Giants Mailbag: Does management care about vocal fans' displeasure?

Giants Mailbag: Does management care about vocal fans' displeasure?

I walked past a Giants team store the other day while doing some last-minute shopping and wasn't all that surprised when I looked inside. There was nobody there. 

It would be hard to find many Giants fans right now who are excited about gifting someone a jersey or game-used bat after the year the organization just had. It probably doesn't help that there's a rack of No. 40 shirseys prominently displayed near the front door. It's been a rough year in just about every respect, but it'll soon be 2020, and a new year brings some new hope. At the very least, it gets you a bit closer to 2021, which is a more realistic goal for any fans hoping to see a competitive product. 

To put a bow on 2019, I asked my Instagram followers for their questions about the team, the offseason and the future. Thanks to everyone who reached out. There were so many good ones that I'm splitting this mailbag into two parts, with Friday's version focusing on prospects and minor leaguers. Here's a run through some of the better ones about this offseason and the state of the franchise ... 

I'm confused, they haven't done anything but to dismantle. Anything expected? -- @giantroby

As I wrote after Madison Bumgarner signed with the Diamondbacks, this is what a rebuild looks like. The Giants will never come out and say it, but they spent most of 2019 taking a step back and focusing on future rosters, and they're doing even more of that next year. 

Every decision should be viewed this way: How does this help the Giants in 2021 or 2022? This is why Kevin Pillar, a free agent after next season, is gone in favor of younger outfielders. It's why Kevin Gausman will get the opportunity to turn into a good July trade chip. I do expect the Giants to be active in January, but I don't think those moves will make them all that much better next season. 

Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? -- @romareb
What's the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? -- @woodiewoodf14
Does the Giants management care the fans didn't want Kapler as the manager? -- @berto613

I grouped these together because a lot of people asked similar questions. Since Gabe Kapler was hired, I've spent a lot of time chatting with people at just about every level of the organization. Ownership. Front office. Coaching staff. Players. Marketing. They are all very, very aware of how discouraged and upset the fan base is, and I can tell you that team executives truly do care.

But they also believe that the best way out of this is to let Farhan Zaidi do whatever he feels is necessary to build a sustainable winner, which includes hiring Kapler. They believe that the fans will return when the team wins, and I actually agree with them there. 

I don't think the Giants are putting a great product out there for their fans right now, and I disagree with some of their recent moves (you can rebuild and spend money, for instance). But if they're winning in two years, fans will flood back. Think about how popular guys like Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa still are in this town. It's because they helped the Giants win. 

[RELATED: What Kapler has learned during first month with Giants]

Do you predict a free agent signing or a big trade? -- @rltuckjr

The prices haven't really come down -- $80 million for Hyun-Jin Ryu feels particularly aggressive -- so it's hard to predict a big signing. But I do think the Giants will swing a noteworthy trade in January. There are too many big-market teams out there with a stated desire to cut payroll -- the Cubs and Red Sox are at the top of the list -- and the Giants have made it clear they're willing to take on your bad contracts if you sweeten the pot enough.

Will the Giants sign Castellanos? -- @haileyllanez 

Nicholas Castellanos is one of the few impact players still out there this late, and it's clear there's mutual interest. He's only 27, so he would certainly fill a need and also the timetable for this franchise. Bryce Harper's age was a big part of the appeal earlier this year. 

But ... I still don't get the sense the Giants are ready to give someone a massive four- or five-year deal, and Castellanos reportedly still has some big-market teams chasing him. I think the Giants like the player, but sources say their status as the frontrunner is overblown. I wouldn't bet money on them signing any big free agent this offseason. 

What will the payroll look like going into 2022? -- @stayathomebuzz

This is the most fascinating question for me going forward. 

The Giants are currently around $150 million in CBT payroll, which is nearly $50 million less than what we grew accustomed to for most of the decade. They're cutting back because there are so many bad contracts on the books, but by 2022, Evan Longoria will be the only veteran under contract. 

Will they spend more as the Samardzijas, Cuetos, Brandons, etc. come off the books? That, I think, is the biggest question to be answered. It's worth noting that the Dodgers only have $16 million committed to their 2022 roster, and Zaidi will aim to have that same flexibility as he builds. But at some point, you also need to overpay to bring in the best players. The Dodgers have been unwilling to take that final leap, so the hope for Giants fans should be that this team takes a slightly different approach.

Who do you see the Giants looking (at) for starting pitching? -- @elizlk

I ran through some of the familiar names after Bumgarner departed. All of the marquee free agents are off the board, but I would expect the Giants to find another veteran or two looking for a soft landing spot (Alex Wood, in particular, makes a lot of sense). Remember, they signed Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz last January. There are similar players still out there. Hell, Holland himself is still out there. 

Samardzija and Cueto are still on the roster and should lead the way (although I do think Samardzija could be a decent trade chip right now), but after that you'll see a lot of veterans on one-year deals and younger pitchers like Tyler Beede and Logan Webb. 

Will MadBum ever return in some way? (Veteran FA or player development position) -- @daniel_rmills

The days of bringing #ForeverGiants back are over, so you can cross out the first option. Bumgarner would be a fantastic pitching coach or instructor if he wanted that life, but he's much more in the Tim Lincecum mold than the Ryan Vogelsong one. I don't think you'll see Bumgarner that often once he retires. 

Are the Giants gonna be worse next year? -- @johan_kia

Late in the season, a pre-mustache Kerry Crowley made a fantastic point as we were discussing the future. The 2019 Giants went 13-3 in extra-inning games and an MLB-best 38-16 in one-run games. Can you really see a young team with an inexperienced bullpen coming even close to matching that next year?

Even if the Giants find ways to improve the roster, they're going to lose a lot more of those coin-flip games. There's variance there year-to-year anyway. So yeah, it may be really tough for them to get back to last year's 77-win mark. 

What do you think the starting outfield will be 2020 opening day? -- @kfitz023

The Giants started Connor Joe and Michael Reed on opening day last year, so it's a bad idea to try to predict what the outfield will look like in three months. 

Move Buster to 1B, trade Belt? -- @haroldstuart

Ahhh, our first Trade Belt question. Long live the #BeltWars. 

I'll just say this, Brandon Belt has a lot of fans in the revamped front office/coaching staff. You would also be selling low right now. I think the newcomers are eager to work with him, and perhaps they can unlock some production that's been missing the last couple of years. The new ballpark dimensions should help, too. 

Basically, Belt isn't nearly as obvious a trade candidate as most fans might think.

[RELATED: What it was like covering 2012, 2014 Giants]

What are you most excited about the 2020 MLB season -- @mattynorris 

More ballpark food! 

In all seriousness, if you understand that the Giants are rebuilding, I think 2020 might actually be really enjoyable sometimes. You'll see Joey Bart's debut and should see Heliot Ramos and Sean Hjelle and other prospects. Beede and Webb have a ton of potential, and I really do want to see what Shaun Anderson can do as a full-time reliever. Maybe Jaylin Davis breaks through? Maybe Steven Duggar stays healthy? Maybe Mauricio Dubon becomes a versatile, energetic fan favorite like Matt Duffy was? 

Young players won't win right away, but they bring hope and they can be exciting. If you embrace all of that, you'll have a lot more fun next season.

Why Donnie Ecker compares Giants' rebuild to 49ers' rise to dominance


Why Donnie Ecker compares Giants' rebuild to 49ers' rise to dominance

Donnie Ecker is a man of action. He would much rather show you on the field than tell you about it. 

Ecker, 33, has a big task ahead of him in 2020. The Giants named Ecker, a Los Altos native, as their new hitting coach in December. He respects the veterans on San Francisco's roster, though, he knows this team has a ways to go with turning around the offense. 

For Ecker, it all starts with being truthful when looking at the roster. 

"We were bottom three in every single offensive category three years in a row," Ecker recently said on KNBR. "Even if you're the No. 1 offense and you won the World Series, you're starting from sratch with a new team. With our hitting unit, that's a blessing. We're starting scratch." 

The Giants finished 27th in team batting average (.239) last season, 28th in OPS (.694), 26th in home runs (167) and 28th in runs scored (678). They have a ways to go, to say the least, after enduring their third straight losing season. 

Ecker is looking at a different Bay Area team that recently pulled themselves from the bottom to the top in a few seasons as something the Giants can use as a blueprint for success. No, not the Warriors. 

"What I will say is that I grew up in the Bay Area. The fan base, the community, the Giants brand -- it raised me," Ecker said, "I feel like I really understand it, and all you have to do is look at Jed York, John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and what they've built. I was around in those in between years after [Jim] Harbaugh and there's a lot of parallels if you look at what Farhan is doing and Scott Harris and what the 49ers ... how they intellectually had a process to build a roster, used their finances strategically and objectively.

"They've really built themselves on paper for a really sustainable run. There's a process to make really smart, small victory decisions over and over and over. Even in player development we're looking at that." 

Kyle Shanahan took over as the 49ers new head coach ahead of the 2017 season and picked nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch as his general manager. San Francisco had won seven games combined the two seasons before the Shanahan-Lynch duo took over. And then, Shanahan lost his first nine games as a head coach. 

[RELATED: Who starts for Giants vs. Dodgers on Opening Day]

All was not well at Levi's Stadium. But after winning 10 games between 2017 and '18, Shanahan led the 49ers to a 13-3 record this season, good for the NFC West title and No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. If they beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, Shanahan will pull a Bill Walsh and lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl in his third season at the helm.

The Giants are projected to win only 71 games this season, but have one of the most improved farm systems in baseball. They aren't exactly on their way to a World Series this year, however, it's clear president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has a plan in place with his eyes focused on the future.

Giants Mailbag: What will starting lineup be vs. Dodgers on Opening Day?

Giants Mailbag: What will starting lineup be vs. Dodgers on Opening Day?

The Giants have had a quiet offseason, and they, unfortunately, chose the wrong day to finally make a bit of news.

On Thursday morning the team announced that left-hander Drew Smyly signed a one-year deal that essentially puts him in the rotation right now, and that two coaches had been added to complete the staff. The addition of Alyssa Nakken was a historic one and should have gotten a lot more attention around the game, but most of the baseball world spent yesterday digging through old videos and photos of Astros players looking for buzzers or wires. 

Here on this corner of the internet, we don't need to do that. The focus is on the Giants, so here's another version of the Friday mailbag, with plenty of good questions from my Instagram followers ... 

What systems are the Giants using to cheat and why isn't it successful? -- wolfmanzack

Thank you, sir, for getting into the good stuff right away. 

The Giants hit 48 homers at home in 2017, the year when most of this stuff allegedly happened. If they were cheating, they were even worse at it than they were at trying to score runs the old fashioned way. There's not much for Giants fans to be excited about these days, but at least you know your team was so bad at Oracle Park that there's no possible way they were cheating? 

Side note: I've spent a lot of time with video replay guys over the years and got to know the previous regime pretty well. It's insane how detailed their camera setup is and how much they're able to look at by clicking a few keys before and during games. MLB shouldn't be all that surprised that the Astros and possibly others started to weaponize the technology. 

Who will be our starting lineup on Opening Day? -- kitkat_kitty

First I'll ask who starts for the Dodgers that day, Walker Buehler or Clayton Kershaw? The outfield will look different against lefties and righties.

Assuming it's Kershaw, I'll go with Cueto, Posey, Belt, Dubon, Crawford, Longoria, Slater, Yastrzemski and An Outfielder To Be Named Later Who Probably Isn't Nicholas Castellanos. 

Will we get a good outfielder? -- conmantheman99

Well, Yaz will probably be in center. Other than that ... 

I know the Giants are still working on some things and they're cautiously optimistic, but short of a surprise strike for Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, they're going young. They really go want to give one of these internal guys 300 at-bats to see what he can do. The early favorite for that role seems to be Jaylin Davis. 

Why don't the Giants move Posey to first base? -- carlosroman4

Despite the dip in numbers, Posey is still pretty valuable with what he brings defensively and by calling a game. I've never really bought the idea that he would start hitting homers again if he was the first baseman -- it's more than a decade of wear and tear that's taken the power out of his body, and that's not coming back -- and I don't think the Giants do, either. There's not a lot of "Buster to first" talk from this new regime. 

(What's the) reason for adding Nakken to the big league coaching staff? -- j.t._.hollis

In the initial press release, Gabe Kapler said Alyssa Nakken and Mark Hallberg would help promote a winning culture in the clubhouse, but more than anything, this is a support role. There's a lot that goes into day-to-day operations, and the Giants are using some of their vast resources to make sure that there are plenty of helping hands in the clubhouse, the batting cage and on the field. 

Maybe that means Nakken and Hallberg will throw BP or help get the field set up for drills. Maybe they'll be doing advanced scouting one day, or talking to a struggling player. Maybe they'll be hitting grounders to Mauricio Dubon and Brandon Crawford. We'll see how it all shakes out, but it's clear that Kapler wants collaboration and a lot of diverse voices in the room, and he wants that room to be more energetic from the first hour of spring training. 

And honestly, it doesn't really matter what Nakken's ultimate role is. This is a big moment for baseball and should be celebrated. She's more than qualified to be working in a clubhouse and plenty of other women are, too. Someone needed to get the ball rolling. Good for Kapler and the Giants for recognizing that and giving a strong candidate her big break. 

What prospects will we see this year considering a projected 71 win season? -- davidhammondbrownphotography

Projections aside, you'll certainly see Davis early on and possibly Chris Shaw, if you still count them as prospects. I wouldn't be surprised to see Joey Bart by May or June, and I think Sean Hjelle will get a shot in the rotation in the second half. Heliot Ramos is young, but he's on path for a September call-up, at the very least. 

You might also see someone we haven't heard of yet if the Giants are right about Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly and manage to Pomeranz one of those guys elsewhere. 

What's happening with the closer role? -- jacksonirwin

If the season started today, I think Tony Watson would probably pitch the ninth. Shaun Anderson has good stuff and he really seems eager to embrace the ninth inning, so he's probably your best bet right now to lead this team in saves, but experience usually wins out in March.

When Bochy comes back to manage Boston, does he have to give the farewell gifts back? -- rkwagner15

Can we take a moment to acknowledge the unfortunate timing of this scandal? If all of this happened in January of 2021, Bochy would almost certainly be interested in the Astros, Mets and Red Sox and he likely would get one of those jobs. The Astros drafted him, and there isn't a better fit out there for a team that has a loaded roster but desperately needs some stability and leadership. 

But Bochy has always been committed to taking a year off, spending time with his family, recharging his batteries and then seeing how he feels about retirement. He won't come back for any of these jobs in 2020, which makes the timing a bit of a bummer because he really does deserve another shot to manage in the postseason. 

As for the gifts, most of that wine was guzzled on long flights back from losing road trips. In all seriousness, Bochy was well aware of what that farewell tour meant and I think that's part of the reason he didn't want to make a big deal of all this. He knew he might get the itch again and that could be awkward after six months of being showered with love, but opposing teams were eager to honor him, so there wasn't much to be done. 

Will their rotation be stronger this year than last? I think so. -- jesseaflora

Well, they have 207 2/3 Madison Bumgarner innings to fill, but I actually agree with you. A healthy Johnny Cueto should be able to fill that void, and Tyler Beede and Logan Webb should be better than they were as rookies. The bar (last season's work from Drew Pomeranz and Derek Holland) that Gausman, Smyly and Tyler Anderson need to clear isn't all that high. 

The Giants were 13th in the NL with a 4.77 starters' ERA last season. Even without Bumgarner, they should be better than that. 

Farhan said last year that they would act like contenders until they weren't. Same this year? -- abwrites

His main rallying cry last year was actually that the Giants would try to be competitive as deep into the season as possible and win as many games as possible, and he's said the same thing this offseason. 

The Giants are realistic about what they are right now. They know they're not contenders, but they still want to be on the fringes of the race as long as possible and I don't think you'll see many -- if any -- decisions made by Kapler that scream "these dudes are tanking." The roster isn't very good so the team won't be good, but this isn't a race to the No. 1 pick by any means. 

What do you think the Giants record will be next year? -- scottboy_707

They went 77-85 last year, but as mentioned in a previous mailbag, there's no way they're going 13-3 in extra innings again or 38-16 in one-run games. The win total will drop just by regression in those two areas, and the roster also lost Bumgarner, Kevin Pillar, Stephen Vogt and others. 

At the same time, Kapler isn't going to be nearly as committed to struggling veterans and the Giants are going to use more platoons and openers and other methods to try to find small edges. That will help, and I really do sense that the younger players on the roster are energized by the changes and have a lot to prove. Throw it all together and right now I'd probably put them around 75 wins. 

How can one change the Giants' culture while Posey, Craw, Belt and Longo are there? -- velowhiz

I've written a fair amount about culture and energy this offseason and will continue to do so, but I wouldn't really blame it on any of the core players. Collectively, it got stale in the clubhouse, but all of those individuals are good clubhouse guys who show up and do their work every day. 

The culture is going to change because there's a new manager, a new GM, 12 new coaches and a collection of new players and prospects. Will it be better? We'll see, but it certainly will be different, and the organization certainly needed a jolt. 

[RELATED: Joey Bart named second-best catching prospect]

Niners or Packers? -- kfitz023

Niners, and I don't think it's all that close.

From the 2010, 12 and 14 teams, who do you think will make the Hall of Fame? -- bensalvi23

Love this question, and it's one we'll be talking about a lot as more of these guys retire. Bochy is a lock, but it's going to be complicated for some of his players. 

Posey seems like an easy answer, but he actually only has 1,380 hits and 140 homers. He's won every award you could think of and his career WAR (he's currently at 42.1) should ultimately compare favorably with currently HOF catchers, but I think he needs to do some compiling of raw statistics to swing some voters. Tim Lincecum was a shooting star but falls well short of the current standard for starting pitchers. 

I think Bumgarner will have a shot, because a lot of Hall voters love to reward big-game pitchers, but he has some work to do, too. He only has 119 wins, and while the days of 300-game winners or even 200-game winners are probably gone, he could use another 40-50 on the resume and a couple more All-Star appearances. Those things matter when a lot of older voters fill out their ballots, and Bumgarner and Posey will need to add some late-career stats to those early accomplishments. As much as they mean to the Bay Area, most of the voters are from other regions and won't be swayed by nostalgia when they get their ballots and start digging into the final stats these guys put up. 

Does the Pillar move symbolize a full-time starting role for Duggar? -- jackson._.dann

I haven't sensed that Duggar is at the top of the chart in center field, in part because the Giants just aren't sure if he can stay healthy. He's their best defensive center fielder, but he has a lot of work to do at the plate and the Giants want to see him get much better on the bases. Duggar is only 26, so there's no reason why he can't break out this season, but right now he's not headed for a full-time role. 

[RELATED: Giants' Bart named baseball's second-best catching prospect]

Which stadium other than Oracle has the best food! -- matt_twenty1

We talking press box or full stadium? Most of any beat writer's meals during the season take place in the media dining room and Oracle probably falls somewhere near the middle of the pack (there are a lot of nights where the main course is a suspicious-looking kind of fish). 

I think Philadelphia has the best press box food in the NL and it's easy to find a cheesesteak if you wander into the concourse, so they're near the top for me. The Padres have some really good concession stands and the Diamondbacks are better than you'd expect (in the NL West, the Rockies food is boring and Dodger Stadium's selections suck). 

The team that stands out though is the Mets. There's Shake Shack, obviously, and that gives them a huge edge. There's also a Fuku chicken stand for good spicy chicken sandwiches, and the general concession stands have the best chicken tenders in the league. The Mets are perennially a mess, but at least they got their tenders right.