Giants

Rebuild or reload? Giants make their choice loud and clear with Longoria trade

Rebuild or reload? Giants make their choice loud and clear with Longoria trade

SAN FRANCISCO — There are two sides of the Giants’ fan base at this point, and your view of Wednesday morning’s Evan Longoria trade likely depends on which path you embraced during a 98-loss season. 

Should the Giants rebuild or should they reload?

It’s the question that started hanging over the franchise in May, when it became clear that the second half of 2016 was not an aberration. It lingered through an offseason that was remarkably quiet until Denard Span, Christian Arroyo and two low-level pitching prospects were shipped to Tampa Bay. The question will be asked after the next move, and Giants officials hinted Wednesday that another addition is coming soon. 

Should the Giants rebuild or should they reload? Well, which version of events do you believe?

Do you believe that a championship roster simply moved past the prime years, a reality of baseball? Or do you believe that Brandon Crawford’s offensive production will bounce back after some rough breaks on and off the field, that Buster Posey’s power will resurface with better lineup protection, that Hunter Pence will be rejuvenated by a new offseason plan, and that all the others who were part of a horrifically bad offense in 2017 will put up bigger numbers a year later?

Do you believe that Johnny Cueto will stay healthy and be an ace again? That Jeff Samardzija simply needs better outfield defense? That Mark Melancon will be a frontline closer after having a minor elbow procedure to clear out an issue that hampered him in his first year in San Francisco? 

Finally, do you believe that Longoria is the hitter who slugged 36 homers and posted an OPS+ of 127 in 2016, or the one who had a 100 OPS+ a year later and hit 20 homers in a season where power surged? 

You can make a case either way. Longoria, Crawford, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Posey might form the best defensive infield in the game, and there are legitimate reasons to believe that Belt and Panik in particular have much more to offer at the plate. Just two years ago, Madison Bumgarner and Cueto were on Cy Young ballots, and Samardzija’s peripheral numbers were off the charts most of last season. On paper, a bullpen led by a healthy Melancon and Will Smith and a full season of Sam Dyson should be much improved. 

The Giants still have moves to make — a defender in center field, another power hitter, another reliever — but Longoria certainly fills two huge holes: A power right-handed bat and an everyday player at third base. The front office believes it is bolstering a core that should be in win-now mode given the roster and Bumgarner’s looming free agency. 

But the first significant move of the offseason also terrified anyone who believes in taking a step back. Arroyo is just 22 years old and showed flashes of being an impact hitter, and his departure further depletes a poor farm system. While the inclusion of Span makes the deal basically cash-neutral for 2018, the Giants are still taking on the bulk of a contract that guarantees Longoria $86 million into his mid 30s. The 2019 Giants owe about $125 million to seven players and the 2020 budget situation is about the same. The 2021 Giants already owe about $94 million to five players, all of whom will be at least 33 years old. 

So, rebuild or reload? 

The Giants emphatically made their choice on Wednesday. 

“We’re convinced that this player is still a player of stature,” vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said, “And as we preached, we’re not the type of organization or fan base that can go through a rebuild. We need to press the reset button and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

slaterap.jpg
AP

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

The Sacramento River Cats are filled with outfield talent. Finding ways to send them to San Francisco is the problem. Mac Williamson is on his way up after hitting .487 with six home runs in 11 games, but going into Friday's game, the Giants are stilling figuring out how to activate him on the roster.

While Williamson's hot start has deservedly grabbed headlines, another outfield option who showed what he can do at the big league level last year, is also peppering the ball all over the yard in Sacramento. 

Austin Slater has only played in eight of the River Cats' 14 games, but has been a force so far, going hitless in just one game. After going 2-for-4 with a double, triple, and two RBI on Thursday, Slater is now batting .433 with a 1.300 OPS. In his eight games played, Slater has 13 hits -- seven of those are doubles and two are triples. 

What Slater brings to the table that other options don't as much as himself, is versatility. Slater has played all three outfield positions in the short going this year and is adding another glove to his repetoire. 

The 25-year-old was a top prospect in high school as a shortstop. He even played seven games at shortstop for the San Jose Giants in 2015 and 96 games at second base between San Jose and the Richmond Flying Squirrels the same year. So far, he is yet to play first base. 

All of the Giants' outfielders in the bigs are simply one dimensional. That's where Slater separates himself. The Giants are an aging team full of veterans. They badly need athleticism and versatility, and Slater can do exactly that for them all while bringing a consistent bat. 

If the Giants could, they would get one of those memory-erasers from Men in Black and wipe away last season. One of the memeories they would keep is Slater's 34 games. Before missing significant time due to a hip injury in July and then re-injurying himself in September, which required sports hernia surgery, Slater slashed .282/.339/.402 with three home runs in his first taste of the majors. 

Bruce Bochy hopes that Mac Williamson's power can give the Giants a needed shot in the arm. There's no denying the team could use Slater's skillset too. The question of when and how that will happen though, will not be easy to answer for Bochy or anybody else. 

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

PHOENIX — After his team was held to fewer than two runs for the 10th time this season, manager Bruce Bochy said Mac Williamson will be in Anaheim on Friday as part of the taxi squad. The Giants need the outfielder to be more of a tow truck. 

This is a lineup that has not gotten in gear in any way, but a red-hot reinforcement is on the way. Williamson was hitting .487 with six homers in 11 games in Triple-A, and while Bochy couldn’t say he’ll be active and in left field against the Angels, it was not hard to read between the lines. Hunter Pence said the thumb he sprained in the home opener continues to give him problems and needs a few days of rest. It seems likely that Williamson will officially be called up Friday, with Pence going on the disabled list. 

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Bochy said. “Mostly he’s coming up because he’s swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’ll be a shot in the arm and provide some production, and we need some help in that area.”

The futility has the Giants six games out of first after just three weeks of action. The culprit is clear. Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach combined to give up three runs over 20 innings in a tough ballpark, but the Giants still dropped two of three. 

They need more than just one offensive fix, but Williamson represents a start. The 27-year-old has never stuck in the majors, but he rebuilt his swing in the offseason while working with Doug Latta, a private instructor in the Los Angeles area who helped Justin Turner became a star. Williamson’s swing has many of the same markers as Turner’s, and he had a huge spring as he continued to work on adjustments. Williamson lowered his hands and added a higher leg kick in hopes of keeping his bat in the zone longer and being shorter and more direct to the ball. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said this spring. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson knew there was not a spot for him on the opening day roster, but hoped to make an impact sooner than later. His torrid start, plus the struggles at the big league level, have made this a daily question. 

“He showed this spring with the adjustments he made that he’s primed,” Bochy said. “He went out and did what we were hoping.”

The key for the Giants now will be to show more faith than they have in the past. Williamson is a .226 hitter in the big leagues, but his 212 at-bats have been scattered across three seasons and plenty of call-ups. It seems he is always one 0 for 3 night away from a demotion, but the Giants would be well served to let him work through any kinks this time. 

The incumbent in left field, Pence, is batting .172. His backups — Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco — are better fits as defense-first reserves. Pence hurt his thumb while diving in left field during the home opener and said it has never gotten better. An MRI back then showed a sprain. 

“It’s been going in a backwards direction,” he said. 

So have the Giants, but perhaps help is finally on the way.