- Giants prospect Heliot Ramos injured his oblique during instructional league play, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Ramos should be good to go for spring training, with the only real concern stemming from the fact that he suffered a similar injury back in February. Ramos is the Giants presumptive centerfielder of the future, who could theoretically compete to make the major league roster as soon as next season. Their first round pick (19th overall) in the 2017 draft, the 21-year-old raked to the tune of .306/.385/.500 in High-A in 2019. Along with Joey Bart and Marco Luciano, Ramos forms part of a strong core of Giants positional prospects hoping to make an impact on the next strain of San Francisco playoff teams. Ramos made it as high as Double-A in 2019, a level he would have theoretically repeated at least to start the 2020 season (had there been one).
- In a Giants mailbag, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle believes shortstop Marco Luciano is the Giants’ only truly “untouchable” prospect in trade talks. This doesn’t mean that other highly-touted youngsters like Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos are anywhere near being available, but rather that San Francisco perceives Luciano as “the main driver for a winning era.” Luciano emerged as a favorite of top-100 prospect lists (ranked 14th by Fangraphs, 17th by Baseball America, 29th by MLB.com) after a big breakout in last year’s Arizona Fall League, though the 19-year-old has only one official year of pro ball under his belt. It remains to be seen if he’ll stay at shortstop or move to third base or the outfield in the future, but the 19-year-old Luciano’s batting potential has already drawn raves.
For a second straight season, the Giants appeared on the cusp of an unexpected playoff berth but ultimately landed on the outside looking in. It’s been disappointing for a fan base that has become accustomed to postseason ball over the past decade, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has already said that his aim is to put a playoff team on the field next year. Zaidi appeared on KNBR’s Mark Willard Show this week to discuss the offseason ahead and what moves the Giants could take to get back to the playoffs (audio link with the entire 15-minute interview available).
Pitching will be the focus, it seems, with Zaidi acknowledging that retaining both Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, in particular, will be a “priority” this offseason. Both showed well after signing one-year, make-good deals in San Francisco, though Smyly’s season was interrupted by a hand injury that sidelined him for more than a month and limited him to just 26 1/3 frames. Zaidi acknowledged that the organization has been unable to help wondering what might’ve been with a healthy Smyly, who pitched to a 3.42 ERA with a gaudy 42-to-9 K/BB ratio as a Giant.
Gausman’s excellent rebound campaign and the strong underlying metrics that support his success could make him one of the most sought-after arms behind top free agent Trevor Bauer and should at least push the Giants to think about making a qualifying offer. Smyly’s continued durability woes likely make him a more affordable reunion candidate, but the Giants will be seeking multiple arms this winter based on Zaidi’s comments. The San Francisco president of baseball ops suggested that stockpiling sufficient depth to get through 162 games, as opposed to this year’s 60-game slate, will be crucial.
The Giants have little in terms of rotation certainty, with Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson the likeliest starters in 2021 at the moment. Beyond adding a reliable starter or two, Zaidi spoke of “backfilling” the starting staff. It seems fair to expect the Giants to bring in a handful of bounceback candiates on minor league deals — similar to their arrangement with Trevor Cahill this past season.
As for the bullpen, Zaidi made clear that he’ll pursue at least one experienced option to not only improve the quality of results but also to serve as a mentor for younger arms who are still figuring things out at the MLB level:
We are going to try to get some experience in that group. It certainly helps. One of the things we heard from our young relievers was how valuable it was to have a guy like Tony Watson down there, who’s seen a lot of battles from the bullpen and served as an example for them on how to get ready — how to think about the hitters you’re going to come into the game and face. There’s a lot of value in having good veterans in the bullpen, and that’s something we’ll look to do.
A reunion with Watson certainly seems plausible based on that comment, although if the club has true postseason aspirations, perhaps a more traditional closer would be a sensible addition. Ninth-inning duties were somewhat of a carousel at Oracle Park in 2020, with five different players recording saves — none more than Trevor Gott’s four. Liam Hendriks, Trevor Rosenthal, Trevor May and rebound candidate Kirby Yates are among the most notable names on the bullpen market this winter. Even if the Giants don’t expect to utilize a defined closer, bringing in some established help appears likely.
While it seems like the Giants will be spending to bolster the pitching staff, Zaidi cautioned against any visions of a top-tier position player joining the fray. For one thing, National League clubs are still uncertain whether they’ll have a designated hitter in 2021. Even with a DH spot at his disposal, though, Zaidi suggested that the organization is confident in the in-house group:
With the way our offense performed this year, I think we can be really selective and targeted and maybe look for more complementary players than anybody who is going to come in and play everyday, because we’ve got a lot of good options there.
In fact, Zaidi wondered whether, absent a National League DH in 2021, the club would even have enough at-bats to go around for the incumbent group. That might’ve seemed far-fetched coming into the year, but Mike Yastrzemski continued his 2019 breakout while veterans like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford enjoyed bounceback seasons. The Giants’ overall .263/.335/.451 was good for a 114 wRC+ that was tied for sixth in MLB, and their 299 runs were the eighth-most in the Majors. That was done without much production behind the plate, but the Giants will welcome Buster Posey back into the lineup next season as well, which should help the cause even if his MVP-caliber days are behind him.
There are, of course, incalculable routes the Giants could take to address those offseason needs, but Zaidi did indicate that he expects the free-agent market to be more active than the trade front — at least for the Giants. It was difficult to line up on swaps given the sport’s economic uncertainty this summer, Zaidi noted, and he also pointed to what is expected to be a deep supply of free agents from which to draw with many teams expected to be aggressive in their non-tenders.
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right heel last week, the team announced to reporters (including Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle). The team did not provide a timetable for his recovery, Schulman adds.
Belt’s 2020 debut was delayed by a right heel issue, as he opened the season on the injured list due to Achilles tendonitis. It didn’t seem to affect him when he returned, though. Belt hit a superlative .309/.425/.591 with nine home runs in 179 plate appearances, helping the Giants stay in playoff contention until the season’s final day.
The 32-year-old Belt will make $16MM in 2021, the final year of his contract. Assuming he’s healthy, he’ll likely be the primary option at first base for manager Gabe Kapler. The Giants do have Darin Ruf on hand as insurance, though, and may choose to incorporate Buster Posey somewhat frequently there as well.
The Giants are facing a great deal of uncertainty in their rotation as they head into free agency. Right-hander Kevin Gausman, by far their most effective starter in 2020, is slated to return to the open market in the coming weeks. The Giants bought relatively low on the former Oriole, Brave and Red last offseason on a $9MM pact, and he then proceeded to post a 3.62 ERA/3.09 FIP with 11.92 K/9 against 2.41 BB/9 in 59 2/3 innings. Gausman may now be the second-best pending free-agent starter in the game, trailing only the Reds’ Trevor Bauer, and looks like a lock for a lucrative deal. In the meantime, the Giants will have to decide whether to issue a qualifying offer worth $18.9MM to the 29-year-old Gausman, though it seems “unlikely” they’ll do that, Maria Guardado of MLB.com writes. The Gausman case is one we at MLBTR have discussed at length in recent days, and we do expect him to receive a qualifying offer, in part because free agency will feature so few starters with front-of-the-rotation potential after Bauer. But in the event Gausman’s not tied to a QO, it would only make him and his 95 mph fastball more appealing on the market.
Here’s more from San Francisco…
- Guardado’s piece also includes a look at potential non-tender candidates for the Giants. Left-hander Tyler Anderson, outfielder Joey Rickard and infielder Daniel Robertson comprise the group. Anderson seems the likeliest for the starter-needy Giants to retain, as he turned in a useful 4.37 ERA/4.36 FIP over 59 2/3 innings this year; moreover, he shouldn’t be in line for a substantial raise over his $1.78MM salary. On the other hand, Rickard and Robertson didn’t play significant roles for the Giants, combining for just 30 plate appearances, so the team could go in another direction.
- Right-hander Reyes Moronta was one of the Giants’ go-to relievers from 2017-19, but he missed all of this year after undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of last season. Moronta was working his way back this past summer, but the Giants never brought him up. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi explained why, saying (via Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area): “He was throwing at the alternate site and we just didn’t see him really getting over the hump and showing the kind of stuff that we saw from him last year. It was really as much a medical assessment as a performance assessment.” Still, Zaidi noted that San Francisco has “high hopes” when it comes to the soon-to-be 28-year-old Moronta, who averaged 97.2 mph on his fastball in 2019. Zaidi hasn’t ruled out Moronta evolving into the Giants’ answer at closer, which is something they lacked during a 2020 effort that fell just shy of a playoff berth, as John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle observes.
- Reliever Caleb Baragar has hired Wasserman for representation, MLBTR has learned. The left-handed Baragar, a 2016 ninth-round pick who’s now 26 years old, made his major league debut this season. He concluded the campaign with 22 1/3 innings of 4.03 ERA/4.04 FIP pitching and 7.66 K/9 against 2.01 BB/9.
In a year defined by loss, the baseball community was hit with more heartbreak this morning. Baseball legend, Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest second baseman of all-time Joe Morgan has passed away at the age of 77, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter). The Cincinnati Reds released a statement of condolences, as many around the baseball community have already started to share stories and praise Morgan’s character and career.
Morgan played in the major leagues for 22 seasons for the Colt.45s/Astros, Reds, Giants, Phillies, and A’s, most recognizably as a member of the Big Red Machine from 1972 to 1979. Even on a team stacked with all-time greats like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose, Morgan stood out, not only for his iconic wing-flap batting stance, but for his MVP-turn on the field. His acquisition prior to the 1972 season turned Sparky Anderson’s Reds into the juggernaut that we remember them as today. Led by Morgan’s triple slash of .292/.417/.435 – a 9.3 rWAR season – the Reds won the pennant in his first season with the club, falling to the A’s in the seventh game of the World Series.
That was just the beginning for Morgan and the Reds, however. Morgan won MVP honors in back-to-back seasons in 1975 and 1976, leading the Reds to World Series victories in both seasons. He was a 10-time All-Star and 5-time Glove Glove Award winner. A refined eye at the plate contributed to a stellar .392 career OBP and 100.5 rWAR, 31st all-time. Morgan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990 with 2,517 hits, 268 home runs, and 2,649 games played from 1963 to 1984. He is a member of both the Astros’ and Reds’ Hall of Fame. The Reds also retired Morgan’s #8 in 1987, not long after the end of his playing career.
The gregarious and always respectful Morgan took on a second life as a broadcaster after his playing career. Morgan was part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team along with Jon Miller from 1990 until 2010, when he took on a role as special adviser for the Reds’ baseball operations department.
We at MLB Trade Rumors extend our condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Morgan. Morgan will forever be an remembered as a baseball legend.
- The Giants will look to add relief pitching this winter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be looking for a closer. “There’s no organizational philosophy for or against a closer. If it works out that way, evolves that way, it makes a lot of sense,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea and other media. “But we don’t go into this offseason saying that’s got to be a priority on our shopping list, to go out and get a closer, because we think it could work if we have the right group of relievers and the right level of depth in the bullpen.” Rather than acquire a closer, Shea wonders if the team could develop a steady ninth-inning arm from within, citing Reyes Moronta, Shaun Anderson, Jarlin Garcia and Camilo Doval as potential closer candidates.
Giants fans got their first look at catcher-of-the-future Joey Bart in 2020, but it sounds as though Bart’s likely destination to open the 2021 season will be back in the minor leagues. As Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area writes, Giants president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi suggested in his end-of-year chat with reporters that Bart could still use some more development time. Buster Posey will be back after opting out of the 2020 season, and Zaidi pointed out that Aramis Garcia will be back from hip surgery as well.
Zaidi also implied that the club could add a veteran backup to its catching corps over the winter: “Getting some help (would) enable Joey to get a little bit more of that development.”
Fan expectations for Bart this season were sky-high and, as is most often the case, probably unfair. The 23-year-old former No. 2 overall pick had scarcely played above Class-A Advanced, with just 22 games of Double-A work under his belt when he was called to the big leagues this year. Posey’s opt-out and a lack of appealing options elsewhere in the organization forced the move, and while Bart impressed early, his production soon wilted. His final 45 plate appearances were particularly tough, as Bart collected just seven hits and punched out 18 times down the stretch. Overall, his .233/.288/.320 slash and 37 percent strikeout rate certainly suggest that he’d benefit from some time in Double-A and/or Triple-A.
The organization remains “super high” on Bart, Zaidi stressed, pointing to Bart’s strong exit velocities and hard-hit rate. There’s little doubt that Bart is still the team’s long-term plan at catcher, but it’s also readily apparent that the lack of a minor league season in 2020 hampered Bart’s progression a bit, as it did for so many others throughout the league.
Beyond poking around the market for a backup catcher, the Giants will have some other work to do. Zaidi has expressed interest in re-signing free agents Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, and Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News adds that Zaidi felt his club was “one left-handed bat short” in 2020. A lefty bat who can play multiple positions and give Evan Longoria some breathers a third base seems ideal, Crowley writes. That could be a role the Giants hoped Pablo Sandoval would fill in 2020, although it obviously didn’t play out that way.
Speculatively speaking, Tommy La Stella would seem an ideal fit in that role. Other options on this year’s market include Asdrubal Cabrera, Jake Lamb, Marwin Gonzalez, Brad Miller and rebound hopeful Brock Holt (among others). The trade market would create myriad other possibilities.
It stands to reason based on the interest in retaining Gausman and Smyly that the Giants will explore other rotation upgrades should that pair eventually sign elsewhere. There’s little certainty in the rotation without that pair. Johnny Cueto will be back for the final season of his contract but struggled for much of the 2020 season. Young righty Logan Webb made 11 starts but finished with a 5.47 ERA. The Giants control Tyler Anderson for another season, and he was solid if unspectacular in 2020.
Beyond Gausman, Smyly, Cueto, Anderson and Webb, the only other pitchers to start multiple games for San Francisco in 2020 were Trevor Cahill (six) and Jeff Samardzija (four). Both are out the door this winter, as is veteran lefty reliever Tony Watson. Starting pitching and relief pitching should be a focus if the Giants plan to contend next year.
And at the end of the day, for all the talk of how the Giants have been rebuilding, Zaidi expressed for a second consecutive winter that his goal remains to put a playoff team on the field next year. San Francisco was in the hunt for a Wild Card spot until the final day of the season in 2020, per Crowley.
The Giants should have financial leeway to augment the roster, with about $96MM committed to next year’s payroll and what should be a light arbitration class. Looking ahead to 2022, Longoria’s $19.5MM salary is the lone guaranteed contract on the ledger. The widespread expectation is that teams will be rather reserved on the free agent market this winter after substantial revenue losses in 2020. But if the Giants want to spend, they have a rather wide-open payroll outlook that should allow them to do so.
The Giants spent a combined $13MM on right-hander Kevin Gausman and southpaw Drew Smyly in free agency last winter, and those short-term, buy-low deals worked out well for a club that narrowly missed a playoff berth. Now, the Giants are hoping to retain the pair, according to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi (via Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area).
“It’s obviously their prerogative to play out the market, but we certainly have interest in bringing both of those guys back,”said Zaidi, who added that the Giants are “going to be shopping for some starting pitching this offseason.”
The Giants’ rotation was a middle-of-the-pack unit in 2020, but Gausman and Smyly were bright spots. Gausman, a former Oriole, Brave and Red whom the Giants signed for $9MM, gave the club 59 2/3 innings of 3.62 ERA/3.09 FIP pitching with 11.92 K/9 against 2.41 BB/9. Pound for pound, the hard-throwing Gausman was among the most effective starters in the NL, so his next deal should be far more lucrative than the one he signed last winter. For what it’s worth, Gausman said last week he’s interested in staying with the Giants, who could tender him a qualifying offer before he returns to free agency.
Smyly only tossed 26 1/3 innings as a Giant after inking a $4MM contract, but the results were highly encouraging. He concluded with a 3.42 ERA/2.01 FIP, 14.35 K/9 and 3.08 BB/9. All of those numbers represented major rebounds for a hurler whom injuries have ravaged in recent years – including during a 2020 in which he missed over a month with a left index finger strain. Smyly also recorded a career-best 93.8 mph as a Giant, and that’s another reason he should draw a good amount of interest if he gets to free agency.
As of now, the Giants’ rotation is facing a slew of questions as the team heads into the offseason, which is why Zaidi will work to address it. Along with Gausman and Smyly, Jeff Samardzija and Trevor Cahill are on track to reach the open market. Those four amassed 25 starts for the Giants in 2020, and nobody remaining (Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson) recorded particularly strong numbers.
Longtime big league outfielder Hunter Pence announced he’s retiring from baseball (Twitter link). This brings to an end a fourteen-year career spent with four teams, although he’ll surely be remembered most for his time with the Giants.
Pence originally broke into pro ball in 2004, selected by the Astros in the second round out of the University of Texas-Arlington. Notably “awkward and unorthodox” as a prospect, in the words of Baseball America, Pence nevertheless played himself into top prospect status by 2007. He broke into the big leagues with a bang, hitting .322/.360/.539 en route to a third place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting that season. Pence continually produced over his time in Houston, earning his first two All-Star nods there, before the struggling Astros shipped him off to the Phillies at the 2011 trade deadline for four prospects.
He continued to perform well in Philadelphia, hitting .289/.357/.486 over parts of two seasons, but the Phillies lost in the Division Series in 2011 and were en route to a playoff miss in 2012. Pence again headlined a deadline deal, this one sending him to San Francisco. His midseason acquirer fared much better the second time around, as the Giants erased a pair of big playoff deficits against the Reds and Cardinals before sweeping the Tigers in the 2012 World Series.
Set to reach free agency after the 2013 season, Pence instead re-upped with the Giants that September. Already a highly productive and popular player, that extension set the stage for Pence to become permanently identified with the San Francisco organization. He combined for a .280/.335/.464 line between 2013-14, garnering down ballot MVP support each year. He was perhaps even more instrumental in the Giants’ 2014 World Series run than he’d been in 2012, going 12-27 with a home run in San Francisco’s seven-game triumph over the Royals.
Of course, it wasn’t simply Pence’s productivity that made him so revered, both among diehard Giants’ loyalists and many baseball fans generally. He played with an endearing energy and exuberance. Coupled with his oft-awkward hitting mechanics and general lack of gracefulness on the diamond, Pence brought something of an everyman feel to the sport that resonated with outside observers, teammates and coaches.
Unfortunately, that high-energy style of play caught up to him in his 30’s. After 2014, Pence only once again managed to exceed 110 games in a season. He continued to produce when healthy up through 2016, but he seemingly hit a wall thereafter. Pence struggled through a pair of poor years with the 2017-18 Giants, seemingly ending his time with the organization (and putting his career in jeopardy).
Forced to settle for a minor-league deal with his hometown Rangers entering 2019, Pence remade his swing at age 36. He rebounded to post a .297/.358/.552 line over 316 plate appearances in Texas last year, picking up his fourth and final All-Star trip in the process. That also inspired the Giants to offer a major league deal last winter, setting the stage for a tremendous return story.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Pence got off to an abysmal start and was released after just 56 plate appearances. That’ll mark his last work in the big leagues, although it’s fitting that his final games came in the orange and black.
All told, Pence will hang up the spikes with a .279/.334/.461 line over 7006 plate appearances, good for a 115 wRC+. He hit 244 home runs, 324 doubles and 55 triples, while stealing 120 bases. Pence was worth around 31 wins above replacement, in the estimation of both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. He’s obviously most notable for being an integral part of two World Series winners in San Francisco and for the infectious joy he spread to teammates and fans alike. MLBTR congratulates Pence on a stellar career and wishes him the best in retirement.