Farhan Zaidi identifies main issue in search to improve Giants roster

Farhan Zaidi identifies main issue in search to improve Giants roster

SAN FRANCISCO -- For the first time in eight years, Farhan Zaidi will not be spending October watching his team participate in the postseason. But that doesn't mean it'll be a quieter month for the Giants' president of baseball operations. 

The Giants have to hire a new general manager and manager. They have to decide what they want to do in the bidding for Madison Bumgarner. The bullpen has holes, and will have two gaping ones if Will Smith and Tony Watson depart. 

Then there's the lineup, and as Zaidi went over the situation on Tuesday - he pointed to that group as the one that represents his biggest need this winter. Asked what specifically stands out about the roster deficiencies, Zaidi said the Giants simply must figure "out a way to generate more offense in this ballpark."

"When you look at our home record and road record, there's a feeling that if we could have sustained offense a little better in this park it would have put us in a better position," he said. 

The Giants finished just 35-46 at home, tied for the worst home mark in franchise history. They scored 271 runs at home compared to 407 on the road, where they went 42-39 and generally looked like a contender. 

Two of those road wins came at the end of August, when the Giants outscored the streaking A's 15-9 while winning both weekend games. Zaidi repeatedly pointed to that series, which got the Giants back to 65-65, as one that stood out given what happened afterward. 

"You looked at the rest of our schedule and we had a daunting road schedule in September, playing some very good teams on the road, and you felt like we were going to have to really make hay (at home) in the games and the series we had left," he said. "We went 6-7 on our last two road trips against some good teams and we were 6-13 at home. Obviously the offensive output in those 19 games was a major issue."

The Giants scored just 58 runs over those final 19 home games. With a city ready to erupt for any sign of life on Bruce Bochy's final weekend, the lineup got shut out twice and swept by the Dodgers. 

Zaidi said the major goal will be finding ways to be more dangerous at home, regardless of what position an option might play. That could ultimately lead to some changes, and less playing time, for core players. Buster Posey didn't hit his first homer at Oracle Park until the final homestand and slugged just .335 at home.

Brandon Crawford had a .209/.292/.269 slash line at Oracle Park. Evan Longoria crushed in away games but had a .658 OPS at home. Brandon Belt was at .709 with just five homers and 20 RBI.

While some of the newcomers had their moments -- Kevin Pillar and Mike Yastrzemski did hit for power at Oracle -- the only hitter with an OPS over .800 at home was Alex Dickerson, who had a .942 but had trouble staying on the field. 

[RELATED: How Vogt helped young Giants through up-and-down season]

In future years, it may be easier to sell free agent hitters on coming to a park that will have new dimensions. But that may be a tough ask this winter, so the Giants likely will have to get creative with trades. If you've proven you can hit at Oracle Park in the past, you're going to be on the front office's wish list.

"For us to identify ways to improve in the ballpark, that's going to be a major goal," Zaidi said. 

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


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 always has had the deepest pockets in baseball -- the New York Yankees -- have made Cole a priority in free agency, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday, 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 always have 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 like Cole in the heart of his prime.

MLB Free Agency: What to watch for with Giants at Winter Meetings

MLB Free Agency: What to watch for with Giants at 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 also can 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 quietly have 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 the last couple of seasons, they've generally played like a 100-loss team. 

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hasn't had much time to explain his roster plans this offseason because he spent so much time looking for new general manager Scott Harris and new manager 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 also should get their first opportunities to speak specifically about current Giants. Both still were getting up to speed last month, but the Winter Meetings generally provide the 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 largely will 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 one that 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 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 still will be highly productive a couple of years from now. 

Rest of the West

The Giants have finished 87 1/2 games behind the Dodgers combined in 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. 

[RELATED: Zaidi gives update on status of Giants' talks with MadBum]

Coaching Carousel 

The Giants plan to announce Kapler's staff early next week, but we already 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.