Giants

Former Giant Gerardo Parra finds home with Nationals in World Series

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Former Giant Gerardo Parra finds home with Nationals in World Series

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez answered nine questions during his press conference last week after the Nationals beat the Cardinals and clinched a spot in the World Series. By far the longest response came when Martinez was asked about a player who started this season with the Giants. 

Gerardo Parra was supposed to be a temporary outfield solution for the Giants, but he was designated for assignment on May 3, clearing a spot for Mike Gerber, who had gotten off to a hot start in Triple-A. In Washington D.C., Parra has been exactly what the Giants hoped they were getting. 

The 32-year-old outfielder's stats don't jump off the page. He had a .747 OPS and eight homers in the regular season after catching on with the Nationals, who gave him 204 at-bats, about twice what he ended up getting in San Francisco. But Parra's energy has made a difference for a team that was 19-31 but recovered to take down the rest of the National League. 

The Giants at one point hoped to see the same in their own dugout. Parra and Yangervis Solarte were brought in during spring training and immediately injected a bit more life into a clubhouse that has too often relied solely on Pablo Sandoval's liveliness. They were popular in the clubhouse, serving as mentors for younger players and dancing in the dugout even as the Giants got off to a slow start. When the two were let go in early May, Bruce Bochy repeatedly called them "great guys." But the Giants couldn't justify any more at-bats for veterans in a season going nowhere. 

"As a player, it's a game of production," Bochy said at the time. 

The Nationals had plenty of it in their lineup, and Parra and others have helped keep the clubhouse on course during a surprise run. The Nationals dispatched of the Brewers, Dodgers and Cardinals and will begin the World Series tonight in Houston. 

Parra has just three at-bats during the postseason, but a late pinch-hit appearance in the NLCS clincher was one of the more memorable moments of the series. As they have done since Parra changed his walk-up music to "Baby Shark" in June, Nationals fans erupted when the veteran outfielder was announced. 

Martinez later joked that he only put Parra in the game to get the fans going in a tense spot. 

"What he's done in that clubhouse has really changed the way these guys go about their business," Martinez told reporters. "I mean, it was business ... he made it fun for this team."

The Giants hoped to latch on to that, but Parra served another purpose, as well. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi brought in several well-liked veterans on cheap non-guaranteed deals to try and keep the lineup afloat until reinforcements could arrive from Triple-A. 

Gerber was not the answer, and Mac Williamson's ensuing cameo didn't work either. But eventually most of the at-bats ticketed for Parra ended up being given to Mike Yastrzemski, a revelation who can serve as a full-time starter moving forward. 

That was never going to be Parra's role in San Francisco, but the Giants did try to work him in early as a versatile defender who could provide some production from the left side. It was impossible to keep him around, though, when he started the year with a .198 average through 30 games. 

Parra caught on with the Nationals shortly after the move and it couldn't have worked out better. He'll be in the dugout during a World Series game tonight, wearing his tinted sunglasses and giving massive hugs to young teammates and generally serving as a key glue guy for Martinez. Perhaps at some point over the next week, the Baby Shark routine will take over a key moment of the World Series. 

As he celebrated a pennant last week, Martinez recalled how Parra had met with him during a slump shortly after he joined the Nationals. The veteran was down because he wasn't hitting, but Martinez implored him to just bring energy, play loud music in the clubhouse, and keep pumping up a young team that had gotten off to a disappointing start. That's a message Bochy has given to Sandoval at times. 

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"After that, he started hitting again, and he came back to my office a few days later and he goes, 'Hey, thank you. I didn't realize that I need to have fun, too,'" Martinez recalled. "I said, yeah, hey, bring it every day ... it's what you bring on and off the field that I care about, and he's that guy. Those guys up there, every one of his teammates love him -- love him. All the fans love him. He's just that guy. He's the Parra Shark."

Cubs' Theo Epstein explains why Scott Harris will succeed with Giants

Cubs' Theo Epstein explains why Scott Harris will succeed with Giants

The Giants took plenty of criticism last week for their decision to hire Gabe Kapler as manager, but the week's other big move was met with positive reviews. One of the people who complimented Farhan Zaidi's decision to hire Scott Harris as general manager was the executive who had hoped to keep him around. 

At the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters that he was thrilled for Harris and knew it "was an opportunity he couldn't turn down -- a No. 2 (job) of another storied franchise in his hometown." Harris served as assistant general manager of the Cubs before Zaidi hired him last Sunday. 

"We're thrilled for him, but it was bittersweet," Epstein told NBC Sports Chicago. "We loved working with him and he was a big part of our culture and guys around the major-league team love working with him. It will leave a pretty significant void that we'll have to fill. We'll distribute a lot of his responsibilities around to a few different people internally and re-evaluate as we continue to look outside, if there happens to be the right fit outside the organization, too."

Harris' decision was a loss for the Cubs, who have had other notable departures in the front office since winning the World Series in 2016. There has been speculation within the industry that Epstein will leave the Cubs when his contract expires, which could have led to Jed Hoyer taking over that job and Harris getting Hoyer's GM responsibilities. 

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Harris loved his time in Chicago and called working for Epstein and Hoyer a dream situation for anybody looking to break into the game. He was hired as a 25-year-old in 2012, but seven years later Zaidi called with an offer that was too good to turn down.

"He's got incredible work ethic. He's got significant intellectual capacity, but he's very down to Earth, fun to be around," Epstein said of Harris. "He doesn't tell you how smart he is. He's one of the guys everyone loves going to to share things and pick their brain. He's got a good feel around managing up, managing down, managing laterally, (a) good feel with the players and uniformed personnel. He'll do a really good job over there."

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler spent nearly an hour discussing the more controversial aspects of the Giants' manager hire, new general manager Scott Harris sat to Kapler's left and took it all in. Other than his own introductory remarks, Harris was mostly silent, but Zaidi smiled and looked at his GM when a reporter asked Zaidi how he planned to "attack free agency."

"Scott?" Zaidi said, laughing. 

Harris took the question, but he didn't give up much more than Zaidi would have. 

"We're excited to have the three of us in place and to start having those conversations that are full of debate, that are full of challenging each other," Harris said, "To make sure that we're targeting the right players and Gabe feels comfortable deploying those players in the right way to allow them to succeed."

More than anything, Kapler simply needs better players. Zaidi and Harris jumped right in to that process, flying to Scottsdale after the Kapler press conference despite the fact that they had already missed most of the first three days of the four-day GM Meetings. Zaidi and Harris have spent plenty of time over the last month discussing their future plans, but they planned to set up meetings in Scottsdale to start zeroing in on specific free agent targets. 

Who are those players? We know one who is off the list. Closer Will Smith signed with the Braves before Kapler could even move into his office, leaving a big hole in the bullpen. That's where we'll start in this early look at what the Giants need in free agency:

Bullpen

The closer right now is ... maybe Tony Watson? Maybe Shaun Anderson? Tyler Rogers and Sam Coonrod showed flashes as rookies, Trevor Gott is healing well, and guys like Jandel Gustave, Sam Selman and Andrew Suarez should be part of the mix. But that's not a good bullpen on paper. 

The Giants will need to add, although as we saw last year, they're more likely to do so with minor additions and trades -- like the Gott move. Don't expect them to spend big on what's left of the relief market. One of the best arms still out there, Drew Pomeranz, is already familiar to them. They're more likely to find the next reclamation project than sign a player looking for big money. 

Backup catcher

Stephen Vogt is wildly popular and had a very nice year as Buster Posey's partner, but he has talked of trying to win a World Series. He is smart enough to know San Francisco is not the place to do that in 2020. 

Vogt liked San Francisco and may return, but if he signs with a contender, the Giants will need a bridge to Joey Bart. Aramis Garcia is an option, but if Zaidi wanted to go with Erik Kratz last opening day over Garcia, it seems likely another veteran is brought in a year later. 

Lefty infielder

The Giants used more platoons last season and could use a left-handed hitter to take some at-bats away from Evan Longoria and Mauricio Dubon. Longoria had a .722 OPS against righties last season and Dubon is still unproven. Pablo Sandoval did some heavy lifting at third base last season, but he'll miss most of 2020 after Tommy John having surgery and is a free agent. The other backup infield option, Donovan Solano, also hits from the right side. 

Kean Wong, claimed off waivers earlier this month, hits left-handed, but he has just 18 big league at-bats. 

Righty outfielder

Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson (if he can stay healthy) should go into next season looking at meaty roles, but the Giants don't have much from the right side other than Kevin Pillar. Austin Slater's numbers took a nosedive in the second half and Jaylin Davis struggled in a September cameo. Joey Rickard is a candidate to be non-tendered. 

The Giants need outfield help in general, but they're especially lacking in right-handed pop. Zaidi tried plenty of fringe options in 2019. He has the financial wiggle room to take some bigger swings this offseason if he wants to. 

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The Bumgarner situation

If it feels like we've hit on all corners of the roster here, it's because, well, yeah, the roster has a lot of holes. 

The biggest one is now at the top of the rotation, where the Giants very well may be looking for a way to replace their longtime ace. Bringing Bumgarner back would actually pretty much set the rotation. The Giants could feel pretty comfortable going into next spring with Bumgarner, a healthy Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, followed by the group of Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Tyler Anderson and any depth options Zaidi is able to scoop up. 

But pull Bumgarner out of that group and you have a big hole, especially because Beede is still mostly unproven and Webb will have an innings limit. Internally, Zaidi and Harris likely have already decided how hard they'll go after Bumgarner. If they're not intent on bringing him back, they'll need rotation help.