Giants happy to avoid weak starting pitching market

Giants happy to avoid weak starting pitching market

PHOENIX — Jeremy Hellickson is a solid pitcher, a 29-year-old right-hander who posted a 3.71 ERA for the rebuilding Phillies. Most of the general managers who gathered at the Phoenix Omni this week could use a pitcher like Hellickson. Most were also likely terrified by the fact that Hellickson might comfortably turn down the $17.2 million qualifying offer in search of a far bigger deal.

In a market where the likes of Hellickson, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova qualify as some of the top choices, the Giants actually have found themselves in a comfortable spot. It’s no accident. They did their heavy lifting last offseason, committing $220 million to Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to get ahead of the game. 

At the time, general manager Bobby Evans was looking beyond just the 2016 season. He had little desire to be part of this offseason’s bidding wars.

“We were very much aware that this market was not going to be very full of starting pitching options," Evans said. "That’s one of the reasons that we went after two in free agency last year and one of the reasons we went after (Matt) Moore at the deadline. Partly we went after Moore at the deadline because we were having trouble getting a closer. In the end that does benefit us now because that’s something we don’t have to sit back and address. We can focus on really what our needs are in other areas.” 

First and foremost, that means finding a closer. But while that will come with its own level of expense, it’s easier to plug a one-inning hole than a six-inning one. Plus, the Giants find themselves in a relief market filled with options. 

Even with last offseason’s additions and the Moore trade, the Giants could have been in the market for starting depth this winter. Ty Blach helped change all of that.

The left-hander posted a 1.06 ERA in four September appearances, opening eyes with eight innings of brilliant and fast-paced work in a must-win game against the Dodgers on October 1. In two NLDS appearances, Blach allowed just two hits in 3 1/3 scoreless innings. It's a small sample, but it's backed by a strong Triple-A season. On CSN’s Giants Insider Podcast, Evans reiterated that Blach is a frontrunner to win the No. 5 spot. 

“Matt Cain is probably the stiffest competition for Blach, partly because Matt has all the experience in the world and he’s going to know how to get ready prior to spring training,” Evans said. “It’s really going to be (about) how the ball is coming out of (Cain’s) hand and whether he’s able to command his stuff and apply his off-speed stuff in a way that is effective and that he can stay out there and miss bats and keep the ball in the ballpark and stay away from big innings.”

Evans admitted that team officials will have “a hard time” evaluating Blach and Cain because of the conditions in Arizona. Veteran starters have for years struggled to get through appearances in the Cactus League, where the dry air messes with pitches and aggressive prospects throw off the ability to set up hitters. Evans said they’ll evaluate the two the best they can, and noted there’s significant depth behind Blach and Cain. He mentioned former first-rounder Tyler Beede, veteran Albert Suarez, and left-handed prospect Andrew Suarez as options. Chris Heston also should be back from an oblique injury. 

“You’ll get a chance to see some of our good arms,” he said. “We can’t forget about what (Chris) Stratton did this year and how well (Clayton) Blackburn pitched. There are some good arms that are going to come into camp.”

--- The podcast with Evans touches on a lot of topics, including the Josh Johnson addition, Josh Osich’s surgery and season, the Fall League prospects and the young relievers. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here.

--- A reporter asked Evans about Madison Bumgarner’s ability at the plate, and after joking about Bumgarner getting reps in left field, Evans admitted it’s not ideal to have the ace pinch-hit. 

“I’ve forced (Bruce) Bochy to have to consider that because in many ways our bench hasn’t been as deep as we would have liked,” Evans said. “You’d like to not use him that way. Some of that is on me to give Bochy other options.”

Evans talked repeatedly this week about finding incremental ways to get better, noting that the Giants are set in the rotation, have most of a young bullpen returning, and have a mostly locked-in lineup. Look for some additional depth options to be added. The Giants could in particular use a veteran with power to complement Trevor Brown, Kelby Tomlinson, Conor Gillaspie, etc.

--- I’m going to be mixing in mailbags this offseason. If you have Giants-related questions, you can send them to me on Twitter here or on Facebook here. 

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.