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When Will Smith turned down the Giants’ qualifying offer for long-term stability with the Braves, he created yet another hole for the Giants to plug.
While also supplying $17.8 million theoretically for the Giants to reinvest in free agency.
The big splashes are probably a year away for a team and franchise still in transition, but the Giants still will be active in the coming weeks as free agency sputters into drive. Dec. 2 is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration and pre-arbitration players — the key Giants decision will be whether Kevin Pillar is returning. Dec. 8 marks the beginning of the Winter Meetings, when moves will begin picking up.
On the wish list, as Farhan Zaidi told reporters at the GM Meetings last week, are a backup catcher, lefty-hitting infielder and veteran pitching. Let’s broaden that and take a look at where the Giants can turn on the open market, with the knowledge that some of these needs can be addressed through trade, too.
The Giants couldn’t ask for much more from Stephen Vogt — except a reunion. Vogt, a good influence on so many of the younger Giants, provided a solid lefty complement to Buster Posey (.263/.314/.490) while playing left field and a little first base to get his bat in the lineup. His defense did not impress, but no free-agent backup catcher will be perfect. The 35-year-old, though, already has gone on record stating he wants to find a team that gives him a chance for a World Series, and the Giants aren’t in that aisle.
It would be hard to imagine a franchise with Posey and Joey Bart nearing the majors looking for more than a one-year veteran stopgap to spell Posey. As such, the top of the market, seeking multi-year deals, won’t be in play. How about a player like Alex Avila? He’s a lefty hitter with good plate discipline and decent power who strikes out too much, leading to an odd slashline last year in 201 plate appearances: .207/.353/.421. Zaidi would like the walks and power (nine home runs last season — eight against righties) from the 32-year-old.
With Mauricio Dubon and Donovan Solano, both righties, figuring to get plenty of at-bats at second base and giving off-days to Brandon Crawford at shortstop, and with the roster not offering a sensible backup third baseman to give righty Evan Longoria a breather, a lefty bat who can move around the infield would help. There are plenty of options, though a perfect fit is difficult to pin down.
Eric Sogard is coming off his best season, split between Toronto and Tampa, and the 33-year-old’s success against righties should catch Zaidi’s eye (.295/.356/.438). Brock Holt also might be in play, the longtime Boston utility guy blasting righties last season (.318/.394/.438).
If the Giants want to take a step up the market, Mike Moustakas is awfully intriguing, a legitimate power threat (182 homers in his nine-year, three-time All-Star career). But the 31-year-old would not be brought in as a part-time player and is not a righty-killer; perhaps he could play second base every day and Dubon would become the super utilityman who plays second, shortstop and center field.
Others of interest could be Asdrubal Cabrera, who played for Gabe Kapler for part of 2018, Neil Walker and — perhaps — Pablo Sandoval, if his recovery goes well.
Once the Winter Meetings begin, Brandon Belt will be a hot name, but with a 10-team no-trade list and $32 million due him the next two seasons, he’s not easy to move (even if he is the most appealing of the Giants’ core). If Zaidi does find a trade, a flier on Greg Bird would make some sense, the oft-injured Yankees first baseman who’s likely to fall off their roster. Consider him the first-base version of Alex Dickerson.
The Giants’ decision on Pillar, whom MLB Trade Rumors slots for about $9.7 million this season, could drop some dominoes. The guess here is he will be retained. Mike Yastrzemski is a good bet to hold a corner-outfield spot entering spring training, but Dickerson cannot be relied upon. The Giants would love a solid, preferably righty bat at either left or right as Dickerson insurance.
Nicholas Castellanos stands out among the most intriguing on the market. Just 27, he’s coming off the best season of his career (.289/.337/.525, with 27 home runs for the Tigers and Cubs), and Castellanos demolished lefties last season, slashing .370/.425/.713 against southpaws. Plug him in to right or left, let Yastrzemski and Dickerson vie for the other everyday job and your hitting improves. Your defense takes a large step back, though.
Castellanos has moved around the field plenty, seeing a lot of time at third, too, in his first few seasons, as the Tigers sought a position he could play. He’s only been exclusively an outfielder since 2018, and over the last two seasons has negative-28 defensive runs saved, the third worst in baseball. Perhaps with more time he’ll improve, but he’s a better fit in the American League. Would the Giants give this Scott Boras client a, say, four-year, $60 million contract?
Beyond Castellanos, Avisail Garcia may be of interest, a solid 28-year-old outfielder with a solid bat who has been merely solid since his breakout 2017 season, when he was an All-Star who slashed .330/.380/.506. It wouldn’t be that shocking if the Giants made a run at Yasiel Puig, who has a Dodgers past with Zaidi.
Start with Madison Bumgarner, whom the Giants would like back at a shorter-term deal, but the legend probably will be able to find a lengthier deal elsewhere.
If the Giants are going to make a concerted effort at a top pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu makes sense. Zaidi knows him from Los Angeles, and his injury history and age (32) set him up for something closer to a three-year deal, while GMs will have to add a few seasons to offers for Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler (and plenty more years to Gerrit Cole’s pact). Ryu, a lefty, was second in NL Cy Young voting last season, finished with a league-best 2.32 ERA and has continued to succeed the last few seasons with a fastball that barely hits 90 mph. He has labrum and elbow surgeries in his past, which are his biggest red flags.
Lefties Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, whom Zaidi know from Oakland, also may be on the Giants’ radar. Jordan Lyles, a righty former first-round pick who was brilliant in the second half with Milwaukee last season (2.45 ERA in 11 starts), also looms.
The Giants aren’t lacking in options, with Tony Watson and Trevor Gott certainties and the rest of the bullpen (Sam Coonrod, Jandel Gustave, Tyler Rogers, Sam Selman, Burch Smith, Andrew Suarez and Enderson Franco, plus possibly Shaun Anderson) ready to fight for spots. Reyes Moronta isn’t expected back until August. Still, despite losing Smith, it’s hard to see the Giants finding another top-line reliever in a bare market. For a relatively cheap, major league-proven option, Brandon Kintzler could be in play. Buy-low types like Trevor Rosenthal, Dellin Betances, Francisco Liriano or Tyler Thornburg also would be plausible.