Giants' Will Smith attracts trade interest in crowded relief pitcher market

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AP

Giants' Will Smith attracts trade interest in crowded relief pitcher market

SAN FRANCISCO — On the last night of the MLB Winter Meetings, two deals sent a shockwave through the crowds gathered at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s lobby bars. The Mets gave Jeurys Familia $30 million, and the Dodgers guaranteed $25 million to Joe Kelly. 

The wall had come crashing down in the crowded relief pitcher market, and in the Giants, suite, it was all smiles. 

The Giants have been patiently waiting for some big-name free-agent relievers to come off the board, knowing they have intriguing alternatives to offer teams looking for cheaper solutions. 

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls on guys in our bullpen,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “Both veteran guys and even some of the younger guys.”

The majority of the calls, league sources confirmed, center around closer Will Smith.

The St. Louis Cardinals are among the teams that have checked in on Smith, one of the more attractive pieces potentially available this offseason. Smith is coming off a strong season during which he posted a 2.55 ERA, saved 14 games, struck out well over a batter per inning, and showed his pre-Tommy John velocity and command. 

Why would the Giants trade such a piece? They find themselves confronted with an old team-building adage: If you’re not going to contend, the first player you should trade is your closer.

The Giants hope to play competitive baseball down the stretch in 2019, but they also are realistic about how many holes there are on the roster, and they’re willing to trade players such as Smith or Madison Bumgarner if the team is stronger in the long run. 

[RELATED: Why Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline]

Zaidi kept his cards close for most of the four days in Las Vegas, but he was open about the fact that he’s listening on his relief pitchers. He said he tried to trade Hunter Strickland but could not find a taker, so the Giants non-tendered the right-hander, who remains a free agent. Tony Watson and Sam Dyson are other cost-efficient options, although Smith is the biggest prize.

The left-hander could fit just about any team in the majors. Smith is expected to make only about $4.1 million in his final year of arbitration and could slide in as a closer for a team in need of ninth-inning help, or a late-innings lefty for a team already possessing a solid closer. He can pitch multiple innings and proved to be durable once he returned.

The Giants, per sources, are marketing Smith as an appealing alternative to Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, two veterans who expect to cash in as free agents. Zaidi noted that for teams looking at the high end of the relief market, the "cost certainty of the trade targets may be attractive."

The Giants are looking for young outfielders and cost-controlled starting pitchers in most discussions. If nothing materializes, Zaidi believes he'll go into 2019 with a strong bullpen. Perhaps all of this will be revisited before the July 31 trade deadline. 

"That’s an area of strength for the team. If we keep this group intact, it’s one of the best groups in the National League," Zaidi said of his bullpen. "If it makes sense for us to move somebody to fill needs on the position player side or in the rotation, I think we’re still going to go into next year with a pretty good core." 
 

Sources: Giants interested in Kevin Pillar trade with Blue Jays

Sources: Giants interested in Kevin Pillar trade with Blue Jays

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants still do not consider themselves anywhere near the Bryce Harper chase. Over four days in Las Vegas, they added two outfielders to their 40-man roster, both of whom are just prospects potentially fighting for bench roles.

There’s a middle ground between Harper and the recent additions, though, and the Giants have been active in that market while exploring trades. One name discussed by the front office, according to multiple sources, was Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is interesting for a number of reasons.

Pillar, 29, is a defense-first center fielder who would seem to be an odd fit at first since the Giants already have a young version of that profile in Steven Duggar. But Pillar is a right-handed hitter who always has hit lefties better, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi would like to find a platoon partner for left-handed-hitting Duggar, at least early in his career. 

Beyond that, the Giants are intrigued by the idea of occasionally playing two center fielders at the same time in their massive ballpark. Both prospects picked up this week — Mike Gerber and Drew Ferguson — can play center field, and Pillar is known as one of the top true center fielders in the game. In those discussions, the Giants imagined an alignment that occasionally could have Pillar in center and Duggar in right. 

[RELATED: Why Duggar wants to bring bunts back to life for Giants]

“Right field at our place is just as hard as playing center field,” one source said. 

It’s unclear if the Giants gained any traction in talks for outfielders this week. Zaidi believed he might have a couple of deals in place next week, although he could go in a number of directions as he looks to fill holes. 

Pillar has not been widely known to be available. Still, the Blue Jays are rebuilding in a tough division, with plenty of young talent on the way, and that’s the type of team the Giants have targeted at times. 

The Giants are not fully rebuilding on their own. They prefer to add minor pieces to the lineup and find platoon advantages, and Pillar — or someone similar — is the type of player who makes sense for a team that hopes to be somewhat competitive next season.

Why Madison Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline

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USATSI

Why Madison Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline

LAS VEGAS — When the Giants arrived here on Sunday, Madison Bumgarner was their Opening Day starter. After four days of circulated casino air, room service, $7 cups of coffee, a few rumors and one minor transaction, Madison Bumgarner is still their Opening Day starter.

That still could change, though. 

While the Giants are not close to any deals and have not gotten close, multiple sources familiar with their discussions said this week that the front office is still fully ready to trade the franchise’s ace if the right deal comes along. The Giants have come to grips with the reality of making such a move, but also believe at this point that if they are to trade Bumgarner, the best deal likely will come before the July 31 trade deadline. 

Discussions about Bumgarner have been overshadowed by contenders focusing elsewhere. The Yankees filled their hole by trading for James Paxton and signing another lefty, J.A. Happ. The Nationals signed Patrick Corbin. Other dominoes will fall, but the Giants have never been all that close to finding their own deal, and they are sensitive to a perceived shift in recent weeks.

[REPORT: Giants might hold Bumgarner until midseason]

Some recent stories written by national outlets have focused on Bumgarner's declining velocity, poor road numbers and concerning peripherals, but for the Giants, he still is valued highly. "He's still Madison Bumgarner," one Giants person said this week. He also, several team officials pointed out, remains an incredible bargain at $12 million, regardless of what some might believe about Bumgarner's current skill level. 

“I would never bet against him,” another source said when asked if Bumgarner’s value has dropped. 

During his required media availability on Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he’s confident Bumgarner will bounce back from an up-and-down season, pointing out that he had a tremendous spring in 2018 and looked poised for a big year before a line drive caught his finger. 

“I can assure you he is working and he’s going to come in like he did last spring,” Bochy said. “He’s young. He’s strong. He’s smart. He has the ability to adjust. So I’m not going to be surprised if he has done something to tweak his delivery or whatever. Not that I think he needs to. This guy, he’s still really, really good.”

Bumgarner had a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts last season but his strikeout rate was down and his walk rate was a career-worst. There are other concerns for scouts who watched him last season, mainly a 4.97 ERA and 1.45 WHIP away from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. 

But for the Giants, Bumgarner remains more than just the numbers. When asked about Bumgarner on Monday, team president and CEO Larry Baer pointed down to a ring on his hand, one Bumgarner helped the Giants win.

[MORE: Bumgarner almost played first base?]

Baer said the organization has dealt with “conflicting feelings” when discussing Bumgarner’s future. There is an emotional pull, certainly, but this is also Farhan Zaidi’s show now, and he has no ties to Bumgarner. Zaidi’s most interesting quote this week may have come when asked about the Diamondbacks taking a step back by trading Paul Goldschmidt. He challenged that assumption that they’re rebuilding, saying that deal was largely about the Diamondbacks "trying to fill multiple spots with a guy that maybe they had doubts about their ability to re-sign.”

The Giants and Bumgarner did not have extension talks last season, when the previous regime was in place. New leadership will make the decision, and multiple rival executives said this week that Zaidi will do what he thinks makes sense for the Giants on the field, no matter the resulting PR hit. 

“You hired the experts — Farhan and his team — to do what’s best for the organization,” Baer said. “At the end of the day, it’s the San Francisco Giants on the front of the uniform, and we’ve got to figure out a way to build this into where we want to go.

“If it’s with Bum, great. There are multiple scenarios here. It’s just too early to forecast it because we want to put the best team together. He may or may not be in that equation. Obviously you have your heart, and then you have what’s good for the team. There are a lot of scenarios to understand where it’s going to go. You may very well see him on Opening Day as the starting pitcher.”

For now, Bumgarner is still in that position. But the Giants do not in any way feel that they have approached the meaty part of their offseason, and they will remain open to any possibility with Bumgarner, even if this drags deep into the offseason. They believe there could be a contender — perhaps the Astros, or Braves, or Phillies — still looking for another big arm when the dust settles in January. This likely, though, will drag into the season and all the way to the trade deadline.

After weeks of whispers, the Giants still do not know where they’ll end up with Bumgarner. He’s still a Giant, but there’s a long way to go before he’s set to take the mound at Petco Park on March 28.