Giants

Are Brandon Belt, Giants’ backup infielders being seen as outfield help?

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AP

Are Brandon Belt, Giants’ backup infielders being seen as outfield help?

SAN FRANCISCO — It was an odd scene Friday.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was the first to meet with reporters during the annual pre-FanFest session, and the first question he received was about Bryce Harper. Manager Bruce Bochy didn’t get five minutes into his own session before being bombarded with Harper questions.

Catcher Buster Posey, a couple of doors down, was asked about Harper several times. 

The Harper chase took up most of the oxygen in the room Friday, and for good reason. The Giants are serious about trying to sign Harper, a superstar they need, and on Saturday, there were some signs that the run might be successful. 

But that also meant that dozens of current Giants didn’t really have a chance to give many updates Friday. So here are some leftover notes from the first weekend back at Oracle Park … 

--- Ryder Jones had a gruesome knee injury last September, costing the young infielder a chance at real playing time down the stretch. Jones said he’s two weeks ahead of schedule in the rehab process and anticipates having a mostly normal spring, although he might miss the first week of Cactus League action.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Giants use him. Jones is open to working in the outfield, and some on the coaching staff have discussed it, but the injury might give the training staff some pause. 

--- I wrote last October about how much the staff loved Abiatal Avelino’s enthusiasm during a September cameo. That carried over into the offseason. Bochy said he regularly received texts from the young shortstop while Avelino played winter ball, which is not common.

He ended up playing in the outfield quite a bit and moving all over the infield, and that should continue into the spring. Avelino definitely will be a guy to watch, given Zaidi’s preference for versatility. 

--- The Giants signed Rene Rivera to a minor league deal Friday, according to Jon Heyman, but a few hours later, Zaidi again said he’s looking for catching depth. 

“Buster is feeling great, but having some additional depth there is going to be important for us going into the season,” Zaidi said. 

So … Nick Hundley? Well, a source said a reunion is unlikely. Hundley has been caught up in this rough offseason for players, and he’s said to be examining offers to enter big league camps on a minor league deal and try to win a job, similar to what Hunter Pence is doing with the Rangers.

If that ends up being the case, it shows you why players are so ticked off right now. Hundley signed one-year guaranteed deals the past two offseasons and gave the Giants plenty of value. 

--- The Giants announced Friday that John Andreoli and Derek Law cleared waivers and were outrighted to Triple-A. Both will be in big league camp. Mike Gerber is in the same boat. Honestly, that’s a good sign for this revamped front office.

A strong executive knows the true value of his players and has a good idea of when to take risks, and thus far Zaidi has read the room correctly, adding Andreoli and Gerber and keeping Law. They might not be big names, but no team likes to lose inventory, and the Giants have not by correctly choosing which players to put through waivers.  

--- Brandon Belt and Cody Bellinger are very different types of players, but given how often Bellinger played center field for Zaidi’s Dodgers, it’s been easy to wonder if he’ll throw Belt back into the mix in left. Zaidi’s body language when asked left the impression that he doesn’t love the idea. 

“As we sit right now, we see him as our everyday first baseman. We want him to primarily be focused at first, but I think we’re going to try to get him out there (in left) in camp because you just never know how the season is going to unfold,” Zaidi said. “We want him to at least be prepared to do it.”

--- Before Harper became a thing, there was a lot of talk about the Giants and the Raiders striking a deal to let the NFL team play at Oracle Park next season. Well, it sounds like it's no longer happening. That session with Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey produced some of the lighter moments from FanFest, including this exchange: 

KNBR host: "How do you get the rights to the boombox in the clubhouse?

Crawford: "It's 2019. We don't have a boombox."

The shortstop still is the clubhouse DJ, though, and as he prepares this year's victory soundtrack, he might have to make an adjustment. Crawford and Chad Chop always got together in spring training to come up with the playlist while shooting jumpers at Crawford's Scottsdale home.

But Chop, part of the replay team the last few years, was let go at the end of the season, and officially has caught on with the Dodgers ... 

MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

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USATSI

MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

Gerrit Cole is far and away the gem of the 2019 MLB free-agent class.

The former Pirates and Astros ace led the American League in both ERA and strikeouts last season and finished just behind teammate Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young Award race.

The team that historically has always had the deepest pockets in baseball -- the New York Yankees -- have made Cole a priority in free agency, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports citing a source.

Cole is a Southern California native with familial ties to the Giants, a team that also features one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the MLB. San Francisco also has been mentioned as a destination for the ace, who reportedly desires a return to the West Coast.

But if the Yankees, who have always jumped to outbid every other team for talent in free agency, decide to back up the proverbial Brinks truck for the 29-year-old, the Giants might be swiftly eliminated from contention for Cole.

Reports indicate that Cole’s price tag will “shatter” the record set by David Price when he signed a $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2015.

[RELATED: Report: Giants targeted UGA's pitching coach for same role]

While San Francisco has plenty of money to spend this offseason, it likely won’t engage in a bidding war that could approach $300 million.

Even if longtime Giant and current free agent Madison Bumgarner elects to go elsewhere in free agency, it remains to be seen how much money San Francisco would be willing to shell out for an elite talent in the heart of his prime, which certainly is an apt description for Cole.

What to watch for as Giants head to MLB's Winter Meetings

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

What to watch for as Giants head to MLB's Winter Meetings

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are two things that we can guarantee will happen next week at Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings. 

On Sunday, all of the reporters from the East Coast and chillier portions of the Midwest will take a few seconds to tweet out their appreciation for San Diego. A few days later, Scott Boras will find a cozy spot -- likely in front of the Christmas tree at the Manchester Grand Hyatt -- and explain to everyone with a microphone why owners are being cheap when it comes to his difference-making players (he's not wrong).

The rest of the week is generally unpredictable. The last time the Meetings were held in San Diego, reporters and team executives scrambled through the lobby as midnight approached one night, with Matt Kemp having just been traded to the Padres. There surely will be another moment like that next week, but nobody can tell you right now which players will be involved. 

But, there is a third guarantee in the middle of all that uncertainty. NBC Sports Bay Area will be there the whole time, bringing you stories, videos, podcasts and live shows. I'll be doing a live stream on our My Teams app with Amy Gutierrez every day, with special guests lined up. You can also follow any rumors on Twitter or go behind the scenes on Instagram. 

It should be a fun and unpredictable week. Here's what you should know before the Giants get on that short flight to The Tin Fish San Diego. 

So, What's the Plan, Guys?

It's not hard to figure out the direction the Giants are headed. They're going young as often as they can and trying to open up playing time for prospects and inexperienced big leaguers who might be the next Mike Yastrzemski. With every decision, the Giants are trying to build towards a contender in 2021 or beyond. That's why Kevin Pillar is gone and Jaylin Davis and Steven Duggar might be getting plenty of time next year. 

The coaching staff thus far has been filled with guys who have a strong background in player development, and the Giants have quietly invested millions of dollars in their infrastructure in Scottsdale to help that push. 

All of that is great if you're trying to catch up to the Dodgers in a few years, but it means 2020 looks a bit frightening right now. When the Giants have sent out youth-filled lineups during stretches of the last couple of seasons, they've generally played like a 100-loss team. 

Farhan Zaidi hasn't had much time to explain his roster plans this offseason because he spent so much time looking for Scott Harris and Gabe Kapler, and then explaining the Kapler hire. He'll meet with beat reporters every afternoon in San Diego and will have an opportunity to further lay out his vision for the 2020 season. 

Harris and Kapler should also get their first opportunities to speak specifically about current Giants. Both were still getting up to speed last month, but the Winter Meetings generally provide a first opportunity to discuss the lineup or bullpen hierarchy, or what the rotation might look like. 

Bumgarner Watch

The Giants seemed to prefer being on the outside of this chase even when it looked like Bumgarner would have to settle somewhere around $80 million. If he truly does wind up with $100 million, or even tops Zack Wheeler's $118 million, as some have predicted in recent days, it's hard to see how Bumgarner's only previous employer is even part of the conversation at the end. 

Whatever happens, it will largely shape the Giants' offseason. If there's a surprise and Bumgarner is brought back, all will be forgiven. But it seems like this will be another move that fits in with an offseason that is setting the Giants up for the future but has disappointed much of the fan base. 

A Big Splash?

The Giants ended up in quite a few Bryce Harper-related headlines last offseason, but most of that occurred in February. They haven't yet been connected to Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or any of the other top-end free agents, but that doesn't mean the Giants aren't considering all options. 

It's unlikely that they get seriously involved with a Cole or Strasburg type, but perhaps next week will be the one that brings real Marcell Ozuna rumors or more on their reported interest in Nicholas Castellanos. The Giants are rebuilding, but they do have plenty of money to spend if they feel a player will still be highly productive a couple of years from now. 

Rest of the West

The Giants have finished 87 1/2 games behind the Dodgers the past three seasons.

Read that again, because that is the stat that is guiding much of this offseason. There's no sign of it slowing down, either, because the Dodgers -- partially built by Zaidi -- are the National League's juggernaut and have waves of talent on the way. You can make your "no rings" jokes, but the truth is the Giants ultimately are vying to catch this Dodgers team, and they're nowhere close. 

So, it's certainly worth watching the Dodgers over the next week. If they get a Cole or Strasburg, they're that much stronger next year and in the years when the Giants are ready to compete. The addition of Anthony Rendon, something they're considering, would be downright frightening. 

The Giants probably don't lose much sleep over the Rockies, but the Diamondbacks have a nice young nucleus and money to spend and the Padres -- who added Drew Pomeranz early and traded for Tommy Pham on Thursday -- are in win-now mode. The NL West might look a lot tougher a week from now. 

Coaching Carrousel 

The Giants plan to announce Kapler's staff early next week, but already we know that Brian Bannister will join as Director of Pitching and Donnie Ecker will serve as hitting coach. Kapler is 44, Bannister is 38 and Ecker is 33, and all three are well-versed in analytics and fresh techniques that have infiltrated the game over the past half-decade. 

What will the rest of the staff look like? Will Kapler bring in an experienced bench coach to provide some balance, or will the Giants continue to add coaches that they feel are rising stars with a different perspective? 

Thus far, Ron Wotus is the only one to survive the managing change, and it's unclear where Curt Young, Rich Schu and Jose Alguacil will end up in 2020 (there's no indication any of them will be back), or if other longtime members of the organization's support staff will be replaced. A lot of those questions should be answered over the first 24 hours in San Diego.