Giants

Notes: Giants hopeful Cain takes final rotation spot

Notes: Giants hopeful Cain takes final rotation spot

SAN FRANCISCO — As the Giants gathered at AT&T Park on Friday morning, one player walked into a room and asked a reporter, “How many spots do we even have available this spring?” The answer is “not many,” but general manager Bobby Evans and manager Bruce Bochy did their best Friday to keep the spirit of competition going.

There will a battle in left field, of course, and the bullpen and bench need to be fully sorted out. Then there’s the fifth starter spot, and while Evans and Bochy said they’re open to competition, it’s not hard to read between the lines.

“In a perfect world, Matt Cain would be Matt Cain and he would take that spot,” Evans said. “That’s preferable, but we do have to allow an opportunity to evaluate everybody.”

Cain hasn’t often been that desired version over the last three or four seasons, but he will get a chance to keep his rotation spot, and he’ll enter camp as the frontrunner when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale Stadium on Monday. Ty Blach will get a chance to knock him off, but the clear preference is to have Cain — the longest-tenured Giant, and a player in the final year of a massive deal — lock up a spot. Blach, the young challenger, will be the next man up in Sacramento in management’s ideal world. 

“We have to give Matt Cain a nod relative to what he’s accomplished but we also can’t disregard what Ty Blach did last season as well as at the big league level, as well as other guys that will come in and compete and try to make their case for that fifth spot,” Evans said. “There is an element of competition there because we want to see who the best fit is.”

--- All is said to be good on the health front, although Evans was a little coy, signaling that some players might be held back early in camp. That’s the case every year, though. There are no significant tweaks or injuries, he said. Hunter Pence had to back off during some of his offseason workouts after feeling something in his side, but Pence said he’s fine. The tweak was not to the same side as an oblique injury he suffered two years ago. Expect the Giants to take it slow with Pence. He’s shown that you can pretty much drop him in the lineup when healthy and he’ll be Full Throttle. 

--- Josh Osich was one of the Giants who did have offseason issues. He had a minor procedure on his left knee and said it’s all set right now. Osich said the knee bothered him most of last season, but surgery would have been season-ending so he pitched through it. Remember, two years ago he was looked at as a possible closer. The Giants hope that version of Osich returns in 2017. 

--- Javier Lopez, who retired this week, will be in camp as a guest instructor. (He will teach Swag 101.) 

“As good a player as he was, he’s an even better person,” Bochy said.

--- No surprise here, but Evans said Derek Law, Hunter Strickland and Will Smith are the frontrunners to pitch the eighth. Law, by the way, is one of several Giants on a podcast I taped today. Look for that here or here in the coming days, and subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t already!

--- Evans was asked if Mike Morse is still viable in left field and he said the first priority will be making sure Morse’s bat speed is still there. If he shows that, the Giants will try to shoehorn him onto the roster. Evans reiterated that he would rather not see Brandon Belt play any left field, but it hasn’t fully been ruled out. 

--- Look, they’re not going to actually go through with that “put a runner on second in extra innings” plan, but it got headlines this week so players and coaches were asked about it. “I’m not a big fan of it,” Bochy said. “I probably never would be.” Bochy did say that he likes the concept in the minors since it saves young arms a bit. 

--- Here’s my story from earlier on the Giants who are playing in the WBC.  

--- Bochy on Sergio Romo choosing the Dodgers: “It’s always strange at first. We’ll probably see him in spring training. You’ve got to move on just like he did, and we have. It’s part of the game.” Crawford said he expects Romo to get a huge ovation the first time he returns to AT&T Park. After that, it’s probably a different ballgame. 

--- Nick Hundley was here, and he said he’s excited about his new role.

“If you get the opportunity to play for an organization like this one that’s all-in, you take it. You don’t get that opportunity often,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer. I always admired the continuity over here and the environment as a visiting player.”

Hundley has had plenty of time here with the Padres and Rockies. 

“As a visiting player, it’s invigorating,” he said of playing at AT&T Park. “I’ve been trying to beat the Giants for a long time without a lot of success.”

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.