Giants

Sabean looking for 'meaningful piece' for Giants' bullpen

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Sabean looking for 'meaningful piece' for Giants' bullpen

BOSTON — Brian Sabean doesn’t know whether the Giants will get an impact bullpen arm in a market flush with marquee buyers. But he knows exactly the type the front office will chase before the August 1 deadline. 

“The real dilemma is how you upgrade, and it has to be meaningful,” the Giants’ executive vice president of baseball operations said. “It can’t just be a body.”

The Giants are aiming high in their search for bullpen help. In the past, Sabean and Bobby Evans have added matchup plays and middle relief types, and it’s worked out well. But Sabean made it clear Wednesday that as Evans canvasses the market — and the Giants are checking in on just about everyone — he’s looking for a back-end type. 

The Giants have 18 blown saves this season, the most in the Majors. Before Wednesday’s loss at Fenway Park, Sabean was asked if he would be comfortable in the postseason with the current options in the eighth and ninth. The Giants have Sergio Romo setting up for Santiago Casilla. 

“It’s a good question, but usually bullpens get on a roll like a rotation or a lineup,” he said. “They’ve got the experience. They’ve been there before, both of them. Then you lean on that. Having said that, we know how busy (the front office) guys are looking for some help. But it’s not just going to be the average Joe coming in.

“You’re thinking it’s going to be a meaningful piece, but the competition on the premium people is going to be real stiff and it already is.”

The Giants have watched as good prospects have been shipped away in early deals, and they know the ask on an Andrew Miller or someone similar will be astronomical and somewhat system-depleting. They’ll see Miller this weekend, along with Aroldis Chapman, who was suspended 30 games earlier this season for a violation of MLB’s domestic violence policy. The sense from Giants officials at the moment is that the incident hasn’t eliminated Chapman as an option. Asked about the type of addition he would prefer, Sabean described a pitcher who can get a strikeout in a big spot, someone who sounds very much like Chapman. 

“The (way) the game is played now you want swing-and-miss,” Sabean said. “We got away with it a long time — and to their credit — with a lot of contact relievers. But the game has kind of changed in front of us. Now that wouldn’t preclude you from getting somebody that was as such, but selfishly you would want somebody that could really get through an inning and not have much flak in getting through the inning.”

Miller averages 15.24 strikeouts-per-nine and Chapman, who hit 105 mph earlier this week, is also elite at 12.71.

There are others on non-contending teams — like Milwaukee’s Tyler Thornburg or San Diego’s Ryan Buchter — who fit the strikeout mold, but not the rest of the wish list. The Giants have checked in on Philadelphia (David Hernandez has that kind of power stuff) and they could find a strikeout arm on a sinking team in their division; The Diamondbacks still have Tyler Clippard and Daniel Hudson available after dealing Brad Ziegler. 

But the Giants are aiming higher, and while they're unlikely to trade off their 25-man roster they won’t completely rule it out. Team president and CEO Larry Baer said there is wiggle room in the budget, even with the Giants already paying the competitive balance tax. The bigger issue will be what is being sent back for an impact player. 

“You know you’re going to hurt somewhere, it’s just how much pain you’re going to take,” Sabean said. “I think you’re seeing in some of these trades, the people who have been really aggressive have really gotten a premium guy back. That’s really what you have to decide — what side of the fence you want to be on.”

Regardless of where they end up, the Giants feel the current bullpen group will be better down the stretch. Sabean noted that the pecking order was out of whack when Romo went on the DL, and he said “we knew that (Josh) Osich and (Hunter) Strickland would have growing pains.

“When you don’t have that second guy and somebody like Casilla can’t pitch or he falters, you don’t really know where to turn,” he said, adding that manager Bruce Bochy turned to the matchups. “Having said that, I think things have a chance to settle down.”

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

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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.”