With McCutchen trade, Giants offseason going according to plan

With McCutchen trade, Giants offseason going according to plan

SAN FRANCISCO -- The end-of-season press conference at AT&T Park in October felt more like a funeral than a session with reporters. Larry Baer, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy sat at a podium with grim faces and few answers about how a $200 million roster lost 98 games. 

It seemed like the Giants should look toward the future. They disagreed. 

"This isn't a 'blow it up,'" Sabean said that day. "We hope it's a reset."

It was hard to see how that would work at the time. A few days earlier, Pablo Sandoval of all people had kept the team from having the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. The Giants had holes in the outfield, the bullpen and third base. Their starting staff didn't inspire confidence. Just about every contributor was on the wrong side of 30. 

What, exactly, was the plan?

"We can't come back next season with the same roster and expect different results," Evans said. 

No matter where you fall on these offseason moves, give Sabean, Evans and the rest credit for this: They are not coming back with the same roster and expecting a magical uptick. 

On Monday morning the Giants made their second significant trade of the offseason, acquiring Pirates star Andrew McCutchen in exchange for right-hander Kyle Crick and outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds. The offseason is not over, but it's approaching the finish line, and the final accounting looks generally positive. 

The Giants have added Longoria and McCutchen -- two potent right-handed bats -- to the lineup, while still... 

- Staying under the luxury tax. Because Denard Span was included in the Longoria deal and the Giants got cash back from the Rays, it appears they'll be able to avoid becoming a tax team for the fourth consecutive season. That will help in the bid to rebuild at some point and allows them to fish in next season's offseason pond, the deepest in MLB history. 

- Trading only one of their marquee prospects. Christian Arroyo might come back to haunt the Giants, but the team held onto Heliot Ramos, who has superstar potential, and Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede, who should contribute to the 2018-19 clubs. Reynolds was a former top pick, but he generally was viewed as part of the organization's second tier of top 10 guys. 

- Keeping the big league roster intact. If you think you can compete in 2018 -- and whether you agree or not, the front office believes it can -- you don't want to create additional holes. The Giants kept Joe Panik, who should team with McCutchen atop the lineup, and Brandon Belt, who will hit behind Longoria and Buster Posey. Crick was more of a sixth-inning guy in this bullpen, and that spot can be filled internally. 

- Maintaining some semblance of flexibility. McCutchen is on a one-year deal, and if this all goes south, he should be a nice trade piece at the deadline. Ditto with Belt, Panik and others. And if the Giants hold McCutchen all year, they can make him a qualifying offer to recoup a draft pick. 

Having said all that, there are a million ways this offseason plan could blow up. 

Longoria is 32 and McCutchen is 31, and there's a very real chance that this entire lineup is in decline. Johnny Cueto's blisters could return. The back end of the rotation could be a mess. The bullpen could duplicate what the 2016-17 bullpens did. Injuries will pop up. The division is still loaded, and we all should remember that the Giants didn't just finish 40 games behind the Dodgers, they also finished well behind the other three West clubs. 

But, at least on January 15, the Giants appear significantly better than they were during that somber press conference, and the future roster and payroll situation isn't much bleaker than it already was.

It's a different roster. Now we'll see if that leads to different results. 

Report: Tim Lincecum throws 90-93 MPH at showcase


Report: Tim Lincecum throws 90-93 MPH at showcase

Tim Lincecum was back on a mound Thursday, trying to prove to teams once again that he still has a little bit of magic left in his right arm. 

The former Giants star held a bullpen session for scouts Thursday in Seattle. The event was closed to the media, but Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that between 25 and 30 scouts were in attendance. 

And Lincecum may have some of his velocity back. According to Heyman, Lincecum was sitting between 90 and 93 miles per hour. 

Lincecum last pitched in 2016 with the Angels. In that season, his fastball averaged just 88.4 miles per hour. In nine starts with the Angels, Lincecum was nowhere near what he once was and went 2-6 with a 9.16 ERA. 

The Giants planned to be at Lincecum's showcase, according to Insider Alex Pavlovic. 

Over nine seasons with the Giants, Lincecum posted a 108-83 record and a 3.61 ERA. He won back-to-back National Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, was a four-time All-Star and led the league in strikeouts three times. 

Slater fighting for outfield job after Giants' offseason overhaul


Slater fighting for outfield job after Giants' offseason overhaul

SCOTTSDALE — Catchers are usually the only position players to hit on the main field during the first few days of spring training, but Austin Slater snuck into a group Thursday to take a few cuts. With manager Bruce Bochy leaning against the back of the cage, perhaps Slater’s session will serve as a reminder: I’m still here, don’t forget about me.

The 25-year-old broke through last summer before injuries halted his progress. As Slater focused on getting healthy this offseason, Bobby Evans focused on overhauling the outfield. That has left several familiar faces in precarious spots, and Slater finds himself fighting for a fifth outfielder job a year after batting .282 in his first 117 big league at-bats. 

At the same time, he’s trying to balance competition with health. He wants to push for an Opening Day job, but also is very aware that he needs to back it down at times as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.

“You want to prove that you can play here and win a job, but (the staff) stressed health over everything,” he said. “It does no good to push and then start the season on the DL. For me, health is the most important thing. I feel like if I’m healthy I can prove myself. There’s nothing I can prove on the DL.”

Slater originally tore his groin on July 8 and the Giants thought it would prove to be a season-ending injury. He worked his way back ahead of schedule, though, seeing limited action before sports hernia surgery the last week of September. “They went in there and cleaned up the groin,” he said, smiling where others might grimace. The procedure kept Slater from playing in the Dominican Republic as planned, although that might have been a blessing in disguise. 

The Giants were aggressive with their winter ball plans because so many young players got hurt during the season. But Jarrett Parker lasted just 24 hours before being sent home with a health issue. Christian Arroyo’s hand swelled up soon after he arrived, and he headed home. Ryder Jones immediately got food poisoning and lost 12 pounds in just over three weeks before player and team decided a mutual parting would be beneficial. 

Slater stayed home throughout, living in the Bay Area and rehabbing. The Giants told him to focus on his rehab instead of lost at-bats and then come out and try to win a job in Scottsdale. By mid-November, he was hitting again. By Thanksgiving, he was on a regular lifting and running schedule. In late January, he felt like his old self again. 

For the Giants, that means a versatile option in a new-look outfield. Slater had a .290/.343/.430 slash line going before his first injury and he’s working to tap into more power. As Bruce Bochy pointed out Thursday, Slater has a long history of putting up numbers at every level. 

“He really did a nice job of figuring out what it takes to play in the major leagues, and he has a tendency throughout his career to just get better,” Bochy said. “You have to love his right-handed bat. He’s got some pop. I think he can play all three outfield positions, so he’s in the mix.”

The Giants have Andrew McCutchen in right and Hunter Pence in left and Austin Jackson as the third guy, and Bochy’s preference is to have a true center fielder as his fourth outfielder. That leaves Slater fighting for the fifth job, alongside many others. No matter what he did last year or does this spring, Slater has options remaining, and that will come into play. A year after using 13 different players in left field, the staff is intent on having greater depth at the Triple-A level. 

Slater is a Stanford product who spent the offseason surrounded by Giants fans. He knows the math after the offseason moves.

“It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “It just adds some great guys to learn from, and there are still outfield spots to be won, so it’s not discouraging, it’s encouraging. I didn’t expect them to keep an open roster spot for a guy with 120 at-bats. We’re trying to win a championship here.”