The roster churn continued for the Giants, who made a plethora of lower-tier (and fairly inexpensive) acquisitions that includes a few familiar faces returning to the Bay Area.
Major League Signings
Trades And Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
It wasn’t nearly as headline-grabbing as the Giants’ attempt to land Bryce Harper in the 2018-19 offseason, but San Francisco similarly looked into making an impact move in this winter’s free agent market. The club at least explored the possibility of signing Nicholas Castellanos (though there were conflicting reports about the depth of that interest) and Yasiel Puig was also on the radar. Neither signing materialized.
Instead, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi continued his more measured overhaul of the roster. Yes, such staples as Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto and Brandon Crawford are all still in the orange and black. However, just because the Giants haven’t engaged in a slash-and-burn rebuild doesn’t mean a rebuild isn’t happening. Just look at the sheer volume of new talent that has been brought into the organization to surround those veteran pillars over Zaidi’s 17 months in charge of the team.
This offseason did see two major names depart the organization, as Will Smith signed with the Braves and postseason hero Mason Sau….er, Madison Bumgarner left for the NL West rival Diamondbacks. However, the Giants also brought back a pair of names from their early-decade glory days, as Pablo Sandoval re-signed on another minor league contract and Hunter Pence ended up being San Francisco’s biggest outfield acquisition.
Pence’s career seemed to be running on fumes after he left the Giants following the 2018 campaign, yet an overhauled swing led to a surprising .297/.358/.552 slash line over 316 plate appearances with the Rangers last season. Advanced metrics indicated Pence’s production was no fluke, though there is some uncertainty about whether a repeat performance is possible as Pence approaches his 36th birthday. He was also limited to 83 games due to back and groin injuries in 2019, and the move back to the National League means Pence no longer has the benefit of the DH spot — 202 of his 316 PA last season came as a designated hitter.
That said, a $3M contract doesn’t represent a major risk on San Francisco’s part, and the team doesn’t expect Pence to play every day. Pence will serve as the primary right-handed hitting complement to the left-handed hitting corner outfield duo of Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson, as the Giants are eager to see what the two 29-year-olds can do after their promising 2019 seasons.
Center field is more of a question mark. Kevin Pillar hit 21 homers in 2019 and was a clubhouse leader, but the Giants opted to non-tender the veteran center fielder rather than pay him a projected $9.7M in salary arbitration. Steven Duggar was also optioned to Triple-A prior to the roster freeze, and while Duggar is likely to re-emerge in the big leagues if the season gets underway, minor league signing Billy Hamilton could be the current favorite for the bulk of center field playing time.
Hamilton hasn’t been able to match even Pillar’s traditionally subpar offensive numbers over his career, but he still provides elite defense and will come at a much lower price than $9.7M if and when the Giants officially select his contract. The more intriguing option in center field, however, is Mauricio Dubon. After a respectable rookie year, the Giants plan to deploy Dubon on the outfield grass as well as at second base. He could also spell Longoria at third base and Crawford at shortstop.
Dubon’s potential as a multi-position threat makes him an even bigger piece of the Giants’ future, particularly if he shows he can passably handle center field duty. Dubon had been expected to be the regular second baseman in 2020, though since he could be shifting around the diamond, the Giants addressed the keystone with a pair of veteran signings.
Reigning AL Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez inked a minor league deal with the Giants after being non-tendered by the White Sox, while Wilmer Flores scored the only multi-year commitment of San Francisco’s offseason — a two-year deal worth $6.25M in guaranteed money. Besides second base, Flores can also serve as a corner infielder and could get some first base time against left-handed pitching (in lieu of the left-handed hitting Belt) while Sanchez plays second base and Dubon lines up in center field.
That is only one potential gameplan for new manager Gabe Kapler, however, as the Giants also have Sandoval, Donovan Solano and Kean Wong available in the infield picture, plus minor league signings Darin Ruf and Zach Green were tearing up Cactus League pitching before Spring Training was halted. It’s fair to assume that any or all of these names could have been mixed and matched even if the season had begun under normal circumstances, and in the event of a shortened schedule with as many games as possible crammed into a reduced timeframe, the Giants are even more likely to rely on depth.
The depth behind the plate, however, took a hit when Aramis Garcia underwent labrum surgery in February. With a projected 6-8 month recovery period, Garcia could potentially return even on the back end of that timeframe, should the regular season be extended into October (and the postseason into November and beyond). Until then, San Francisco will go with Rob Brantly or Tyler Heineman as Posey’s backup, as Joey Bart will probably not join the MLB roster until 2021, barring a change in strategy for the organization in light of the altered schedule.
Starting pitching was perhaps the clearest need of the winter, and the Giants addressed the rotation by signing Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly for two of the open spots behind Cueto and Samardzija. Both Gausman and Smyly are looking to bounce back after struggling in 2019, with Gausman perhaps having the better chance at a rebound after seemingly getting on track as a reliever with the Reds and suffering some bad BABIP luck (.345) as a starter with the Braves.
It isn’t out of the question that Gausman or Smyly eventually wind up in San Francisco’s bullpen, should any of the Giants’ younger pitchers emerge. Tyler Beede is gone for the season due to Tommy John surgery, leaving Logan Webb, Trevor Cahill, Dereck Rodriguez, Trevor Oaks and Andrew Suarez to compete for the fifth starter’s job. Any of this bunch could step into another rotation spot if Gausman or Smyly don’t pitch well, plus Tyler Anderson will also get a crack at starting once he fully recovers from knee surgery.
There is very little certainty within any of these options, of course, which could be why there was so little trade buzz about Cueto or Samardzija over the winter. Cueto had less trade value after pitching only 16 innings in 2019 in his return from Tommy John surgery, though Samardzija stands out as a prime trade candidate as he enters the final year of his contract. If the 2020 season is canceled entirely, however, Samardzija would still be eligible for free agency, and the Giants could potentially miss an opportunity to trade a veteran for some additional prospect help or salary relief (as they did by dealing Drew Pomeranz and Mark Melancon at last year’s trade deadline).
The biggest trade of San Francisco’s offseason saw the club focus on adding minor league talent, as the Giants agreed to what was essentially a “buy a prospect” trade with the Angels. The target was 21-year-old shortstop Will Wilson, the 15th overall pick of the 2019 draft, whom the Angels surrendered in order to get the remaining $12.167M of Zack Cozart’s contract off their books. The Giants absorbed Cozart’s salary and then released him a month later.
Could we see Zaidi and GM Scott Harris use this same tactic again in 2020? It’s possible, given that there has been some speculation that some teams could be particularly eager to unload salaries due to the reduced schedule, and we already know that Zaidi’s front office is open to any transaction. Then again, it’s also hard to forecast how even a wealthier franchise like the Giants could adjust to the financial uncertainty facing the league.
2020 Season Outlook
The possibility of a reduced or lost season is a major blow to a Giants club that is still trying to figure out which of its current players will be part of its next contending team. Top prospects like Bart or Heliot Ramos could lose an entire year’s worth of minor league seasoning, while the jury will still be out on whether younger members of the MLB roster (e.g. Dubon, Webb) are full-fledged big leaguers or if older but still not established players like Dickerson or Yastrzemski can build on their 2019 numbers.
Fangraphs projected the Giants for a 71-91 record over a full season, a dropoff even from their modest 77-win total from 2019. While the small sample size wildness of a reduced schedule could lead to surprises, the Giants simply don’t match up well on paper with most of the National League, and it seems rather clear that the front office views the 2020 season as a development year.