Brandon Belt

Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

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Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

SAN FRANCISCO — The “hot stove” seemed to finally get going Wednesday morning when several reporters tweeted that Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole was headed to Houston. 

Would that lead to free agent starters signing deals they had in hand? Would the Pirates finally tear it down and trade Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison, too? Would the Giants be on the other end of a McCutchen deal?

Well … none of the above. Cole hasn’t been traded, at least as of this posting, and the offseason remains as quiet as ever. 

But, there are still Giants topics to go over, so here’s another round of Q&A as we wait for real moves. Thanks to everyone who reached out on Twitter and Facebook, and as a reminder, you can ask your questions here on Twitter or here on Facebook and I’ll get to them in these mailbag pieces or on the podcast. 

What is Kelby’s role? Can’t they groom him for center field and put him in the leadoff spot? — Frankie Jai Barker, via Facebook. 

Kelby Tomlinson has played parts of three seasons in the big leagues and the staff has simply never really viewed him as a starter. It’s a bit weird when you look at his career splits: he has a .280/.347/.352 slash line as a starter and a .292/.359/.348 line off the bench. I mean, he is what he is, an average-dependent player with intriguing speed and little power, but that’s a nice piece on a team without much depth. 

Tomlinson is blocked at every infield spot, and to answer this specific question, the Giants don’t believe that he can really transition to the outfield.

At the same time, I watched this front office and coaching staff put Aaron Hill in left field at the end of his career. I watched Travis Ishikawa move out there. I watched Ryan Theriot take fly balls. I have no idea why Tomlinson got just two starts in the outfield on a 98-loss team. The most underrated failure of the 2017 season is that the Giants saw practically no development at the big league level. A lot of that had to do prospects getting hurt, but the staff certainly missed an opportunity to experiment a bit with guys like Tomlinson or Chris Shaw, who I still believe should have gotten September at-bats.

Steve Young retired after his fourth concussion in three years. Brandon Belt is in that ballpark. Has he or the team given retirement a thought? — Patrick Connolly, via Facebook

Belt’s concussion in August was his third in the last four seasons and fourth in eight years when you include a really bad one he suffered while playing at the University of Texas. There was concern when this latest one happened and I’m sure Belt and the team still have concerns, but in talking to Belt and team officials, I’ve never heard a hint of retirement talk. In September, when he admitted his season was over, Belt said he was focused on 2018, and added that none of the doctors he has seen have told him he should stop playing. 

“There are always going to be some questions about whether this has some long-term effects, and hopefully it doesn’t,” Belt told me. “But right now it’s not going to keep me from playing baseball … It’s not like I’m repeatedly banging my head against something. If that was the case, it might affect me more in the long term. This is more sporadic and the hits aren’t too terrible. Once I get over these concussions, they tell me that I won’t have to worry about them anymore.”

For the sake of Belt and his family, you hope that that’s true. This is different than football in that Belt doesn’t really have any other collisions that have gone undiagnosed, and there’s no reason to think he’ll take another blow to the head. As I always say when people call him injury prone, people just need to stop throwing baseballs at Belt and he’ll be fine. Hopefully that’s the case for the rest of his career.

Why would the Giants pursue either a free agent (Bruce) or a rental player (McCutchen), rather than try to get a player that they would have more control over the next few years? I would think that the allure of having a stable lineup would be better than the volatility of the market. — Eric Quertermous, via Facebook. 

In a perfect world, the Giants would have walked away from the Winter Meetings with Marcell Ozuna, or they would be at the front of the line for Christian Yelich, or they would have a deal ready for Jackie Bradley Jr. Unfortunately, they live in a world where they just don’t have very many prospects that appeal to other teams. The Marlins made it clear that the Giants didn’t have enough to get Ozuna, who would have solved a ton of their problems, and there’s no way they can outbid others for Yelich, who is 26 years old and owed just $44.5 million over the next four years. 

This is why Brian Sabean has said that he doesn’t want to give up draft picks (second and fifth rounders) for a player like Lorenzo Cain, and it’s why I believe strongly that they need to stick to those guns, no matter how weird this offseason gets. To compete as this core ages, they’ll need a better farm system so they can be more competitive on the trade market. 

Or, a more ideal situation: Start developing homegrown stars again and then lock those guys up. That’s light years more efficient than their recent run of spending hundreds of millions in free agency. 

With Matt Moore gone, is Ty Blach back in the rotation? Stratton, Beede, Suarez or get a vet starter to round out the top five? — @Jeff_Henig

After the Moore trade, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with Bruce Bochy in September. I asked him if Chris Stratton was legit and if he would be the No. 5 starter in 2018. “I think he’s more than that,” Bochy said. He always viewed Stratton as more than a swing guy, and I would expect the right-hander to open the year as the No. 4 starter. The Giants have been hesitant to say much about Blach’s role before he gets to spring training, but my gut says he’s headed for the bullpen as another lefty/long reliever. As I wrote in an earlier mailbag, don’t overlook Andrew Suarez in the race for the No. 5 spot, but my guess is that the Giants will sign a veteran to a minor league deal, and that he will win the job in Scottsdale. That’s what they do. 

Alex, wondering if Eduardo Nuñez is still available? Would definitely prefer to see Nuñez over Pablo Sandoval. — Mark Hanes, via Facebook. 

Mark, I’m sure the rest of the fan base agrees, and Nuñez is still looking for a job. Ken Rosenthal wrote recently that some established big leaguers have started to ask their agents if they’ll have to take minor league deals, and if Nuñez is sitting there in a month and looking at nothing but cheap one-year offers, I would absolutely make the call. He would be perfect as super-utility backup, and man, this team sure could use more guys with energy. I’ve got to think that eventually someone will give him $4-5 million or so, and the Giants would be better served using that kind of money on their bullpen, but who knows … this continues to be the weirdest offseason in recent memory. 

Giants first baseman Belt updates health months after fourth concussion

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Giants first baseman Belt updates health months after fourth concussion

After tying a career-high with 18 home runs through early August, Brandon Belt was on pace for a breakout season in the power department. The Giants' first baseman was on pace to realistically reach 30 home runs. 

And then his season came to a crashing halt. 

Belt took a curveball to the head on August 4 from Arizona rookie Anthony Banda. He sustained his fourth concussion and never played again in 2017. 

Back in September, Belt spoke with Insider Alex Pavlovic while still experiencing concussion symptoms. On Wenesday, Belt opened up about his current health and it's a much more positive update. 

"I feel great right now," Belt told MLB Radio Network. "The last couple days of the season, I felt great then, and I've felt better and better this offseason." 

The Giants signed Belt to a five-year, $72.8 million deal in April of 2016. His concussion history is certainly a concern. 

"Every concussion has taken me two months to recover, so that's been the problem," Belt said. "I'm going to try to avoid it the whole season and hopefully I can get through it with no accidents." 

Before the concussion, Belt was hitting .241/.355/.469 with 18 home runs and 51 RBI in 104 games played. 

Evaluating Giants 'painful' trade options

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Evaluating Giants 'painful' trade options

SAN FRANCISCO — Two years ago, the Giants entered the offseason with a clear goal of adding to the rotation. They scooped up Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. Last year, there was no doubt that the priority had to be getting a closer, so Mark Melancon was brought in. 

The 2017 offseason is quite a bit more complicated. The Giants have an aging roster that just lost 98 games, a payroll that is bumping up against the tax for a fourth straight year, and a farm system that is poorly rated and not yet ready to fill the major league club. 

It’s a sobering time for Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and the rest of the front office, which is why they so often mention how painful this winter might be. Sabean did so again on a recent episode of “The TK Show.”

“There are going to be some painful decisions,” Sabean told Tim Kawakami. “To do what we need to do to be competitive to start the year and hopefully have that roll into also making some moves at the deadline, we’re going to have to make some tough choices and may have to move some payroll, which means moving some people that we perhaps under normal circumstances would not.”

When it comes to moving money, the Giants would love to find a way to shed the $18.5 million they owe Hunter Pence and $11 million they owe Denard Span, but those aren’t realistic options. Those are not the players Sabean is talking about when he refers to pain. Neither are Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford or Madison Bumgarner, the three Giants viewed as most untouchable. 

When you’re talking pain, you’re really only talking about a few regulars. Here’s a look at some players the Giants might have to make decisions on:

Joe Panik: The greatest strength of a terrible team was infield defense up the middle, which also means Panik serves as the front office’s best trade chip. You can bet there are a few general managers out there who would like to see what the 27-year-old could do with a full season away from AT&T Park; he hit .320 on the road last season with all 10 of his homers. Panik also brings cost certainty, as he’s just now entering his arbitration years. The Giants don’t want to break up their Crawnik duo. They also might find themselves with no choice, and with Kelby Tomlinson and Christian Arroyo in the wings, this is one position where they have options ready in-house. 

Brandon Belt: Many Giants fans focus on what he doesn’t do, but the people filling front offices can see what he does do. Belt is an elite defender with a strong eye at the plate and power that would play up outside of AT&T Park. He’s also owed $64 million over the next four seasons, about to turn 30, and coming off his fourth concussion in eight years. On the surface, it seems just about impossible to move him at this moment, but some big-market teams (most notably the Red Sox) have sniffed around in the past and could find that Belt is a nice alternative to more expensive free agent options like Eric Hosmer. 

Jeff Samardzija: He’s coming off a sneaky-good season that was wrecked in large part by the Giants’ outfield defense, is as durable as it gets, and has the repertoire that will forever have opposing pitching coaches dreaming of unlocking an ace. There was interest in Samardzija at the deadline and there will be this winter, with a lack of quality starting options on the market. At the same time, he has a restrictive no-trade clause and has made it clear he likes being in San Francisco. This one is highly unlikely, but Evans will again get calls on a pitcher who could step into any rotation and toss 200 innings next season. 

Hunter Strickland: The Giants have said they want to upgrade center field, third base and the bullpen … so why would they deal a reliever? Well, if Mark Melancon returns to form, they’re actually in decent shape from the right side, with Sam Dyson, Cory Gearrin and Kyle Crick backing Melancon, and youngsters like Reyes Moronta, Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede potentially being options. To fill one hole, the Giants will have to create another, and a small-market team out there could view Strickland as a cheap (he’s due about $1.7 million this year) option in the late innings.