After Longoria trade, what's the plan for Pablo Sandoval?


After Longoria trade, what's the plan for Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO — The second week of January is usually a good time to start looking at spring position battles and potential lineups, but that’s pretty hard to do while we struggle through the slowest offseason in recent MLB history. 

The Giants, for instance, still want to add two outfielders. A Billy Hamilton or Jay Bruce or Andrew McCutchen would change the lineup and dramatically alter the spring chances of young players like Austin Slater and Steven Duggar. 

We can still start to prepare for the Cactus League, though, so this is the start of a series answering your questions about the team, the offseason, specific roster issues and more. If you have a question, send it over on Twitter (@pavlovicnbcs) or Facebook (pavlovicnbcs). I’ll try to get to them all as we wait for teams to realize that they’re actually supposed to sign these gentlemen known as free agents … 

What is Pablo’s role going to be since we got Longoria? — @kelsmarie991

The Giants never intended for Pablo Sandoval to be an Opening Day starter, and the Longoria deal locked that into place. Sandoval will head to Scottsdale as a leading candidate to win a bench job, and — short of showing up terribly out of shape — it’s hard to see what he could do in the Cactus League to lose that job. At the Winter Meetings, Bobby Evans told me he expects Sandoval to have a Joaquin Arias-type of role, getting occasional starts at first and third but mostly pinch-hitting. 

Bruce Bochy likes the idea of having a powerful switch-hitter on his bench, and despite his poor overall numbers once he returned, Sandoval did hit a walk-off on the final day and also took Max Scherzer and Kenley Jansen deep. More than anything, he still possesses a trait that Bochy likes from his pinch-hitters: aggression. The coaching staff was very frustrated the past few seasons by young players who seemingly fell behind 0-2 every time they were sent up to pinch-hit. 

Sandoval showed just enough last season that the Giants believe there’s something there, and they’ll give him a chance to show he can be the first bat off the bench every night. 

How’s Will Smith’s recovery going? Is he still ahead of schedule? — @SFGLifer

Smith showed surprising velocity during games of catch in late September and there have been no setbacks since. Bochy believes he’ll be ready for Opening Day, and by the All-Star break the Giants expect the lefty to be fully cleared for multiple-inning outings and to pitch three days in a row. They’ll slow-play this at first because Smith is coming off Tommy John surgery, but they certainly are anxious to get him back near the back of the bullpen. When the Giants were scuffling in May, Bochy told me he thought losing Smith was the most underrated factor in the collapse. The previous year, Smith finished the regular season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances.

Smith, a Jeremy Affeldt-type when right, is potentially Bochy's most valuable reliever. I’ve always believed that if he would have started the ninth inning of Game 4, the Giants would have won that series. 

I've been watching the trend of signing veteran starters to minors deals with invites to spring training. Do you think the Giants will follow this trend? If so, who do you think they would sign? — @coffee_needed_

Some names from the non-roster list have already trickled out, including Hector Sanchez, the former backup catcher who re-signed on a minor league deal. Alen Hanson, Chase d’Arnaud, Jose Valdez and Josh Rutledge have also signed minor league deals, according to various reports, but the full list won’t be out for a bit longer. I’m told the Giants are still finalizing some deals, and I would expect at least one veteran starter to be on the list. The front office would like to bring in a pitcher or two to compete with Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez. 

Suarez, by the way, is a name to become familiar with, and not just because you need to know the difference between Albert and Andrew. The young lefty has a lot of fans in the front office, and he's a dark horse to take that No. 5 spot. 

Which Giants player is the best chef? — @TucsonFan4

Brandon Belt will probably tell you it’s Brandon Belt, because that’s the way these things go. I have no idea what the actual answer is, since every meal I've ever seen a player eat has been made for him by the clubhouse staff. (I can tell you that a certain recently-retired center fielder/leadoff hitter would get very upset if his toast was not sufficiently crispy.) 

The best chef on the field, though, is certainly BP pitcher/replay assistant Chad Chop. He has taken on just about every role imaginable for the Giants, and a couple of springs ago that included cooking Paleo meals for Hunter Pence. 


How Giants will keep two promising rookie pitchers healthy in stretch run


How Giants will keep two promising rookie pitchers healthy in stretch run

SAN FRANCISCO — Last August, Andrew Suarez threw 8 1/3 dominant innings at Raley Field, tossing 107 pitches while holding Salt Lake to two runs. Five days later, Suarez was working on another gem, this time in Reno, when he was pulled after just five innings and 74 pitches. 

Suarez was confused at first. Reno is one of the toughest parks in the minors, but he had allowed just one earned run when pitching coach Dwight Bernard told him his day was over. While sitting in the dugout, Suarez put it all together. 

“I figured I was just going to go five innings every start from then on,” he said. 

The lefty was right. He threw five innings the next two times out and four in his season finale, tossing 73, 70 and 75 pitches. After that Reno start, Suarez was told that the organization was limiting his innings, and he did not receive a September call-up. 

Eleven months later, the coaches and spreadsheets are still keeping a close eye on Suarez, only this time he’s contributing to the major league rotation. Alongside him, Dereck Rodriguez is in a similar situation. Rodriguez spent the first half of the 2017 season as part of a six-man rotation in A-ball for the Minnesota Twins. He spent the first half of 2018 grabbing hold of a big league rotation spot, and like Suarez, he is in uncharted waters. 

The Giants will not make a run unless Rodriguez (2.89 ERA) and Suarez (3.94) continue to pitch well every five days, but neither has ever been through a six-month season, and both rookies will smash their previous career-highs for innings pitched. In an era where every warm-up toss and bullpen session is tracked, a lot of attention will be paid to two promising arms. At the break, the front office and coaching staff is confident that both rookies will hold up. The Giants don’t intend to give either one an extended breather as other organizations — notably the Dodgers — have done with young starters. 

“If they made every start, you’re looking at 180 innings for these guys, and that’s where you would want to get them,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’re comfortable not skipping them or having to back off right now. Now, that could change in a month if they’re showing signs that they could use a break, but there’s no plan to back off either of them.”

Instead, the plan is to — carefully — ride this out. Rodriguez will pitch the opener Friday night and Suarez debuts Tuesday in Seattle, and pitching coach Curt Young said both are scheduled for up to 13 starts in the second half. The optimistic view is six innings per start, which would mean approximately 78 second-half innings for each rookie. The Giants, like many organizations, feel comfortable adding 20 percent to a starter’s workload each season. 

Rodriguez threw 101 innings in 2016 and 143 1/3 last season, so the Giants had him ready for about 170 this year. If he’s able to tack on six innings for 13 more starts, he’d end this regular season at 175, which is no cause for concern. 

Suarez is on a similar path after throwing 143 2/3 innings in 2016 and 155 2/3 last year. He was projected around 185 innings before the season, and the current schedule has him set for about 190. 

Of course, there’s a vast difference between facing the Salt Lake Bees and trying to beat the Dodgers in the middle of a division race. There are contingencies in place to help both rookies, including adding an extra day of rest between some starts and “backing it down a little bit” every third bullpen session. A similar plan is in place for Johnny Cueto, who nearly had Tommy John surgery in the first half and will get an extra day of rest before five of his first six second-half starts. 

The Giants will have every Thursday off over the season’s final five weeks, and Bochy has always used those additional days to give his starters an extra break. That won’t change, and the Giants are confident Rodriguez and Suarez will be humming along through that stretch.

“We understand the stress level and intensity of these games, but knock on wood, they haven’t hit bumps,” Young said. “You hate to put the reins on a guy when he’s throwing well.”

Rodriguez and Suarez echoed that sentiment. 

“If it’s not broken, keep doing it,” Rodriguez said. 

“I’m just going to keep doing me,” Suarez said. 

Both are well aware of the situation and said they would lean on veteran starters and try to get advice on how to handle a long season. But they have their routines, and they’ll stick to them. There were no signs of fatigue as a stressful first half came to a close. Rodriguez gave up two earned runs over his final three appearances. Suarez allowed four total runs over four starts before one bad inning on Sunday. 

Rodriguez will take the ball Friday night at the Coliseum and try to start the second half with another strong performance. Can he keep this going through late September and possibly October? 

“Ask me in September,” he said, smiling. “But I’m fine now, and I’m going to keep working hard. I’m not even thinking about anything else.”

Manny Machado is a Dodger, so Giants must be better at being the Giants


Manny Machado is a Dodger, so Giants must be better at being the Giants

As Comrade Pavlovic explains here, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ acquisition of Manny Machado is a gaudy rental that only slightly narrows the San Francisco Giants’ path to a surprise postseason berth.
In short, the rich got richer, and the Giants continue to mind the tax line.
There is, of course, no fun in that position. The A’s aren’t selling for a change, which makes the Giants seem weirdly conservative in comparison to the noisy neighbors they never seem to notice. The Warriors, who move in down the street in a couple of years, are burning money like it’s a college football pregame bonfire, which also makes the Giants look uncharacteristically thrifty.
But Machado is the only real jewel in the trade deadline crown (the Mets have pitcher Jacob deGrom, but nobody expects the Mets to do anything other than standard Met-ism), and not only would he find a way to beg out of any trade to San Francisco on religious grounds (he does not worship in a power-restrictive park), the Giants already have a shortstop in which they are exceedingly proud.
In short, the Giants weren’t in the Machado race, and they don’t look like they will be in many others, either. This is their year of stasis, in which they will either win as they are or lose as they are.
Indeed, the Giants are operating outside their usual shopping norms. They would need to shave salary to acquire salary, which means there will be no 2010 Summer Of Love (Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Javier Lopez, Jose Guillen). And their prospect bin is running pretty low, so they can’t toss young’uns into the wind to see what veteran difference-makers they can attract.
Thus, the Dodgers improving their lot is of little consequence to the Giants, save that corner of the fan base that believes the Dodgers always must be monitored. The Giants need to be more concerned about what the Diamondbacks and Rockies and Phillies and Nationals and Braves and Brewers and Cardinals do, which means there probably are too many teams to keep track of down the stretch.
Indeed, the simplicity of the task before the Giants is clear. Their path to salvation is through a rehabilitated Evan Longoria, and a revitalized Johnny Cueto, and a transformed Jeff Samardzija, and an offense that doesn’t regard seeing its own players on base as evidence of plague. The Giants have to be better at being the Giants, and there is no guarantee of that based on the evidence of not just the past 98 games but the 230-some-odd before that.
But if it helps, someone will enjoy the trade deadline. It just isn’t going to be the Giants. They are, for one of the rare times since they moved from Candlestick Park, a team likely to do almost nothing of consequence this July.
But maybe they can get DeMarcus Cousins to throw out the first pitch at one of the Pirates games in August. I mean, if you can’t be in the market, you might as well enjoy someone who is.