Giants

Analysis: Young Rockies provide latest wake-up call for last-place Giants

Analysis: Young Rockies provide latest wake-up call for last-place Giants

DENVER — When Nolan Arenado’s game-winner cleared the wall Sunday, the third baseman had his 21st homer in 80 career games against the Giants. He also has 32 doubles and 75 RBI, but there’s another Arenado-related number that might be even scarier. 

The dude who has been terrorizing the Giants for the last five seasons just turned 26 years old. 

Arenado is younger than every current Giants starter except for Austin Slater, the left fielder who has been in the big leagues for all of two weeks, and it’s a trend up and down the Rockies' roster.

Kyle Freeland (24), Jeff Hoffman (24) and Antonio Sentazela (22), three pitchers who have helped the Rockies get into first place — and sweep the Giants over the weekend — are all younger than the rookie starter on the other side, 26-year-old Ty Blach. German Marquez is in the Rockies’ rotation at the age of 22. Their injured ace, Jon Gray, is just 25 years old. DJ LeMahieu (28), Trevor Story (24), Pat Valaika (24) and Raimel Tapia (23) all did damage in Colorado's first four-game sweep over the Giants. Both of the team's catchers are under the age of 27. 

The series dropped the Giants an astounding 19 1/2 games out of first place in the division. It’s their biggest first-half deficit since 1985, and it has made the situation crystal clear: The front office needs to move on to the next step, and as they do so, they can no longer just keep an eye on the Dodgers. The Giants have three of the National League’s best teams in their division, and while the Diamondbacks still could pivot and sell veteran pieces at some point in the next year or two, the Dodgers and Rockies look poised to field contenders for years to come. Both have farm systems that were generally ranked in the top 10 before the season. 

“They’ve got all the tools,” Mark Melancon said Sunday, after taking the blown save and loss. “Speed, power, average — all the way through the lineup. You’ve got to tip your hat.”

If you’re Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans, you have to wonder when the same can next be said about your Giants. Speed? The only notable burner in the lineup, Eduardo Nuñez, turned 30 during the series and is a free agent after the season. Power? The Giants are last in the majors in homers, and it isn’t close. Average? They’re 27th there, and they rank 28th in on-base percentage. 

All those numbers add up to the same reality. It’s time to revamp the lineup, and there were rumblings in Denver that some around-the-edges moves could be made soon. Ryder Jones, a 23-year-old having a good year in the Pacific Coast League, is said to be the closest to a call-up. Bruce Bochy has been eyeing Jones for a while, and given what Slater has provided in left, it’s about time to see what Jones — who plays outfield, first and third — can do with his next challenge. Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean infielder, has an opt-out on July 1. Shouldn’t he get a look as a potential bench bat? 

Christian Arroyo will have an MRI on his sore hand on Monday, so he’s not currently in the picture, but Arroyo will be back at some point and other young players like Joan Gregorio (25), Kyle Crick (24) and Tyler Beede (24) figure to be in line for second-half auditions. Chris Shaw (23) has had a slow adjustment to Triple-A, but he could hit his way into a September call-up. The front office also needs to figure out what Jarrett Parker (28) and Mac Williamson (26) can provide moving forward, because left field is now the least of the concerns in the outfield. 

The Giants were a step behind seemingly every fly ball and line drive over the four-game series, and they talked often of bad luck. Another way of looking at being a “step behind” is that you've lost a step or three. This is a team that regularly starts five players in their 30s -- including 34- and 33-year-old outfielders -- with a matching bench.

The Giants won’t be able to compete in 2018 with this kind of outfield play, and the easiest way to find a fix would be to sell a big piece or two for young outfield prospects. In that respect, the organization has given no hint that a decision to sell has been made. 

Sources say a “we’re open for business” meeting has not been had, noting that the draft was the main emphasis in recent weeks. Johnny Cueto, the most talked-about player in trade circles, has not been approached and asked about his future plans. Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco, and those familiar with his thinking say he’s in no rush to immediately head back to the American League and he doesn’t have an issue with the clubhouse. His biggest concerns have always been about winning and losing. No matter how Cueto feels, there will be pressure to opt-out and seek a bigger deal, and the Giants need to figure out exactly where all this stands. 

They have other potential chips in Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, who despite a poor start is young and still oozing with talent. Trading Nuñez should be an easy decision; he can help any contender with his versatility and speed. Brandon Belt’s name will come up as it always does, and perhaps there’s a contender that sees bench value in the likes of Aaron Hill, Conor Gillaspie or Nick Hundley. While many fans will scream for a complete teardown, the truth is that most of the oft-mentioned names are untradable because of performance, contracts, or age. 

The July 31 deadline is fast approaching, but the Giants have been in the same situation for weeks. The series at Coors Field was never going to change the math, but it did end up being instructive. The Rockies are younger, deeper, and more talented than the Giants, and they’re only going to get better. As the deadline gets closer, it’s up to the front office to figure out some way to try and keep up.

Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

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Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

With free agency set to begin five days after the World Series ends, two hitters that played for the Giants during the 2017 season have put their names on the open market.

Veteran third baseman Conor Gillaspie and longtime minor league outfielder Carlos Moncrief have both elected for free agency, according to Baseball America.

The 30-year-old Gillaspie appeared in 44 games for the Giants this past season. He hit just .168/.218/.288 with four doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. He was designated for assignment on August 3 and outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on August 5. With the River Cats, Gillaspie hit .375 with four doubles in 15 games in August.

Prior to the 2017 season, Gillaspie signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Giants.

As for Moncrief, the soon-to-be 29-year-old finally got his first call-up the majors this past season after eight and a half seasons in the minors. He debuted for the Giants on July 29. In 28 games, he hit .211/.256/.237 with one double and five RBI. While he didn't do much with the bat, Moncrief showed off a cannon for an arm when he patrolled right field.

Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

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Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

SAN FRANCISCO — Late in a 98-loss season, general manager Bobby Evans met with members of the coaching staff to discuss new roles. The shakeup of the staff ended up being a stunning one. 

Pitching coach Dave Righetti was one of three coaches to be reassigned Saturday morning. After 18 seasons as pitching coach, Righetti will now serve as special assistant to the general manager. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner was given a “special assignment role to assist in pitching evaluations.” Assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will be a special assistant for baseball operations. 

The moves cap a 13-month run in which the coaching staff has taken much of the blame for a $200 million roster that was poorly constructed in places and played embarrassing baseball for long stretches of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Third base coach Roberto Kelly was let go after the 2016 season and first base coach Billy Hayes was reassigned. More changes appear on the way. 

“It does raise the level of attention to change when you struggle as much as we have, but you’re always contemplating making changes to try to help keep pushing your guys and make sure you continue to have different perspectives and new voices and reflections on how to get the most out of them,” Evans said on a conference call. 

Throughout September, multiple coaches expressed concern about their future roles, but the Giants held off several weeks before announcing changes. At least two members of the staff were involved in managerial searches elsewhere, and third base coach Phil Nevin is reportedly still a candidate for the open job in Philadelphia. 

Evans confirmed that he has interviewed outside candidates for a hitting coach role, but he would not go so far as to say Hensley Meulens will be reassigned as well. He also would not speak to the future of Ron Wotus, although the longtime bench coach is expected to be mixed up in future changes as well. Evans indicated he would announce further moves after all the open managerial vacancies are filled.

For now, the Giants are in the process of trying to find a new pitching coach. They are focused on experienced outside candidates, and they have plenty of options, as several other teams have made changes this month. Evans hinted that he wants the next pitching coach to have a more analytical approach. 

Righetti's replacement will have massive shoes to fill. His run was the longest for a pitching coach in franchise history. The Giants, usually so reliant on pitching, finished 16th in the Majors with a 4.50 ERA, but it’s hard to see how Righetti takes the blame for that. Madison Bumgarner missed a chunk of the season after a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto had a brutal injury-plagued year, Matt Moore battled himself and had the worst ERA in the National League, and the bullpen struggled, with closer Mark Melancon pitching through an injury that required season-ending surgery. 

Righetti was credited with helping to develop a rotation and bullpen that won three titles, and the bond he shared with pitchers was on display during the final weekend of the year, when Matt Cain talked repeatedly about their close relationship and went straight for Righetti after he came off the field for the final time. While it’s often hard to figure out where to give credit, even in a down year for the staff, Righetti played a role in Sam Dyson’s resurgence, and he helped Ty Blach and Chris Stratton break in as big league regulars. 

“Ultimately a change for us in the clubhouse is really an opportunity just to put a new voice with our pitching staff and try to keep pushing to the heights that we aspire as an organization and a club,” Evans said. “Changes sometimes are needed as much for the sake of that new voice as anything, and I think that was really the priority here.”

Righetti will help Evans in a front office role. Evans admitted that Righetti’s “heartbeat is in uniform as a coach,” but said he was willing to take on a new role for an organization he loves. 

Gardner, a former Giants pitcher, had been on staff since 2003. He will now help to evaluate pitchers inside and outside the organization, and Evans said Gardner could serve an important role in evaluating trade options. Decker joined the big league staff in 2015 after a long run working in the minor leagues. The 2017 season was his 23rd with the organization. He will have a “blank canvas,” Evans said, working in different roles inside the organization. Decker will also help with draft preparation.