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2019 Giants Position Preview: Holes remain in inexperienced outfield

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2019 Giants Position Preview: Holes remain in inexperienced outfield

SAN FRANCISCO — Steven Duggar has 141 big league at-bats and is coming off shoulder surgery, but at the moment, he’s the closest thing the Giants have to an everyday outfielder. 

The Giants have shuffled veterans through center field and anyone with a pulse through left field over the past decade, but even by those standards, the current situation is something strange. Duggar will enter camp with a clear shot at a full-time job. After that, the staff is essentially rolling a ball out there and telling a bunch of mid-to-late 20s outfielders to go win a job. 

Now, this could change a bit. Farhan Zaidi is still looking to add a couple of veterans to the mix on short-term deals, but as we get to Part IV of this preview series (here are the catchers, corner infielders, and middle infielders) the Giants have multiple holes in their outfield:

Returning: Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, Chris Shaw

Duggar is expected to be just fine after surgery in September, and while Zaidi may seek a platoon partner, the 25-year-old should be in center field on Opening Day and a significant part of the lineup. Overall, Duggar hit .255/.303/.390 in his 2018 cameo, but he was really coming on before he got hurt, showing aggression on the field and the type of defense that will be a huge boost to a team that still won’t out-slug anyone. 

The other three here are in the mix in the corners, and have had their highs and lows. Williamson looked to be the breakout of 2018 before a concussion ruined his year. He’s now out of options, and there’s nothing keeping him from his first real opportunity if he hits this spring the way he did last spring. 

Slater has the most experience of this group but also has dealt with injuries and inconsistency. The Giants want to see swing adjustments out of him to tap into his raw power, and with an increase there, he should be in pretty good shape given his versatility defensively. 

Shaw struck out a lot in Triple-A and did so in September, but the power is something you can’t teach, and you might have heard that the Giants have very little of it in their system. He’s expected to begin the year in Triple-A, but he’ll get another long look in spring training. 

The departed: Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez. 

McCutchen was gone by September, but he still led Giants outfielders in at-bats, and every important hitting category. He’s a Phillie. Gorkys Hernandez was actually fourth on the whole team in at-bats, and he’s now with the Red Sox. Hunter Pence, despite his injury and struggles, was third among 2018 Giants outfielders in at-bats. He’s a free agent, and won’t be back. Gregor Blanco had 189 at-bats and he’s a Met. Austin Jackson had 149 and he’s long gone. 

Basically, the guys who saw nearly all the outfield time in 2018 are gone. The silver lining? The 2018 Giants outfield wasn’t productive at all. 

Additions

The Giants hoped to add two veteran outfielders. They still have time, but there’s not a lot left out there. 

Drew Ferguson was claimed in the Rule 5 Draft and will have to make the roster in order for the Giants to keep his rights. The 26-year-old has a .393 on-base percentage in the minors, can play center field, and bats right-handed, so he could potentially back up Duggar. Ferguson’s status as a Rule 5 pick gives him a small advantage over others in camp. 

John Andreoli was picked up Friday and will be fighting for a similar job. He has some big league experience and plenty of speed. Michael Gerber was the first addition of the Zaidi era but has since been DFA’d and outrighted to Triple-A. We could still see him at some point. 

Non-roster invitees: Anthony Garcia, Henry Ramos

Garcia, coming off a 25-homer Triple-A season with the A’s, could be the wild card in this outfield group. He hit 16 homers a year earlier in the Cardinals system and the outfielders Zaidi has assembled mostly aren’t power guys. A right-handed hitter, he has mostly played left field in his career but has handled right, as well. 

Ramos is the older brother of Heliot Ramos, the organization’s best outfield prospect, and followed Zaidi over from the Dodgers. Henry, 26, had a .817 OPS in Triple-A last season with 10 homers. Bruce Bochy likes a cool spring story, so there’s a chance Heliot is called up at some point to share a lineup with his brother. The rest of camp, Henry, who plays all three spots, will be competing for the job left open by the decision to non-tender Hernandez. 

Outlook

There’s no way to sugarcoat it … the Giants have some serious issues in their outfield. 

[RELATED: Giants outfield could change drastically before Opening Day]

But it’s not fair to fully judge this group right now because the odds are good that Zaidi still will add to the outfield. There are plenty of veterans out there, and one could walk in on March 15 and immediately take a starting job. As it stands currently, Duggar is sitting pretty, and it’s hard to picture the others beating Williamson out given what he showed before the concussion last year. 

The Giants have generally carried five outfielders, although they could get away with four depending on the rest of the roster. Brandon Belt, Alen Hanson, and Abiatal Avelino can all play the outfield, along with lesser-known names in camp. This position group is as unsettled as any in the game, but the Giants still do have two months to figure it out. 

Why Giants need to upgrade shortstop in 2020, according to MLB.com

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Why Giants need to upgrade shortstop in 2020, according to MLB.com

Shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Joe Panik formed a Giants double-play duo up the middle for nearly six seasons.

One half of the pair already is gone after San Francisco released Panik in August and he joined the Mets shortly after. Could Crawford be on his way out, too? 

MLB.com's Will Leitch identified the problem areas for each team going into next season, and his position for the Giants comes as a bit of surprised. 

"Brandon Crawford is under contract for next year, but the Giants need to build from the inside out, and shortstop is a position they’re starting from too far behind on," Leitch wrote. 

Crawford, who turns 33 years old in January, has one season remaining on his six-year, $75 million contract and is coming off the worst season of his nine-year career. The two-time All-Star hit just .228 with 11 home runs and a .654 OPS. 

His 0.6 bWAR was the lowest of his career since 2011, the season in which he debuted with the Giants. To make matters worse, the three-time Gold Glove winner had an oddly down year defensively. 

For the first time in his career, Crawford wasn't worth a positive defensive run saved, according to FanGraphs. He finished at exactly zero, down from six in 2018. Crawford's .972 fielding percentage also was his lowest since 2015. 

But if the Giants do try to dangle Crawford on the trade market this offseason, they could have a solid replacement in Mauricio Dubon

The 25-year-old Dubon might be better pegged as a second baseman, though he has shown the ability to play shortstop just fine. Dubon, acquired from the Brewers at the MLB trade deadline, hit .279 with four homers, three stolen bases and a .754 OPS in 28 games for the Giants. 

[RELATED: Giants excited about future with infusion of young talent]

Dubon played second base in 22 games compared to 10 as a shortstop when he joined the Giants, but has played 475 games at shortstop to 113 as a second baseman in the minors, and is an in-house option right away if Crawford winds up on a new team. The free-agent market is thin this offseason at shortstop outside of Didi Gregorious, too. 

If Crawford does remain the Giants' shortstop, they certainly need him to have a bounce-back season next year. 

Why Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a non-tender candidate

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Why Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a non-tender candidate

The Giants are facing a series of difficult decisions this offseason. They must search for a new manager and general manager, and they also must decide whether to re-sign longtime ace Madison Bumgarner.

There also are a handful of players who are eligible for salary arbitration with San Francisco, including early season acquisition Kevin Pillar. The outfielder started 150 games for the Giants after being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays in April.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand recently included Pillar on a list of 12 MLB players who might not be tendered a contract offer before the Dec. 2 deadline.

Here is why:

Traded from the Blue Jays to the Giants one week into the season, the 30-year-old Pillar posted a 93 OPS+ -- his highest mark since 2015 -- with an underwhelming .293 on-base percentage. While Pillar remains a good outfielder, he’s no longer the elite defender he was earlier in his career. Pillar earned $5.8 million in '19, but heading into his third and final year of arbitration-eligibility, it remains to be seen whether the Giants will find his potential price tag too high for their liking. 

Pillar’s veteran presence was valuable for the Giants during a season when a litany of prospects came up to make significant contributions in the majors.

Despite the many defensive web gems Pillar has produced throughout his time in MLB, he never has won a Gold Glove, and he was just a hair above the league-average fielding percentage for a center fielder in 2019 (.986, league average .984).

Farhan Zaidi and the Giants' front office -- which has been increasingly reliant on advanced metrics compared other regimes -- has a difficult decision to make on Pillar.

Zaidi did mention during his end-of-season press conference that the team will be looking for players who can hit well at Oracle Park -- something the team struggled mightily with last season. Out of the 63 home runs hit by the Giants in their home ballpark in 2019, Pillar had 11 of them.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ramos close to making good on lofty goal]

Will comfort at home be enough to justify an increased salary?

We likely won’t know until closer to that Dec. 2 deadline.