Evan Longoria

Gabe Kapler shares short message to Giants' spring training full squad

Gabe Kapler shares short message to Giants' spring training full squad

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Gabe Kapler has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he wants the Giants to be more prepared than their opponents, so it seemed likely that he would spend weeks working on the exact speech he would give when the full squad assembled for the first time on February 17.

But the first meeting was not a marathon. There was no dramatic speech, just a quick message from Kapler, one from Farhan Zaidi, some words from a couple of veterans, and then the Giants hit the field and began playing catch. 

"Players on Day 1, the thing they want to do the most is to get out on the field and compete," Kapler said. "So to squeeze everything in to Day 1 for the pageantry maybe doesn't make as much sense as to try to share those messages on a daily basis."

Kapler will have plenty of time to spread his beliefs. During his first day leading the full roster, he simply wanted the players to compete and to get used to some subtle changes. The Giants brought a machine out to throw sliders to hitters after they had taken a couple of rounds of batting practice, giving them a chance to hit breaking balls much sooner than they normally would.

Kapler said he was encouraged by how many players took advantage of the extra opportunity. 

"Those slider machines are not comfortable for players, particularly when they haven't seen a lot of pitches," Kapler said. "So to see the engagement and the buy-in was really cool. Our hitting coaches did a great job of making it a menu option, and then it was even cooler to see our players select the more difficult and challenging practice."

Kapler and the staff had a week to get pitchers and catchers used to some new ways of practicing and the emphasis on competition, but it was a bit different when the position players showed up. The bullpen is basically a wide-open competition and it's unclear who the fifth starter will be along with the backup catcher.

But the starting lineup is a bit more set, with veterans at catcher, first, short and third and roster options like Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence already in place. 

You could say there's far less competition on the position player side, but that's not how the Giants want their players viewing it. Evan Longoria, who played with Kapler in Tampa Bay, said it was good to see how much emphasis is being put on winning jobs this spring. Even the core veterans are being made to feel pushed a bit. 

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"There are a lot of jobs open, there's a lot of things that guys are going to be competing for in camp, which is great," Longoria said. "Hopefully we see some of that fire come out, friendly competition or real. It's not really friendly, you know. Guys are playing for their livelihood and it's a job, so I love seeing that competitive nature come out in guys.

"It was good to hear guys stand up and I think it's really good to get those things out there in the open from the beginning."

Why Evan Longoria is hesitant about reported new MLB playoff format

Why Evan Longoria is hesitant about reported new MLB playoff format

Don't count Evan Longoria among the die-hard fans of MLB's reported playoff expansion plans.

The New York Post reported last week that the American and National Leagues each could have seven playoff teams as soon as 2022, allowing the division winner with the second-best record in both leagues to pick from the three wild-card teams as an initial opponent. Longoria isn't opposed to more teams making the postseason, but he wants to ensure such a change would make more teams try to compete. 

"It doesn't really grab me," Longoria told KNBR's Mark Willard on "The Hot Stove Show" on Monday. "I've never thought that more playoff teams is a bad thing, but I've read [some players' criticism and] I still think the baseball season is set up in such a way that the best teams make the playoffs. [There's] so many games that teams that are not good, they don't last. You saw with [the Washington Nationals] last year. They were not good in the beginning and figured out a way. ... So, I don't think that more playoff teams is a bad thing, I just think that we need to obviously incentivize teams to continue to spend money and bring on veteran players and let the best players play, and not have teams that are just losing on purpose and trying to get draft picks."

Longoria is right to be concerned. Four teams lost at least 100 games last season, matching an MLB record. Under the reported format, teams with 86, 85 and 84 wins, respectively, would've made the playoffs in 2019. 

This week, the Boston Red Sox officially traded superstar outfielder Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers under the guise of "payroll flexibility." When one of the richest franchises in the sport trades one of the sport's best players at a time the sport is raking in record revenue -- all in an effort to avoid tax payments that amount to a drop in the bucket -- what does that say about the rest of the sport? 

As long as teams are trying to contend, Longoria's in favor of more playoff teams. He's not worried about the expanded bracket diminishing the regular season, either. 

If anything, Longoria believes it should be shorter. 

"I think the season's too long," Longoria told Willard. "This is gonna be my 13th season now. Do I really think that if you shortened the season 20 games that s--ttier teams are gonna be in the postseason? Excuse my language. No, 130, 140 games -- it really weeds out the bad teams. So, make spring training shorter, make the season shorter. I think all those things are good things."

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MLB won't have a shorter regular season, or an expanded postseason, until 2022 at the earliest. The collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2021 season, and MLB players' vocal reactions to the reported playoff proposal indicated it could be a point of contention when the players association and MLB come to the negotiating table. 

Should the changes encourage more teams to field competitive rosters, Longoria could come around on it. 

Giants spring preview: Evan Longoria will remain everyday third baseman

Giants spring preview: Evan Longoria will remain everyday third baseman

The Giants spent most of the past decade with remarkable stability around their infield, but the hot corner wasn't part of that equation. 

Once Pablo Sandoval departed for Boston, they tried Casey McGehee before stumbling upon Matt Duffy. He was sent out a year later, and guys like Eduardo Nuñez, Conor Gillaspie, Christian Arroyo, Ryder Jones and Jae-Gyun Hwang got a chance to be the solution before the organization dealt for Evan Longoria.

All of a sudden, there's not much for Gabe Kapler to think about it when it comes to that infield spot. Longoria is set to make his 11th consecutive Opening Day start, the longest streak among MLB third basemen, and the Giants re-signed Pablo Sandoval this week, again pairing the two veterans who made 153 starts at third last season even as both dealt with injuries. 

Earlier this week, we looked at the catchers, the first basemen and the second basemen. Today it's third base, where there's nothing to be decided when position players report to Scottsdale in a couple of weeks ...

Evan Longoria

The first year was a disappointment for all parties, but Longoria looked much more like his old self in 2019. In 129 games, Longoria slashed .254/.325/.437, good for an OPS+ of 102 that was his highest since 2016. Longoria joined Mike Yastrzemski and Kevin Pillar in the 20-homer club and did most of that damage during a torrid stretch as the Giants briefly snuck back into the Wild Card race. 

From July 1 to Aug. 31, Longoria batted .359 with 10 homers in 31 games. That was also the roughest stretch of Longoria's season in a way; he missed 19 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. 

Longoria struggled a bit with the glove when he first got to San Francisco, but last season he finished fifth among qualified third basemen with seven Defensive Runs Saved. Mix that in with the uptick at the plate and you have a player worth 2.4 WAR, which the Giants will happily take. 

Longoria turned 34 in October and he at times has been discussed in salary-swap deals, but for now, he's locked in through 2022 and there's nobody in the farm system that looks capable of pushing him for starts anytime soon. 

Pablo Sandoval

Stop us if you've heard this one before: The Giants are going to play the splits. Longoria crushed lefties last year but hit just .240/.303/.419 against right-handers. The Giants needed some left-handed help at third and they're turning to a familiar face. 

This is the third phase of Sandoval's Giants career, and it's perhaps the most surprising. He was one of Bruce Bochy's favorite players and everyone involved thought Bochy was allowing Sandoval to say goodbye when he got an emotional at-bat Sept. 1, after nearly a month off and with the knowledge that he'd be having Tommy John surgery. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to life as a DH. 

The Giants quietly kept tabs on Sandoval all winter, and when Gabe Kapler visited Miami after the holidays to meet some of his younger players, he spent time with Sandoval, too. Kapler came away feeling the same way about Sandoval that the previous staff did, and he'll lean on the Panda to provide the kind of energy and "I'll do anything for the team" approach that Kapler and his young coaches want. 

The intangibles are nice, but the Giants aren't bringing Sandoval back just to please season ticket holders. He slugged .507 last year, hit 14 homers and stood as perhaps the most dangerous pinch-hitter in the National League. The Giants are counting on a healthy Sandoval to be a contributor, whether that's on Opening Day, late April or closer to the middle of the summer. Sandoval expects to be back on the field months ahead of schedule. 

The Rest of the Field

Zach Green was mentioned in the first base preview as someone who had a pretty clear path to playing time if a corner infielder got hurt. That's changed since then, as Sandoval likely will be the primary backup at first and third. But third base is Green's main position, and he should be there quite often in Sacramento. 

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Donovan Solano and Cristhian Adames played some third last year and Drew Robinson -- the third non-roster infielder along with Adames and Green -- has played there in the past. 

The player to watch though is another one added this week. Yolmer Sanchez has 187 big league starts at third base and was the starter for the 2018 White Sox, making 141 appearances at the hot corner. Sanchez was worth five DRS at third in 2018 and eight in limited time the year before. That could be a big part of his role with the Giants.