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.”

What the Giants' 2018 Opening Day lineup could look like

What the Giants' 2018 Opening Day lineup could look like

SAN FRANCISCO — The excitement could be heard in Bruce Bochy’s voice as he spoke on a conference call Tuesday afternoon, which was understandable. Bochy used 136 different lineups last season, largely because the Giants never found permanent solutions in the outfield or at third base. 

Since the final game of a 98-loss season, the front office has handed Bochy an everyday third baseman in Evan Longoria, a star in right field in Andrew McCutchen, and a versatile outfield option in Austin Jackson. With every new addition, Bochy has tinkered with the lineup bouncing around his head. He isn’t ready to reveal anything publicly, but he said the new-look staff is already discussing lineup options. 

“It’s going to be probably toward the end of spring training until we have this lineup down,” Bochy said. “It’s a different lineup, as you know. I’ll see or we will see what makes the most sense.”

In McCutchen and Longoria, the Giants added two guys used to hitting right in the heart of the order. After the Longoria deal, Bochy did say he would like to hit Longoria in front of Buster Posey and Brandon Belt. Since then, McCutchen has given him another option, and a lot more could still change. 

Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans would like to add one more center fielder, and it’s possible that player can lead off. Steven Duggar could win the job in camp, and with his speed and strong eye at the plate, he would be an ideal leadoff option. That is, however, a lot of pressure for a rookie, and Bochy mentioned McCutchen and Jackson as options atop the lineup. Both hit there quite a bit earlier in their careers, but McCutchen hasn’t been a leadoff hitter since 2011 and Jackson has just 56 starts there the last three years. Joe Panik and Hunter Pence also have experience leading off for Bochy, and it’s possible the top of the lineup could change depending on the opposing pitcher.  

“I’ve always liked to have the versatility or flexibility to mix it a little bit,” Bochy said. “Maybe it’s a matchup thing or lefty-righty.”

It will be a lefty, Clayton Kershaw, staring in at the Giants on opening day. So for now, here’s a guess at the group Bochy will send out there at Dodger Stadium … 

1. Andrew McCutchen RF
2. Joe Panik 2B
3. Evan Longoria 3B
4. Buster Posey C
5. Brandon Belt 1B
6. Hunter Pence LF
7. Brandon Crawford SS
8. Austin Jackson CF
9. Madison Bumgarner LHP

Jackson not necessarily Giants' everyday center fielder

austin-jackson-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Jackson not necessarily Giants' everyday center fielder

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants had a glaring hole in center field after the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen and his subsequent move to right field, so it stood out when a press release to announce the signing of Austin Jackson included the words “depth at all three outfield positions.”

A day later, team officials made it clear that Jackson is not necessarily the final piece of the puzzle, or even the solution in center field. After mentioning several times that it was a strategic signing, vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean gave a blunt answer when asked about Jackson’s role. 

“Did we get him to be our everyday center fielder? Probably not,” Sabean said. “I don’t know that in his recent history he’s been able to go out there in that fashion.”

Jackson played just 54 games in 2016 and 85 last season for the Indians. The Giants see him as a complementary piece, someone who can handle plenty of time in center, spell McCutchen and Hunter Pence in the corners, and give them a dangerous bat against left-handed pitchers. 

It seemed that was a role that would mostly go to Austin Slater, but the Giants gave Jackson a two-year deal for $6 million, basically wiping out the rest of their room under the tax line. They will not be significantly involved in free agency from this point on, which leaves two options for one more outfield addition. 

Steven Duggar was mentioned over and over again on Tuesday’s conference call, and the Giants will give the prospect a chance to win a significant role this spring. It’s possible that Duggar and Jackson could form a platoon, but before committing to that, the front office will look to add a third offseason addition via trade. 

“There are still some fronts that we are pursuing with minimum-service type of players, which are low in salary,” Sabean said. “We’ll flush out other possibilities.”

Evans has spent months laying the groundwork for multiple deals, and the front office remains confident that one more outfielder can be added via trade. The player would have to be young and pre-arbitration to line up financially with the rest of the offseason work.

If that doesn’t end up happening, Bruce Bochy won’t be too upset. Bochy said he couldn’t be happier with the work Sabean and Evans have done to overhaul an outfield that was unfathomably bad on both sides of the ball last season. If Jackson is the final piece, Bochy is ready to make it work. 

“Right now, as we start the season, I think you’ll see Austin out in center field as much as anything,” he said. “We’ll see where we’re at when we break camp, but that’s a need for us out there in center. As we break camp, we’ll know where we’re at with other options, Gorkys (Hernandez) or Duggar. But center field is where (Jackson) will spend most of his time this spring.”