Giants

Giants' Dereck Rodriguez builds confidence; Johnny Cueto suffers setback

Giants' Dereck Rodriguez builds confidence; Johnny Cueto suffers setback

The Giants aren't going to the playoffs this season, that much is clear. Tuesday's 1-0 road loss to the St. Louis Cardinals dropped San Francisco to six games below .500, with 24 left to play.

Next season offers considerably more optimism. The Giants should enter the season with an established outfield of Mike Yastrzemski, Kevin Pillar and Alex Dickerson, and some of the prospects they acquired at the trade deadline already have contributed at the major-league level, or are expected to do so soon.

But if San Francisco is going to compete for a playoff spot, it will need more pitching performances like the one it got from Dereck Rodriguez on Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

Over seven innings, Rodriguez limited the red-hot Cardinals to just five hits and one run while striking out seven. He's penciled into next season's rotation, but starts like that should provide some much-needed confidence heading into what will be an important spring training for the 27-year-old right-hander.

"It's been an up-and-down year for him, and that's including going from here to Sacramento," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Rodriguez, who fell to 5-8 with a 5.15 ERA after the tough-luck loss. "I'm sure he'd like to finish strong. I think it would be very big for him.

"He looked very determined tonight. Good bounce-back off a tough start and, I mean, he really pitched well. 

"Yeah, I think it would be important for him as he goes into the offseason to pitch well this month."

[RELATED: Watch Cardinals' foul ball somehow spin fair vs. Giants]

In terms of next year's Giants rotation, Jeff Samardzija is a lock. Madison Bumgarner is too, if he's re-signed (duh). Logan Webb has looked great over his first three starts and isn't going anywhere. Tyler Beede has a live arm, but he needs to get more consistent. And then there's always the possibility of a free-agent addition or two.

Rodriguez' strong showing against the Cardinals wasn't the only development that could have a considerable impact on San Francisco's rotation next year, although it was the most positive. Bay Area News Group's Kerry Crowley reported that Johnny Cueto experienced back tightness after throwing a bullpen session earlier in the day, and he's no longer expected to pitch against the Dodgers later this week. 

Cueto is coming off Tommy John surgery and will turn 34 in February. He's under contract for two more seasons at $21 million per, with a club option in 2022. Tuesday's setback doesn't mean the Giants can't count on having Cueto in the rotation moving forward, but if Rodriguez can maintain the form he showed against the Cardinals, that won't be as big of a concern.

MLB free agency: Three possible under the radar signings for Giants

thamesusatsi.jpg
USATSI

MLB free agency: Three possible under the radar signings for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- For a second straight offseason, the Giants are using similar language. Team officials talk of transitioning to the future but also playing “competitive” baseball as long as they can in 2020.

Translation: They might not be in on a lot of marquee free agents, but they’re not tanking, either. 

Last season, that led to veterans like Kevin Pillar, Donovan Solano and Stephen Vogt getting a ton of time as the Giants tried to compete while also mixing in plenty of rookies. You can expect plenty more of that in 2020, so here are three under-the-radar options to bolster platoons and the bench without breaking the bank or blocking top prospects: 

Brock Holt

The Giants have talked of making Mauricio Dubon a super-utility player down the line, but for now, he figures to be the starting second baseman, and he could use a left-handed platoon partner as he breaks into the big leagues. 

Holt, 31, started 56 games for the Red Sox last season and posted a .318/.394/.438 slash line against righties last year. Holt doesn’t have huge platoon splits but he had a .788 OPS against righties for the World Series champs the year before and would be an asset as a bench piece who got plenty of starts around the infield. 

Holt can also play the outfield and has experience at third, where Evan Longoria could use left-handed help with Pablo Sandoval coming off surgery and headed to free agency. 

Eric Thames

A graduate of Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, Thames was a popular slugger in Milwaukee but is on the market after the Brewers declined their club option.

Thames hit 29 homers in just 396 at-bats last season and is two years removed from a 31-homer year. The power would play in any park, and Thames also reaches base at a decent career clip (.337) against righties.

The 33-year-old can play the outfield but was mostly a first baseman last year, so he only makes sense if the Giants trade Brandon Belt and commit to giving Buster Posey more time at first base as they break in Joey Bart. 

Wilmer Flores

The Giants know him well, because Flores hit about .600 against them last year. No, really, that’s not an exaggeration. Flores had 14 hits in 24 at-bats against the Giants in 2019, with three homers and three doubles.

[RELATED: Kapler hasn't spoken to MadBum yet]

Overall, the 28-year-old had a .848 OPS, although he hit just six homers against teams that don’t play at Oracle Park. Flores has never fully broken out as a hitter, but he generally provides a little bit of pop in spots where it can be hard to find. 

Flores has started all over the infield but is primarily a second baseman currently. If the Giants don’t bring Solano — who is arbitration-eligible — back, they’ll need a veteran to back up Dubon and soak up starts at second when Dubon plays short. 

MLB free agency: What Madison Bumgarner's market looks like early on

MLB free agency: What Madison Bumgarner's market looks like early on

SAN FRANCISCO -- The free-agent market has moved faster than it did a year ago, with Will Smith signing in Atlanta right before the qualifying offer deadline and Yasmani Grandal getting a four-year deal from the White Sox this week. But all has been quiet thus far for the biggest names in the starting pitching market, including Madison Bumgarner. 

The longtime Giants ace turned down the qualifying offer as expected and has been the subject of a few rumors, but nothing substantial enough to indicate a deal is close. During an interview on the "TK Show" this week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he thinks the process will drag out a bit. 

"We've at least expressed interest and I think they're going to take their time with this process and obviously Madison has earned the right to free agency and to explore all his options," Zaidi told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. "I think they're going to be pretty methodical with it and we respect that, but we'll maintain contact."

Others have been in contact, particularly during the GM Meetings last week. Here's how Bumgarner's market is shaping up through the first three weeks of his first foray into free agency:

Giants

Gabe Kapler said earlier this week that he hasn't spoken to Bumgarner yet, but that's not a big deal. Even when he was employed by the Giants, teammates and friends joked about how hard it was to reach Bumgarner in the offseason.

Bumgarner was curious to see who Bruce Bochy's replacement would be, and it's easy to say the fit with Kapler would be less than ideal. They are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to a lot of how they think about the game, but ultimately Bumgarner just wants to win, so the evaluation process would simply be about how quickly he thinks Kapler could get him back to the postseason.

As I've written a few times already, most people within the building feel that Bumgarner will be playing elsewhere next season. But there's always that chance his market dries up and Bumgarner's best option is to come back to San Francisco. 

Braves

The connection was there even before Smith signed with the Braves. When he was introduced to the media in Atlanta, Smith was asked about reuniting with Bumgarner.

"I don't know, maybe. We'll see," he told reporters. "That'd be great, especially with the kind of talent he is. But we'll see what they've got."

The Braves had interest in Bumgarner before the deadline, sources have told NBC Sports Bay Area, and they planned to make a push for him in free agency. That's basically the same way they felt about Smith, and they got that done. The Braves remain the cleanest fit if Bumgarner is not wearing orange and black. 

Yankees

Speaking of clean fits, this team isn't it. But, the Yankees have shown some interest. 

"I will definitely talk to Bumgarner's agency," Yankees GM Brian Cashman told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. 

The Yankees could use another starter for the postseason and they're relatively close to Bumgarner's offseason home in North Carolina. But, playing in the American League would take the bat out of Bumgarner's hands, which figures to be a bigger deal to him than any other pitcher. 

Phillies

The best case for Bumgarner and his representatives? That would be getting two NL East rivals -- who just watched the Nationals win a World Series -- involved in a bidding war. 

The Phillies had interest in Bumgarner in the past and they are at it once again, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network. 

[RELATED: Time for Giants to kick tires on Rendon?]

Padres

A dark horse, and they're truly fascinating. The Padres looked like an ideal trade deadline destination before their hot start wore off, and Bumgarner did his due diligence about their organization when it appeared he might end up there. 

The Padres offer a division he knows, a rotation that needs a workhorse ahead of Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and all the young starters they have coming through the minors, a ballpark that's often filled with Giants fans and an intriguing roster that should be in the postseason race. 

They were connected to Stephen Strasburg earlier in the offseason but Bumgarner would come cheaper, and they have interest: 

The fit is there. Plus, Bumgarner might be reunited with Bochy in a year.

(Kidding! Sort of.)