Giants

2019 Giants Position Preview: Lefty relievers to be an area of strength

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AP

2019 Giants Position Preview: Lefty relievers to be an area of strength

SAN FRANCISCO -- This offseason has not been one for additions. Somewhat surprisingly, it also has not featured many familiar players headed out the door. 

The Giants spent a lot of time talking to teams about Will Smith and Tony Watson, their two dominant left-handed relievers, but a day from FanFest, both are still on the roster. For an organization that won three titles in part because of left-handed relief, that makes this position group one of the few where the Giants can match up with any team in the league. 

It’s a deep group, and it’s the last to be profiled in this series of spring training previews. If you missed it, here are the catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and right-handed relievers. Now, left-handed relievers … 

Returning: Will Smith, Tony Watson, Ty Blach, Steven Okert, Josh Osich. 

Smith excelled as the closer last season and should open the season in that role if he makes it through camp in orange and black. Watson, signed late last offseason, was one of the bargains of that market and had a huge first year with the Giants. He’ll be back in that late-innings role, helping to get the ball to Smith. 

Blach has made 39 starts over the past three years, but his future now seems to be entirely as a long reliever/swingman. It’ll be interesting to see if Farhan Zaidi and new staffers have a different plan for Blach, who has proven to be a versatile and durable piece. If the Giants ever do go with an opener or piggyback starters, Blach could be part of that mix. 

Okert and Osich had opposite seasons in 2018. Okert wasn’t seen until late, but was really sharp in 10 September appearances. He was someone who stood out to coaches during that brutal final month. Osich might have been the most dominant reliever in camp in March, but had a rough April after making the Opening Day roster. He was sent down and never made it back up. 

The departed

There’s only one left-handed pitcher who took the mound at any point of the 2018 Giants season and is not returning: D.J. Snelten -- The Big Snelt -- who threw 4 1/3 innings early in the season before getting let go. 

Additions: Pat Venditte, Travis Bergen.

Venditte, the switch-pitcher, goes down as the first free agent signing of the Zaidi Era. He has been better from the left side, holding left-handed hitters to a .583 OPS.

Bergen is a Rule 5 pick, so he has to make the Opening Day roster to stick, but he has an intriguing background. With a fastball in the low 90s and deceptive delivery, Bergen struck out 12 batters per nine innings during his minor league career with the Blue Jays. He has a 1.27 minor league ERA, but was slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2016. 

Non-roster invitees: 

None for this group. 

Outlook:

Bruce Bochy loves to play the matchups, and if this group stays intact through the next seven weeks, he’ll be a happy man on Opening Day. Smith and Watson are a strong duo at the back end, and just about everyone else in this group is capable of winning a bullpen job. The Giants plan to have at least three left-handed starters, and should have that many southpaw relievers. It’s possible they’ll open the year with four, too, if you count Venditte. And this doesn't even account for the fact that Andrew Suarez could begin the year in Triple-A or the bullpen. 

[RELATED: Giants could seek help from lesser-known free agents]

Of course, like with many of the other position groups we’ve looked at, this one could be torn apart if the Giants get the right trade offers. They’ll continue to listen on Smith and Watson, and if this team isn’t contending, Smith -- a free agent at the end of the year -- is a lock to go. For now, he’s the last line of the defense for a group of relievers that looks to be in good shape. 

CC Sabathia wanted to play for Giants, and it almost happened twice

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USATSI

CC Sabathia wanted to play for Giants, and it almost happened twice

CC Sabathia is an East Bay guy, but he almost ended up on the other side of the Bay Bridge.

Growing up in Vallejo, Sabathia was an A's fan. But as he was getting closer to the draft process, he grew more and more fond of the Giants.

"I grew up an A’s fan, but for some reason in high school, I had it in my head the Giants were going to draft me,” Sabathia told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. “So I always wanted to pitch for the Giants after that. I never really got any letters or any kind of looks from the A’s, so after about the 10th grade, it was always the Giants."

As it turned out, San Francisco passed on Sabathia in favor of another local prospect, Woodland’s Tony Torcato.

Think the Giants regret that one?

San Francisco had a second chance to put Sabathia in a Giants uniform when he became a free agent in 2008, and they almost pulled it off, if not for the deep-pocketed Yankees.

"We were close to negotiating terms,” Sabathia said of the contract talks with the Giants. “It would’ve been cool, yeah, but this is the best thing for me, to be able to come to New York, have a chance to win every year. Being in the pinstripes is a lot of fun. It’s my dad’s dream, so I’m glad I got a chance to live it out."

[RELATED: Sabathia hosts Boys & Girls club kids at A's-Yankees game]

Sabathia would go on to win a World Series with the Bronx Bombers in 2009. A year later, San Francisco won the first of its three consecutive even-year World Series title.

So, clearly, things worked out just fine for both sides. But it does make you wonder what they could have accomplished together.

Carl Yastrzemski knows it'll be 'emotional' to see Mike play at Fenway

Carl Yastrzemski knows it'll be 'emotional' to see Mike play at Fenway

It took some time -- longer than he would have liked -- but Mike Yastrzemski finally is making a name for himself at the big league level. 

Yastrzemski spent six seasons in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system before the Giants traded for him in March. Since donning the SF orange and black, he has helped transform the Giants' outfield from one of the worst in baseball into one of the team's strengths

In 74 games for the Giants, Yastrzemski is hitting .259 with 17 home runs, 47 RBI and an .890 OPS. His emergence with the Giants has made one person, in particular, very proud: His grandfather, Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. 

“You know, the main thing is, he’s a great kid,” Carl Yastrzemski told The Athletic's Steve Buckley. “He’s worked hard. He always thought he was going to make it and I’m very, very happy for him.”

The younger Yaz helped the Giants go on a torrid run from the middle of June through the end of July, putting them in the thick of the NL wild-card race. While the Giants have fallen back to Earth in August, they still will visit the Red Sox at Fenway Park next month with something to play for. 

Watching his grandson patrol the same outfield he did for the final time 36 years ago will be a special moment for Carl Yastrzemski. 

“To see him come play at Fenway ... that’ll be something,” Yaz told Buckley. “And me ... playing here for 23 years, and then see my grandson come in and play here. It’ll be emotional, yes.

“I know how hard he worked, and to see him there, and having them announce the name Yastrzemski, I feel great because of him, how much he wanted it.”

Mike's father, Carl Yastrzemski Jr. died in 2004 after complications from hip surgery. Mike's success, in Carl's eyes, has a lot to do with how much his father worked with and helped him at a young age.

“His father saw me play,” Carl Yastrzemski said. “And his father was here for my 3,000th hit and my 400th home run. And to emulate his success — my grandson has to owe it all to his father. He spent a lot of time with him, working with him and stuff like that. When they would do things as far as baseball and working out, I kind of stood in the background. His father did the most with him.”

[RELATED:  Yaz has seen power surge in first season with Giants]

There will be a lot of Yastrzemskis on hand at Fenway Park on Sept. 17-19 to watch Mike take the field on the hallowed grounds his legendary grandfather famously called home for 23 seasons. 

Mike made some tweaks to his swing in the offseason, and it's paid dividends. One part of his game, in particular, stands out to Yaz. 

“He’s got good power to all fields,” Carl said of Mike. “The more often you use the whole field, it’s better as far as people trying to defense you. You don’t want to pull and pull and pull. With that shift they use now it’s pretty hard to get a base hit. The only thing I’ve mentioned to him is that you have good power to all fields, so use all fields.”