Giants Mailbag: What is Joey Bart's ETA; Could Kevin Pillar return?

Giants Mailbag: What is Joey Bart's ETA; Could Kevin Pillar return?

While the Bay Area focuses on Jimmy Garoppolo, the Giants quietly are sneaking up on Gabe Kapler's first season. They're a month out from FanFest, and pitchers and catchers will report Feb. 11 with position players coming in five days later. 

Before you know it, we'll have video of Buster Posey playing catch with Joey Bart, or Brandon Crawford and Mauricio Dubon taking turns fielding grounders from new bench coach Kai Correa. We'll have a lot of answers to our questions, too, but for now, there still are mostly just question marks. I took a few from Instagram followers and tried to provide some direction in the latest installment of our Giants Mailbag.

"What are the possibilities the Giants will re-sign Kevin Pillar?" -- pollycharmsjewelry (and a few others)

That ship has sailed. The Giants are going to give their unproven outfielders a chance to break through, which could mean a lot of time for Mike Yastrzemski in center field as a Jaylin Davis or Chris Shaw or Austin Slater gets consistent time in the lineup. They've also told Mauricio Dubon to get ready for some outfield work. 

Pillar is still out there, though. It seems likely he'll come in well below the $9.7 million he was projected to earn in arbitration. 

"What big contract do you think would benefit the Giants to trade away?" -- rioscristian15

This isn't a knock on the player at all, because Evan Longoria was one of the more valuable Giants last year and figures to be so again this year. But his contract runs through 2022 and he turned 34 in October, so that's a deal Farhan Zaidi probably wouldn't mind getting out from under. 

"Is it likely the Giants will get Castellanos or Ozuna this offseason? Or a big name player?" -- bennybaldy 

Quite a few asked about Nicholas Castellanos, and there's been nothing new there for a couple of weeks. Ozuna reportedly is choosing between the Cardinals and Rangers, and if he returns to St. Louis there's probably a good chance that the Rangers -- who need a right-handed bat -- pivot to Castellanos. 

The only real significant player remaining is Josh Donaldson and the Giants aren't in on him. At this point, it's hard to bet on them adding a "big name." 

"Will Aramis Garcia get the backup catcher spot?" -- haileyllanez 

He probably enters camp as the favorite, although the Giants are intrigued by Tyler Heineman, who was added this week as a non-roster invitee. Right now, one of those guys is probably your backup catcher, with the caveat that the Giants are likely to add one more person to the competition before pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11. 

[RELATED: What you need to know about Giants' non-roster invitees]

"What are the bullpen roles up for grabs in Spring Training?" -- jacksonirwin_

Just about all of them, really. Tony Watson will be in the bullpen and Trevor Gott will be if healthy, but the Giants dealt Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson and Drew Pomeranz at the deadline and lost Will Smith in free agency, so they have a lot of relief innings to fill. 

Shaun Anderson might be the closer, but would it really shock you to see the Giants start him back in Triple-A? I don't think any young pitcher can feel like he's guaranteed a spot right now. Sam Coonrod and Tyler Rogers pitched well last year, but if you have options, that'll work against you. I actually think Andrew Suarez is in a pretty good spot as a lefty with the weapons to get past the three-batter minimum, but he also has options remaining. 

The Giants will throw a couple dozen relief pitchers out there in spring training and see what shakes out. It really is a pretty open competition. 

"Who do you think will be the opening day starter?" -- _kevinstone

I don't think Jeff Samardzija got the credit he deserved for his bounce-back year, and he's certainly a candidate, but my guess is Johnny Cueto. If he's back to 100 percent, he's the closest thing the Giants have to an ace, and it would serve them well to re-establish him as one. Might as well try to rebuild his trade value from Day 1. (That's one we haven't talked about much. There were some teams sniffing around even as Cueto rehabbed, so if he's back to his old form, there will be plenty of interest in July.) 

Plus, the Giants open at Dodger Stadium. Cueto is their best bet for going in there and beating Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler and getting the season off to a nice start. 

"How long until Bart gets the shot at starting catcher?" -- chids316

That's up to Buster Posey as much as it's up to Bart. The Giants are cautiously optimistic that Posey's numbers will rebound as he gets further from hip surgery, and if that's the case he's still an All-Star catcher. In a perfect world, Posey will bounce back and Bart will tear up Triple-A, and the Giants can figure out how to play them both together. I don't think you'll see much of Posey at first, but they've talked about Bart getting experience at another position at some point, and it really shouldn't be too hard to figure out a timeshare at catcher.  

In a general sense, I think fans should put less of an emphasis on "the starter" under Kapler. He wants versatility and wants to exploit every matchup, so you'll probably see some of the everyday players give way to pinch-hitters a bit more. 

"What coach on the Giants is a native Spanish speaker?" -- hellokittysf22

Nick Ortiz, hired earlier this week as Quality Assurance Coach, is the native Spanish speaker on staff. That was something that Kapler made a priority as he filled out the final two spots, and they were really excited to add Ortiz. 

The perception has been that a lot of these guys are inexperienced, but some of them just have different types of experience. Ortiz, for instance, has just four years as a coach, but he played 15 seasons of minor league ball and 16 years in Winter Ball. That's a lot of baseball. 

"Do you know why Ramos isn't a spring training invitee or part of the rookie program?" -- nuch0lasmarquez

I was a little surprised that Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop weren't on the non-roster invitee list, but ultimately I don't think it will matter for either in 2020. Most prospects are sent out to minor league camp within the first couple rounds of cuts, but guys go back and forth once the games start. Ramos got into three Cactus League games last year and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him come over for 15-20 scattered at-bats. 

"Does the renovation to the minor league facility include a taco bar?" -- erniepomin

This is important and I will volunteer myself to do the research. If you missed it yesterday, here's my story on the facility that the Giants are spending more than $50 million on. Quite frankly, their current facility is embarrassing compared to what teams like the Cubs, Rockies and Diamondbacks are working with, so this is going to be a huge deal.

"Could a package of a prospect and Samardzija for Kris Bryant and a bad Cubs contract work?" -- dukejr9413

Nah, not close, and the Giants aren't dealing any of their prospects, anyway. Even someone like Bryant is a free agent after 2021 (assuming he loses his grievance) and the Giants aren't going to give away their top prospects for someone who won't be around long-term. 

They really shouldn't do that, either. The plan is to build from within, and perhaps in 20 months we'll look up and see a lineup with Bart and Ramos and Dubon and Bishop and Luciano, and the Giants can then go out and use their money -- which they still have a ton of -- on someone like Bryant to accelerate the rebuild. Or maybe this season will include enough encouraging signs that Mookie Betts is handed the money that was supposed to go to Bryce Harper? Those options might sound unrealistic, but they're more likely than trading from an improved system. 

I do like the last part of that question, though. The Giants took advantage of the desperate Angels to get Will Wilson and Zaidi indicated at the time that another such move might be coming. It's been remarkably quiet since that deal, but the Cubs and Red Sox are still eager to shed salary. You can bet Zaidi and Scott Harris are still keeping a close eye on those two organizations. 

"Will this be the year you try a Dodger Dog?" -- willhan92


MLB rumors: Pablo Sandoval returns to Giants amid Tommy John recovery

MLB rumors: Pablo Sandoval returns to Giants amid Tommy John recovery

The Giants haven’t given their fans much to cheer about this offseason, but they’re reportedly bringing one of their more popular players back for Gabe Kapler’s first season. 

Pablo Sandoval is returning on a minor league deal that will pay him $2 million with another $750,000 in incentives, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Sandoval is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery but is said to be well ahead of schedule. 

Sandoval had Tommy John surgery the first week of September to repair the UCL in his right elbow and remove loose bodies from the back of his elbow. At the time, the expectation was that Sandoval would miss most of the 2020 season and might need to find an American League club that would let him be a DH while his elbow continued to recover. 

The Giants kept in touch, however, and Kapler met with Sandoval earlier this offseason in Miami. The two hit it off, and the Giants became intrigued by a comeback, knowing that Sandoval fills a need and also should be back far sooner than originally anticipated. 

Sandoval had a .820 OPS for the Giants last season and hit 14 homers. The organization has had a quiet offseason and never did find anyone to replace the left-handed thump Sandoval provided behind Evan Longoria at third. He also can play first base, and the Giants don't have any depth there, either. 

[RELATED: Brandon Belt should handle first base again]

Sandoval has had one of the strangest careers in Giants history. He left for Boston and burned bridges after the 2014 title but returned in 2017 and soon became a clubhouse leader. Sandoval was one of Bruce Bochy's favorite players and consistently brought the energy that Kapler wants to see throughout the clubhouse in his first season. 

The signing caps a big offseason for Sandoval, who was a free agent for the second time. He got married right before the Winter Meetings, and Giants officials took note of how many current players -- including Mike Yastrzemski -- flew to Miami to attend the ceremony. 

Giants spring preview: Brandon Belt headed for a decade at first base

Giants spring preview: Brandon Belt headed for a decade at first base

There aren't many players around the league who get thrown into trade rumors by their own fans more than Brandon Belt does, but as the Giants prepare for their first spring under manager Gabe Kapler, the 31-year-old first baseman is headed for a milestone. 

If Belt is standing at his usual position on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, he'll become just the third Giant to make double-digit Opening Day starts at first base and the first to do it 10 consecutive seasons.

Willie McCovey never made 10 consecutive Opening Day starts at first base for the Giants. Will Clark and J.T. Snow didn't, either. Barring an injury, Brandon Belt, survivor of the #BeltWars, will stand alone with that distinction. 

Yesterday we looked at the catchers who will be in camp for the Giants, led by Buster Posey, who also is poised for his 10th consecutive Opening Day start. On Wednesday, it's the first basemen, and it's not a big group ... 

Brandon Belt

Gabe Kapler had one of the more fascinating introductory press conferences we've ever seen in the Bay Area, but late in that hour, he made a point of mentioning one of his key players. 

"I've thought a lot about Brandon Belt (and) how impressive it is to watch him take an at-bat, independent of the outcome of the at-bat," Kapler said in November. "He tends to look over pitches and make really good swing-or-don't-swing decisions."

Kapler isn't alone here. Throughout the organization, the Giants are teaching their young hitters to be more patient and have a better sense of the strike zone. A common thread through just about all of the non-roster additions over the last 14 months has been solid to high on-base percentages.

Belt, who finished 15th in the NL in pitches per plate appearance even in a down year, has plenty of fans in this new regime, and the Giants intend to accentuate his strengths, which is a bit of a change of pace from a staff that was frustrated with Belt's lack of aggression at times. 

That's part of the reason trade whispers have never made any sense. Belt, who was hampered by a knee injury much of last year, is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris would have been selling low, and that's not what those two do.

With a new staff, hopefully some improved health, and ballpark changes that should help Belt more than anyone, the Giants are optimistic. 

But ... they're also ready to be quicker with adjustments, and this new staff is ready to be far more aggressive with platoons and days off when the matchup is a poor one. Belt has a .815 OPS against righties the past three seasons, but it's just .668 against lefties. If that continues, Belt will find himself starting a lot more games in the dugout. 

Darin Ruf

That last sentence is why Ruf, who will be in camp as a non-roster invitee according to The Athletic, might be more interesting than your average 33-year-old returning from the KBO. Ruf was a part-timer for the Phillies for most of his five seasons there (he was not there when Kapler was the manager) but he always hit lefties.

He has a .299/.379/.542 slash line in 271 career at-bats against lefties, with experience at first base and in the outfield. 

The Giants have preached versatility since Zaidi took over, but they also now have a 26th roster spot to play with and can more easily carry a lefty-masher on their bench. 

Ruf spent the past three seasons in the KBO, where he hit 86 homers and compiled a .313/.404/.564 slash line. That league isn't anywhere near the level of competition as the big leagues, but the Giants clearly saw something they liked. 

Zach Green

Green was one of the more interesting non-roster invitees last spring, a 24-year-old who had hit 20 homers the year before as a Phillies minor leaguer. The Sacramento native took full advantage of whatever happened to the PCL last year, crushing 25 homers in 252 Triple-A at-bats. 

Green, who primarily plays third, actually got 16 plate appearances for the Giants right before and after the trade deadline, but he had just two hits and struck out six times. In September, the Giants placed Green on the 60-day injured list with a hip impingement to clear a roster spot for Wandy Peralta.

Green was then outrighted off the 40-man roster in November, but he signed a minor league deal and returns to a good situation. 

The Giants have a much-improved farm system, but they have very little talent at the corner infield spots in the upper levels of the minors. If Green can pick up where he left off, he should be an everyday starter for the River Cats and could be one injury away from significant big league playing time.

[RELATED: Giants spring preview: What Posey's back-up race looks like]

The Wild Card

Amazingly, Belt is the only true first baseman on the 40-man roster, but there are others with experience. Buster Posey made just three starts at first last year and it doesn't sound like the Giants want that to change in 2020. Keep an eye on Austin Slater, though.

He can handle first defensively and the Giants want to find more ways to get his right-handed bat in the lineup.