Farhan Zaidi explains why Giants let Hunter Strickland, Gorkys Hernandez go

Farhan Zaidi explains why Giants let Hunter Strickland, Gorkys Hernandez go

LAS VEGAS — On the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings two years ago, the Giants handed Mark Melancon a deal that was at the time a record contract for a reliever, which they believed would shore up the weakest group on the roster.

On Monday, new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he released the organization's 2018 Opening Day closer in part because he believes the Giants now have relief depth.

The Giants non-tendered Hunter Strickland late last month, and in his first media session since that move, Zaidi said he believed he could make it because the bullpen is “a particularly deep area and an area of strength for the team.”

Zaidi noted the left-handed depth he has in Will Smith and Tony Watson, but it’s the right-handed relievers — particularly two rookies — who really made the move possible. 

“Having (Reyes) Moronta and Ray Black -- who we are very high on going forward -- and (Sam) Dyson, who had a nice year for us, and some of the guys behind them, we just felt like that was an area of surplus for us,” Zaidi said. “We had some conversations with teams that were potentially interested from a trade standpoint on Strickland but we didn’t wind up finding a fit.

“We ultimately felt that having roster flexibility — some of those guys having options — to retain our optionable depth and still create another spot in the bullpen was the best way forward.”

Despite the occasional emotional moments, Strickland generally was a strong contributor to the Giants' bullpen, and some in the organization were surprised he was let go, given the fact he was due only about $2.5 million next season. A source who has spoken to Strickland said the pitcher initially was shocked, but he's now excited for the next step in his career and ready for a bounce-back year. 

If Strickland does put a rough 2018 behind him, it will be in another uniform, but Zaidi hasn’t closed the door on a reunion with Gorkys Hernandez, the other player non-tendered. He said he wouldn’t rule out Hernandez coming back, although it’s seen as unlikely, given the other players the Giants are considering. They added one backup center field option Monday.

Zaidi said he wanted to retain flexibility in the outfield, and Hernandez was hurt by the fact that he is out of options. Steven Duggar, Austin Slater, Chris Shaw and Monday pick-up Mike Gerber all have minor league options remaining. Despite what was viewed as a breakout season, Hernandez also fell far short in a stat the Giants are looking to bolster.

“One area that we want to look at is improving the offense from a plate discipline standpoint, even something as basic as the walk-strikeout ratio of the guys on the team,” Zaidi said. 

Hernandez had a .285 on-base percentage last season, and it was just .220 after the All-Star break. The Giants ranked second to last in the NL in OBP last season, and the outfield is one of the few areas where they can make real lineup changes.

MLB rumors: Giants to hire Reds' Donnie Ecker as new hitting coach

MLB rumors: Giants to hire Reds' Donnie Ecker as new hitting coach

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are hoping to see a youth movement in their lineup over the next couple of seasons. They're apparently going with the same approach on their coaching staff. 

Cincinnati Reds assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker will be named the Giants' hitting coach, according to Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic. The Giants did not immediately confirm the hire. They are expected to announce their staff next week at the Winter Meetings. Ecker, 33, is just five years removed from being the baseball coach at Los Altos High, his alma mater. 

The Giants have spent the last month putting Gabe Kapler's staff in place, and they have not looked in traditional corners. They have worked to surround Kapler with coaches who take a more modern approach and can help develop the next Giants contender, and Ecker certainly qualifies as an interesting hire. 

Ecker spent just one season as assistant hitting coach in Cincinnati. In 2018 he was the Triple-A hitting coach for the Angels, and before that, he coached in the minors for the Cardinals for three seasons. Ecker's coaching career began in 2013 when he took a job at Los Altos High, where he was a two-sport star in baseball and football. Ecker was a 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2007 but got just 97 minor league at-bats. 

Ecker certainly is a bit of an out-of-the-box hire, but that might be just what the Giants need after years of struggling to put together a lineup that can hit at Oracle Park. Ecker's bio with the Reds stated that "his teaching methods incorporate human movement research and technology-based applications to the body and swing." He is described as someone who is an "integrated movement specialist."

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Once confirmed, Ecker will join third base coach Ron Wotus as members of Kapler's staff. The Giants also have hired Brian Bannister as Director of Pitching but it's unclear if that role will have him in the dugout. 

MLB rumors: Giants targeted Georgia's Sean Kenny as next pitching coach

MLB rumors: Giants targeted Georgia's Sean Kenny as next pitching coach

The Giants' coaching staff under manager Gabe Kapler is starting to take shape. 

The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly reported Sunday that San Francisco was in negotiations with Indians defensive coordinator Kai Correa, and sources told NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic on Wednesday that Brian Bannister, a former big leaguer who spent the previous five seasons with the Red Sox, will join the Giants as their director of pitching

Speaking of pitching, the Giants appear to be on the hunt for a new pitching coach. And their search seems far and wide. 

D1Baseball's Kendall Rogers reported Wednesday that the Giants targeted the University of Georgia's pitching coach Sean Kenny for the same role in the big leagues. But, UGA made sure Kenny stayed in Athens. 

Kendall says the Giants have looked at several candidates from college and the pros, and Kenny looks like a prime coach on the rise. The former 17th-round pick of the Mets became Georgia's pitching coach before the 2018 season and instantly made a huge impact. 

Georgia's pitching staff lowered its team ERA 1.05 points to 3.97 in Kenny's first year on the job, and set a school record with a .236 opponent's batting average. That number dropped to a lowly .200 last season, as UGA's ERA fell to 3.24 while setting a school record with 601 strikeouts. 

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The Giants haven't formally announced that Curt Young will not return for a third season as their pitching coach, but it was expected that Kapler would bring in several new coaches. The only known coach to come back next season is Ron Wotus, who will be in his 33rd year with the Giants organization.

Bench coach Hensley Meulens has joined the Mets, and hitting coach Alonzo Powell accepted a job in Japan in the same role.