Giants

Giants' Johnny Cueto excited to take positive vibes into MLB offseason

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USATSI

Giants' Johnny Cueto excited to take positive vibes into MLB offseason

SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto doesn’t much care that he’ll take a 5.06 ERA into the offseason. The number he cares about is four.

Cueto wanted to return to the rotation this September and prove that Tommy John surgery was behind him. While his four starts had ups and downs, they gave Cueto plenty of confidence heading into the offseason.

“It’s a long process and what I wanted to do was see how I felt,” he said after a 9-2 loss to the Dodgers. “I wasn’t too worried about the results. I felt great so I’ll take this into the winter as a positive.”

After 13 months of rehab, Cueto returned to a big-league mound on September 10 and opened his season with two straight shutout starts. But the Braves took advantage of uncharacteristic wildness last time out, and the Dodgers smashed him with a different approach. 

Cody Bellinger opened the second inning Friday with a long homer to right field, prompting "MVP" chants from a crowd that seemed at least half-Dodger blue. Before the visitors had even sat down, Corey Seager hit a solo shot. Joc Pederson capped the five-run inning with a two-run blast that bounced into the body of water that Max Muncy believes is an ocean. 

“He was wild in the strike zone,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “A couple of those changeups came back and stayed in the nitro zone and the fastball he didn’t quite get where he wanted. They took advantage of it.”

Cueto ended up throwing just 16 innings in four September starts, allowing nine runs. Still, there were plenty of positives. Most importantly, Cueto showed that he's healthy. His velocity was normal through the month and he had no issues with his surgically-repaired elbow. 

[RELATED: Bochy reflects on first MLB call-up]

Throughout the rehab process, the Giants were confident Cueto would find his old top-of-the-rotation form, and they'll need it when he shows up fresh next February. Cueto either will team with a re-signed Madison Bumgarner to give them a strong duo at the top of the rotation, or he'll take on a larger role, leading what's expected to be a younger group. 

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. 

[RELATED: Giants continue Triples Alley work, move bullpens off field]

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. 

Giants' Mauricio Dubon needs jersey number after Gabe Kapler took his

Giants' Mauricio Dubon needs jersey number after Gabe Kapler took his

Gabe Kapler had his introductory press conference as the Giants' new manager, and he's chosen his uniform number as well.

The skipper has chosen No. 19 to sport this season, which means young infielder Mauricio Dubon will have to choose a new number -- and he needs your help.

He recently took to Twitter and asked what number he should wear now that he has to make the switch: 

No. 21 appeared to stand out from a Milwaukee Brewer's fan account, since Honduras became a country in 1821. Dubon was born in Honduras in 1994 (sorry to make you guys feel old).

[RELATED: Dubon gets engaged at Disneyland Paris]

Five-time All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent also sported the number with San Francisco.

We shall see ...