Pablo Sandoval

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


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. 

After Longoria trade, what's the plan for Pablo Sandoval?


After Longoria trade, what's the plan for Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO — The second week of January is usually a good time to start looking at spring position battles and potential lineups, but that’s pretty hard to do while we struggle through the slowest offseason in recent MLB history. 

The Giants, for instance, still want to add two outfielders. A Billy Hamilton or Jay Bruce or Andrew McCutchen would change the lineup and dramatically alter the spring chances of young players like Austin Slater and Steven Duggar. 

We can still start to prepare for the Cactus League, though, so this is the start of a series answering your questions about the team, the offseason, specific roster issues and more. If you have a question, send it over on Twitter (@pavlovicnbcs) or Facebook (pavlovicnbcs). I’ll try to get to them all as we wait for teams to realize that they’re actually supposed to sign these gentlemen known as free agents … 

What is Pablo’s role going to be since we got Longoria? — @kelsmarie991

The Giants never intended for Pablo Sandoval to be an Opening Day starter, and the Longoria deal locked that into place. Sandoval will head to Scottsdale as a leading candidate to win a bench job, and — short of showing up terribly out of shape — it’s hard to see what he could do in the Cactus League to lose that job. At the Winter Meetings, Bobby Evans told me he expects Sandoval to have a Joaquin Arias-type of role, getting occasional starts at first and third but mostly pinch-hitting. 

Bruce Bochy likes the idea of having a powerful switch-hitter on his bench, and despite his poor overall numbers once he returned, Sandoval did hit a walk-off on the final day and also took Max Scherzer and Kenley Jansen deep. More than anything, he still possesses a trait that Bochy likes from his pinch-hitters: aggression. The coaching staff was very frustrated the past few seasons by young players who seemingly fell behind 0-2 every time they were sent up to pinch-hit. 

Sandoval showed just enough last season that the Giants believe there’s something there, and they’ll give him a chance to show he can be the first bat off the bench every night. 

How’s Will Smith’s recovery going? Is he still ahead of schedule? — @SFGLifer

Smith showed surprising velocity during games of catch in late September and there have been no setbacks since. Bochy believes he’ll be ready for Opening Day, and by the All-Star break the Giants expect the lefty to be fully cleared for multiple-inning outings and to pitch three days in a row. They’ll slow-play this at first because Smith is coming off Tommy John surgery, but they certainly are anxious to get him back near the back of the bullpen. When the Giants were scuffling in May, Bochy told me he thought losing Smith was the most underrated factor in the collapse. The previous year, Smith finished the regular season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances.

Smith, a Jeremy Affeldt-type when right, is potentially Bochy's most valuable reliever. I’ve always believed that if he would have started the ninth inning of Game 4, the Giants would have won that series. 

I've been watching the trend of signing veteran starters to minors deals with invites to spring training. Do you think the Giants will follow this trend? If so, who do you think they would sign? — @coffee_needed_

Some names from the non-roster list have already trickled out, including Hector Sanchez, the former backup catcher who re-signed on a minor league deal. Alen Hanson, Chase d’Arnaud, Jose Valdez and Josh Rutledge have also signed minor league deals, according to various reports, but the full list won’t be out for a bit longer. I’m told the Giants are still finalizing some deals, and I would expect at least one veteran starter to be on the list. The front office would like to bring in a pitcher or two to compete with Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez. 

Suarez, by the way, is a name to become familiar with, and not just because you need to know the difference between Albert and Andrew. The young lefty has a lot of fans in the front office, and he's a dark horse to take that No. 5 spot. 

Which Giants player is the best chef? — @TucsonFan4

Brandon Belt will probably tell you it’s Brandon Belt, because that’s the way these things go. I have no idea what the actual answer is, since every meal I've ever seen a player eat has been made for him by the clubhouse staff. (I can tell you that a certain recently-retired center fielder/leadoff hitter would get very upset if his toast was not sufficiently crispy.) 

The best chef on the field, though, is certainly BP pitcher/replay assistant Chad Chop. He has taken on just about every role imaginable for the Giants, and a couple of springs ago that included cooking Paleo meals for Hunter Pence. 


Giants pick up options on Sandoval and two starting pitchers


Giants pick up options on Sandoval and two starting pitchers

SAN FRANCISCO — After the 2014 World Series, it was just about a lock that the Giants would eventually pick up Madison Bumgarner’s 2018 option. It also seemed a lock that they would never again pick up a Pablo Sandoval option year. On Monday, both things became official. 

On a conference call to introduce two coaching hires, general manager Bobby Evans confirmed that the club has picked up Bumgarner’s $12 million option, Matt Moore’s $9 million option and Sandoval’s option that will pay him the league minimum. The Red Sox, who designated Sandoval for assignment in the summer, are on the hook for the rest of that deal. 

Bumgarner is set for another opening day start and Moore is looking forward to putting a brutal 2017 season behind him, one that did not deter Evans from saying in September that he would bring the lefty back. Both those players are set for big roles, but Sandoval’s immediate future is a bit cloudier. 

Vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said finding an everyday third baseman is one of the focus areas of the offseason. It does not sound like Sandoval is currently in line to be that guy. He hit .225 with five homers in 160 at-bats, but showed flashes of his old self by homering off Kenley Jansen and Max Scherzer and hitting a walk-off on the final day of the season.

“We saw enough to be intrigued to bring him into camp and see how the chips fall,” Sabean said. “Having said that, if you’re going back to what the questions are and how we look at how we reconstruct, we have to have someone more prototypical or run-production oriented.”

The Sandoval situation is a simple one. He is essentially a free veteran at this point, and if he shows up in Scottsdale out of shape or doesn't perform, the Giants can cut the cord without paying any financial penalty. If he shows improvement, they could have a versatile bat for their bench. 

The Giants hoped to have more solid internal options going into the spring, but Ryder Jones had a rough rookie debut and Christian Arroyo’s injury problems continue. Arroyo’s winter ball experience was cut short because he had a new plate inserted in a hand that required season-ending surgery during the minor league season. Arroyo is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.