Will Smith

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler spent nearly an hour discussing the more controversial aspects of the Giants' manager hire, new general manager Scott Harris sat to Kapler's left and took it all in. Other than his own introductory remarks, Harris was mostly silent, but Zaidi smiled and looked at his GM when a reporter asked Zaidi how he planned to "attack free agency."

"Scott?" Zaidi said, laughing. 

Harris took the question, but he didn't give up much more than Zaidi would have. 

"We're excited to have the three of us in place and to start having those conversations that are full of debate, that are full of challenging each other," Harris said, "To make sure that we're targeting the right players and Gabe feels comfortable deploying those players in the right way to allow them to succeed."

More than anything, Kapler simply needs better players. Zaidi and Harris jumped right in to that process, flying to Scottsdale after the Kapler press conference despite the fact that they had already missed most of the first three days of the four-day GM Meetings. Zaidi and Harris have spent plenty of time over the last month discussing their future plans, but they planned to set up meetings in Scottsdale to start zeroing in on specific free agent targets. 

Who are those players? We know one who is off the list. Closer Will Smith signed with the Braves before Kapler could even move into his office, leaving a big hole in the bullpen. That's where we'll start in this early look at what the Giants need in free agency:

Bullpen

The closer right now is ... maybe Tony Watson? Maybe Shaun Anderson? Tyler Rogers and Sam Coonrod showed flashes as rookies, Trevor Gott is healing well, and guys like Jandel Gustave, Sam Selman and Andrew Suarez should be part of the mix. But that's not a good bullpen on paper. 

The Giants will need to add, although as we saw last year, they're more likely to do so with minor additions and trades -- like the Gott move. Don't expect them to spend big on what's left of the relief market. One of the best arms still out there, Drew Pomeranz, is already familiar to them. They're more likely to find the next reclamation project than sign a player looking for big money. 

Backup catcher

Stephen Vogt is wildly popular and had a very nice year as Buster Posey's partner, but he has talked of trying to win a World Series. He is smart enough to know San Francisco is not the place to do that in 2020. 

Vogt liked San Francisco and may return, but if he signs with a contender, the Giants will need a bridge to Joey Bart. Aramis Garcia is an option, but if Zaidi wanted to go with Erik Kratz last opening day over Garcia, it seems likely another veteran is brought in a year later. 

Lefty infielder

The Giants used more platoons last season and could use a left-handed hitter to take some at-bats away from Evan Longoria and Mauricio Dubon. Longoria had a .722 OPS against righties last season and Dubon is still unproven. Pablo Sandoval did some heavy lifting at third base last season, but he'll miss most of 2020 after Tommy John having surgery and is a free agent. The other backup infield option, Donovan Solano, also hits from the right side. 

Kean Wong, claimed off waivers earlier this month, hits left-handed, but he has just 18 big league at-bats. 

Righty outfielder

Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson (if he can stay healthy) should go into next season looking at meaty roles, but the Giants don't have much from the right side other than Kevin Pillar. Austin Slater's numbers took a nosedive in the second half and Jaylin Davis struggled in a September cameo. Joey Rickard is a candidate to be non-tendered. 

The Giants need outfield help in general, but they're especially lacking in right-handed pop. Zaidi tried plenty of fringe options in 2019. He has the financial wiggle room to take some bigger swings this offseason if he wants to. 

[RELATED: Giants continue Triples Alley work, move bullpens off field]

The Bumgarner situation

If it feels like we've hit on all corners of the roster here, it's because, well, yeah, the roster has a lot of holes. 

The biggest one is now at the top of the rotation, where the Giants very well may be looking for a way to replace their longtime ace. Bringing Bumgarner back would actually pretty much set the rotation. The Giants could feel pretty comfortable going into next spring with Bumgarner, a healthy Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, followed by the group of Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Tyler Anderson and any depth options Zaidi is able to scoop up. 

But pull Bumgarner out of that group and you have a big hole, especially because Beede is still mostly unproven and Webb will have an innings limit. Internally, Zaidi and Harris likely have already decided how hard they'll go after Bumgarner. If they're not intent on bringing him back, they'll need rotation help. 

Will Smith thanks Giants fans, Bruce Bochy after signing with Braves

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USATSI

Will Smith thanks Giants fans, Bruce Bochy after signing with Braves

Will Smith spent the last three-and-a-half years with the Giants. He missed one of those seasons to Tommy John surgery, but certainly will never forget his time in San Francisco. 

Smith, 30, signed a three-year, $39 million contract on Thursday to go home and join the Braves. The veteran reliever expressed his gratitude to Giants fans with a message sent to NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez later that night. 

Smith went out of his way to thank the Giants, their fans, the training staff and former manager Bruce Bochy. 

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Talked to @white_willy13 about his time with the @sfgiants. He will be missed and I want to personally wish him all the best with the @braves. Here’s what he wanted to say to the fans, the team and the Giants organization: I’d like to thank the Giants for giving me the opportunity that they did back in 2016.. it was my first taste of the playoffs I’ve had in my career and it is something I’ll never forget. The Giants are a first class organization hands down and welcomed me and my family with the utmost respect. Without their training staff, coming back from TJ surgery would not have been possible and for that I am forever thankful. Furthermore, I can never express the gratitude I have for Boch. Playing for him was an absolute honor. To my teammates... thank you for having my back on and off the field. Thank you for thinking as highly of me as I do of you and honoring me with the Willie Mac award. Something I will forever have and take with me from my time with you guys. Thank you for all the good times. And to the fans thank you for the constant support and loyalty. I’ll never forget my time wearing the orange and black. #BeatLA

A post shared by Amy Gutierrez (@amyg) on

San Francisco acquired Smith from the Brewers on Aug. 1, 2016, right before the MLB trade deadline. When healthy, he was Mr. Reliable for the Giants. 

[RELATED: How Smith signing with Braves affects the Giants' bullpen]

Smith made his first All-Star Game appearance this past season with San Francisco. He finished the year with a perfect 6-0 record, 2.76 ERA and had 34 saves. 

Over his two-and-a-half seasons on the Giants, Smith went 9-4 with a 2.70 ERA and saved 48 games.

MLB free agency: Madison Bumgarner turns down Giants' qualifying offer

MLB free agency: Madison Bumgarner turns down Giants' qualifying offer

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the trade deadline approached and the 2019 Giants started to get a little frisky on the field, there was some talk around the game that Madison Bumgarner would be better off getting traded regardless of what the team's record was, eliminating the chance that he would be saddled with a qualifying offer. 

Asked about that possibility, Bumgarner gave the kind of look you would expect to be reserved for Joe West. He was never concerned about a diminished market or sitting out half a season like Dallas Keuchel. Bumgarner has always believed the right options will be there in free agency, and now he'll get to test them out. 

Bumgarner officially declined the $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Giants on Thursday, joining eight of the 10 big leaguers who had a decision to make. The Twins' Jake Odorizzi and White Sox Jose Abreu decided to take the money upfront and try again in free agency next year. 

Bumgarner's agents have already spoken to interested teams, and they know what's out there. The left-hander does not plan to pull a Keuchel, and there's already reported interest from the likes of the Yankees, Padres and Phillies. The Braves, who signed Will Smith on Thursday, are also expected to make a run at Bumgarner, who is from nearby North Carolina. 

[RELATED: How Smith signing with Braves affects Giants' bullpen]

Then there are the Giants, who would recoup two top 100 draft picks if Bumgarner joins Will Smith in leaving the organization. Management has kept quiet about the offseason intentions, but there's a chance that Bumgarner circles back at some point over the next month to see if a deal can be struck. He has shown interest in coming back to San Francisco, but he's also eager to see what's out there in free agency.