instance, almost surely won’t pitch next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. Hip surgery could keep Buster Posey from the Opening Day lineup. Brandon Belt battled knee problems down the stretch and has a lengthy injury history. Jeff Samardzija missed much of 2018 with shoulder issues, and Mark Melancon’s two years in San Francisco have been punctuated by multiple trips to the disabled list. Brandon Crawford dealt with nagging knee problems last year, though he also simply hasn’t hit as much over the last two years as he did from 2014-16.
Madison Bumgarner has had his own share of DL time over the past two seasons, which was certainly one reason why his numbers (3.29 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 3.33 K/BB rate over 240 2/3 IP) were a step back from his usual ace standards. That said, Bumgarner is still easily the most intriguing trade chip/extension candidate the Giants have, and what the team decides to do with the southpaw this offseason may quite possibly determine their approach for the rest of the winter.
If Bumgarner is re-signed to another extension, the Giants will add to their ledger of long-term deals and perhaps signal that they’re aiming to get back into contention right away. A Bumgarner trade, however, could lead one of two scenarios. First, the Giants could approach 2019 as a bit of a mini-rebuild, to add young talent and clear some money in order to make a renewed push for 2020. Secondly, the Giants could deal Bumgarner as part of a rebuild on the fly, adding some MLB-ready pieces that would help them fill some holes immediately.
This is complete speculation on my part, and admittedly dealing Bumgarner without getting at least one blue-chip prospect in return would be a bit of a waste. But, the Giants could explore moving Bumgarner along with either Belt or Evan Longoria in the same deal, accepting only a moderate return of either mid-range prospects, or perhaps a big league player who could help the Giants at another position (such as maybe a third baseman to replace Longoria). The Giants are reportedly looking to move Longoria, who struggled in his first season outside of Tampa Bay and is still owed over $73MM through 2022. As for Belt, he was the most productive of the Giants’ long-term assets, though dealing him would free up first base for some combination of other possibilities: giving a look to prospect Chris Shaw, Posey splitting time between first and catcher, or targeting a potentially underpriced asset in free agency or trade. Both Belt and Bumgarner have partial no-trade clauses that allow them to block deals to 10 and eight teams, respectively, so it could be a bit tricky finding a willing trade partner for this scenario who isn’t on either player’s no-trade list.
Such a deal would give San Francisco more flexibility with both roster construction and the payroll. After they (barely) ducked under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold last season, the Giants reset their luxury penalization to zero, and they’ll pay only a first-timer minimum penalty should they surpass the $206MM payroll limit. So while the team doesn’t necessarily face any huge restraints in regards to spending, getting one big contract off the books is probably a logical step if the team is preparing to make another high-priced addition.
Signing Bryce Harper, of course, would be the biggest such move the Giants could make, though early reports have suggested the club isn’t going to be a major suitor for the 26-year-old free agent. San Francisco has the resources and the ownership track record to pursue just about any free agent, or to take on a big contract from another team in a trade, though it remains to seen if the Giants will be as aggressive in this regard under Zaidi as they were under the Brian Sabean/Bobby Evans regime.
If we’re mentioning Harper, it’s only fitting that we also at least throw Manny Machado’s name out there. While Zaidi just a few months removed from bringing Machado to the Dodgers in a trade, a Machado/Giants connection seems unlikely at best. To make room for Machado at third base or shortstop, San Francisco would have to move either Longoria or Crawford, and neither player has much in the way of immediate trade value thanks to their salaries and lackluster 2018 seasons (plus, Crawford’s contract grants him full no-trade protection). Eating money to facilitate a Longoria/Crawford trade and also paying $350MM+ for Machado doesn’t seem like a very realistic proposition.
The two corner outfield positions and second base are the most pressing areas of need around the diamond for the Giants. Barring trades, the other spots will be covered by Longoria at third base, Crawford at shortstop, Belt at first base, defensively-gifted youngster Steven Duggar in center field, and Posey receiving the bulk of playing time behind the plate (while also getting some rest games as a first baseman). A reunion with veteran backup catcher Nick Hundley has been mentioned as a likely possibility while Posey is on the mend, with youngster Aramis Garcia also in the mix.
Austin Slater, Mac Williamson, Gorkys Hernandez (if he isn’t non-tendered), utilityman Alen Hanson, and Shaw are in the mix for bench duty for perhaps a share of a platoon in left or right field. For at least one of the two outfield positions, however, the Giants will surely add an established everyday player, either on the trade front or in free agency. If a record-setting contract for Harper is too rich for the Giants’ blood, other free agent options include Michael Brantley or old friend Andrew McCutchen. A.J. Pollock is a center fielder by trade, though if he is willing to consider a position change, he and Duggar would be a great defensive pairing in AT&T Park’s expansive outfield (or Pollock could play center himself if Duggar isn’t ready for everyday action).
Marwin Gonzalez’s versatility makes him a good fit on most teams, though he’d be particularly useful to the Giants rotating between the corner outfield spots and second base. Joe Panik was a replacement-level player (0.1 fWAR) last season, and considering his lack of power, the downturn in his defensive metrics, and injury history — not to mention the glut of options on the second-base market — San Francisco could simply non-tender Panik and seek out a more reliable, cost-efficient, and/or controllable option. Jed Lowrie might be an interesting player to consider in this regard, as a familiar name to Zaidi from their time in Oakland and a quality player who wouldn’t require too lengthy a contract given his age (35 in April).
At a projected $4.2MM in arbitration, Panik isn’t a bank-breaker to retain, though the Giants could get themselves some extra cover at second base with a multi-position addition like Gonzalez. Not to say that the next Max Muncy or Chris Taylor is awaiting the Giants, but Zaidi’s Dodgers had a knack for finding those types of hidden-gem utility types. Looking elsewhere around the bench, Sandoval and Hanson line up as the utility options, and the Giants will have to sort through the aforementioned outfield candidates to figure out their backup situation. Williamson and Hernandez are both out of options, which could give them a leg up on the other possibilities.
San Francisco’s bullpen turned in a quietly solid year in 2018, headlined by Watson’s excellent year and Will Smith posting some strong numbers after returning from Tommy John surgery. Melancon also pitched well after making his season debut in June, and the Giants are hopeful that he can reclaim his old closer’s job and finally start to provide a quality return on that big contract. I’d guess the Giants might add another depth arm or two, though relief pitching doesn’t appear to be a major priority for the team this winter.
Losing Cueto is a big hit to the Giants’ rotation, though the team did find some unexpected starting help from rookies Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez last season. Those two 26-year-old arms are penciled into a starting five that features a lot of uncertainty, given Bumgarner’s trade situation, Samardzija’s health, and Chris Stratton’s inconsistency. Ty Blach and minor league righties Shaun Anderson and Tyler Beede could also fight for consideration in Spring Training, though Beede will have to strongly rebound from significant struggles at both Triple-A and in a brief big league cameo.
It would theoretically help the Giants quite a bit to add another front-of-the-rotation type of pitcher who could both contribute in 2019 and also anchor the starting staff in the future, should Bumgarner depart in free agency or be shipped out in a trade. Top free agents like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, or Nathan Eovaldi could all fit the model as a long-term answer, or a shorter-term solution like J.A. Happ could also be considered. The Giants are one of several teams who have scouted Yusei Kikuchi and the organization’s interest in the Japanese left-hander dates back years, so San Francisco will certainly be a player if Kikuchi is posted as expected.
While the Giants could shop at the high end of the market, it’s worth noting that the team hasn’t had much luck on expensive pitching contracts in recent years, between the Cueto and Samardzija signings and Matt Cain’s extension. AT&T Park’s pitcher-friendly reputation make it a popular destination for relatively inexpensive veterans looking for a rebound year, so the Giants could pursue such arms in the hope of finding the next Derek Holland. The southpaw revived his career in San Francisco last season, posting a 3.57 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 2.52 K/BB rate over 171 1/3 innings after signing a minor league contract that came with just a $1.5MM base salary. Holland is sure to land more in his latest trip through free agency, though his price tag won’t be too high for the Giants to consider a reunion.
There’s really no shortage of options facing Zaidi, who is open to any and all possibilities when it comes to getting the Giants on track as quickly as possible. A total rebuild doesn’t appear to be on the table this winter, nor does a major spending spree, but pretty much anything in between seems to be under consideration. The Giants could end up being as active and creative of any team this offseason, though it remains to be seen if enough can be done to get the club turned around in time to be a factor in what should be a competitive NL West in 2019.