SAN FRANCISCO — The second week of January is usually a good time to start looking at spring position battles and potential lineups, but that’s pretty hard to do while we struggle through the slowest offseason in recent MLB history.
The Giants, for instance, still want to add two outfielders. A Billy Hamilton or Jay Bruce or Andrew McCutchen would change the lineup and dramatically alter the spring chances of young players like Austin Slater and Steven Duggar.
We can still start to prepare for the Cactus League, though, so this is the start of a series answering your questions about the team, the offseason, specific roster issues and more. If you have a question, send it over on Twitter (@pavlovicnbcs) or Facebook (pavlovicnbcs). I’ll try to get to them all as we wait for teams to realize that they’re actually supposed to sign these gentlemen known as free agents …
What is Pablo’s role going to be since we got Longoria? — @kelsmarie991
The Giants never intended for Pablo Sandoval to be an Opening Day starter, and the Longoria deal locked that into place. Sandoval will head to Scottsdale as a leading candidate to win a bench job, and — short of showing up terribly out of shape — it’s hard to see what he could do in the Cactus League to lose that job. At the Winter Meetings, Bobby Evans told me he expects Sandoval to have a Joaquin Arias-type of role, getting occasional starts at first and third but mostly pinch-hitting.
Bruce Bochy likes the idea of having a powerful switch-hitter on his bench, and despite his poor overall numbers once he returned, Sandoval did hit a walk-off on the final day and also took Max Scherzer and Kenley Jansen deep. More than anything, he still possesses a trait that Bochy likes from his pinch-hitters: aggression. The coaching staff was very frustrated the past few seasons by young players who seemingly fell behind 0-2 every time they were sent up to pinch-hit.
Sandoval showed just enough last season that the Giants believe there’s something there, and they’ll give him a chance to show he can be the first bat off the bench every night.
How’s Will Smith’s recovery going? Is he still ahead of schedule? — @SFGLifer
Smith showed surprising velocity during games of catch in late September and there have been no setbacks since. Bochy believes he’ll be ready for Opening Day, and by the All-Star break the Giants expect the lefty to be fully cleared for multiple-inning outings and to pitch three days in a row. They’ll slow-play this at first because Smith is coming off Tommy John surgery, but they certainly are anxious to get him back near the back of the bullpen. When the Giants were scuffling in May, Bochy told me he thought losing Smith was the most underrated factor in the collapse. The previous year, Smith finished the regular season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances.
Smith, a Jeremy Affeldt-type when right, is potentially Bochy's most valuable reliever. I’ve always believed that if he would have started the ninth inning of Game 4, the Giants would have won that series.
I've been watching the trend of signing veteran starters to minors deals with invites to spring training. Do you think the Giants will follow this trend? If so, who do you think they would sign? — @coffee_needed_
Some names from the non-roster list have already trickled out, including Hector Sanchez, the former backup catcher who re-signed on a minor league deal. Alen Hanson, Chase d’Arnaud, Jose Valdez and Josh Rutledge have also signed minor league deals, according to various reports, but the full list won’t be out for a bit longer. I’m told the Giants are still finalizing some deals, and I would expect at least one veteran starter to be on the list. The front office would like to bring in a pitcher or two to compete with Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez.
Suarez, by the way, is a name to become familiar with, and not just because you need to know the difference between Albert and Andrew. The young lefty has a lot of fans in the front office, and he's a dark horse to take that No. 5 spot.
Which Giants player is the best chef? — @TucsonFan4
Brandon Belt will probably tell you it’s Brandon Belt, because that’s the way these things go. I have no idea what the actual answer is, since every meal I've ever seen a player eat has been made for him by the clubhouse staff. (I can tell you that a certain recently-retired center fielder/leadoff hitter would get very upset if his toast was not sufficiently crispy.)
The best chef on the field, though, is certainly BP pitcher/replay assistant Chad Chop. He has taken on just about every role imaginable for the Giants, and a couple of springs ago that included cooking Paleo meals for Hunter Pence.