Hunter Strickland

Evaluating Giants 'painful' trade options

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USATSI

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. 

Arb-eligible players should tack on about $14 million to Giants payroll

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AP

Arb-eligible players should tack on about $14 million to Giants payroll

SAN FRANCISCO — There are years when you look at the Giants’ arbitration list and you can easily point to a few salaries that can be shed. This isn’t one of those years. 

The Giants have six arbitration-eligible players this offseason and the list includes their starting second baseman (Joe Panik) and four pitchers who should make up the chunk of their bullpen (Sam Dyson, Hunter Strickland, Will Smith and Cory Gearrin). The sixth member of the group is Tim Federowicz, and while he would make sense if Nick Hundley doesn’t return, the Giants can probably punt their backup catcher decision down the road a bit. 

Assuming they tender contracts to the first five, the Giants will be on the hook for about another $14 million next year. MLB Trade Rumors puts out arbitration projections each year that have proven to be pretty close to accurate. Here are their numbers for this year’s arbitration eligible Giants: 

Dyson: $4.6 million
Panik $3.5 million
Smith: $2.5 million
Strickland: $1.7 million
Gearrin: $1.6 million
Federowicz: $1.3 million

If you take Federowicz out of the mix, that’s $13.9 million for five members of next year’s team. The Giants already have about $166 million committed for 11 players when you pick up the Madison Bumgarner and Matt Moore options and assume Johnny Cueto and Pablo Sandoval are back, so, basically, you can see why management has talked about adding via trades instead of free agency. 

Pre-arb players like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach, as well as some spread-out contracts, ease the tax burden a bit, but the Giants are still inching up on the Competitive Balance Tax ($197 million in 2018) for the fourth consecutive year. The 50 percent tax rate they paid last season is a big reason why guys like J.D. Martinez were never an option in left field, and why you can probably cross him off your wish list this year, too. During an interview that aired on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast, team president and CEO Larry Baer addressed the CBT concerns. 

“That (tax) is something that’s punitive financially but it’s also punitive from a player acquisition standpoint, because if you’re in the CBT you then have penalties sprinkled through the collective bargaining agreement that affects the draft choice compensation, affects the pool of dollars you can use to sign international players and a couple of other areas,” he said. “It hurts you from a player acquisition and player development standpoint, so you have to be mindful about that, but if there’s an opportunity we’re not going to let the CBT stand in the way.”

Before this season, team officials talked about the desire to dip under the tax for a year — either this offseason or next — and reset those penalties. They obviously never thought the season would go the way it did and they would be sitting here in October with so many holes to fill, but here we are. For more from that interview with Baer, you can download the Giants Insider Podcast here.

Giants continue to find few right answers as they try to build a better bullpen

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AP

Giants continue to find few right answers as they try to build a better bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO — It is generally a terrible idea to wade into free agency with the belief that you’re going to fix your bullpen. Free agent relievers are older, with too much mileage on their arms and salaries that are out of whack with their limited roles.

For years, the Giants avoided paying big bucks in that sinkhole-filled market. They developed from within and turned to reclamation projects, and if those players panned out, they were rewarded with big deals and kept in the fold. Last season, the Giants had no choice. They turned to Mark Melancon, giving him what was at the time a record deal ($62 million) for a reliever. Melancon has a mysterious arm injury that at some point this month will require a shutdown and medical procedure that will sideline him for six to eight weeks. 

The Giants do not want to go down that path again. The thing is, what other choice do they have? As scary as free agent relievers are, this current group is a nightmare that no manager should have to deal with. 

Bruce Bochy once again tried to pull different levers Friday night. Just about every choice left Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti staring out at the field in disbelief. 

Eight different members of the bullpen took the mound. Four of them gave up runs, including the three pitchers — Melancon, Sam Dyson and Hunter Strickland — who are supposed to control the final third of the game. Another, Josh Osich, continued his trend of walking the first batter he faces. He was done after that. The other clean sheets belonged to two relievers called up Friday morning — Derek Law and Steven Okert — and one — Kyle Crick — who has been a rare bright spot. 

The Giants gave up nine runs in the final three innings. They lost 11-6 to the Cardinals, wasting a huge night from Brandon Crawford and a solid return from Johnny Cueto. 

Bochy has been dealing with this problem for two seasons. Rarely has the collapse been so all-encompassing. 

“I can’t recall one that was as tough for us as tonight,” he said. “You look at the extra-base hits (the Cardinals) had — six there in the last three innings against our setup guys and closer. You’re probably not going to win ballgames like that.”

Strickland gave up two in the seventh to get the Cardinals going. Melancon was charged with one in the eighth. Dyson was charged with five runs after coming into a tied game in the ninth.

Melancon is locked in here long-term, and the Giants expect big things once he gets his arm fixed up. Dyson has been a revelation, and this was just one bad night. But for the rest of the relievers, this is audition time, and it would be hard for Bochy to look around Friday night and see many pitchers he wants getting high-pressure roles next season. He called the final month “critical” for some of his younger pitchers and vets who want to return. 

“We’re evaluating and trying to figure out what we need to do to get back where we were,” he said. “These are big games for everybody. We’re going to look at everything and see where we can improve. It’s not a lot of fun to be in this situation when you’re used to being in important games, but because of that, these are important games.”

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