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Giants Mailbag: Will this be another slow offseason for MLB free agency?

Giants Mailbag: Will this be another slow offseason for MLB free agency?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Astros fly home today needing just one win for a second World Series title in three years, meaning the rest of Major League Baseball potentially is a week from the start of the offseason. 

The Giants could have a new manager by this time next week, and a new GM shortly after that, and then the heavy lifting starts. They have rotation holes, a lineup that doesn't hit at Oracle Park, and a bullpen that lost key pieces at the deadline and could see Will Smith and Tony Watson depart in free agency. 

There's a lot to figure out, and while it's not quite the offseason, it's about time to dive back in. I asked for some Giants/offseason questions on Instagram and got a lot of good ones, some of which were answered on the latest Giants Insider Podcast (with guest Logan Webb). If you have a burning question, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram for a future mailbag. 

Here's the first one of the offseason: 

Should Giants fans even have hope this free agency period? The past 2 years have made me cry. -- slaps29

Welp. Let's get right to it. 

I know the "Giants always finish in second place" thing drives fans nuts, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, they might have been one break away from landing Bryce Harper in February. It's good to be in the mix, and I think they'll be in the conversation for some marquee free agents this winter. 

On the other hand, I don't know that they're ready to make a splash. Harper was a special case last offseason because of his age -- and there was a marketability factor, given where ticket sales were and still are -- but this winter's free agents won't move the needle in the same way. 

Farhan Zaidi's style is to be in on everyone and see if there's an opportunity, so I don't think it'll be a boring offseason. Perhaps there will be a surprise, but they sure seem to still be in the "incremental improvement" stage of this Rebuild That's Not Called A Rebuild. 

With Crawford's down year do you think we'll see more Solano + Dubon (in) middle infield in 2020? -- irjimmyg

Solano had a sneaky-good year, but the Giants didn't seem to fully trust it. He lost time to Scooter Gennett and then Mauricio Dubon, who I do think is the guy who will cut into Crawford's playing time. 

Dubon has a limited track record in MLB, but he hit lefties well in the minors and certainly has the glove to handle shortstop. If the Giants increase their middle infield depth in general, you'll see Dubon -- who could be the everyday starter at second base -- cut into Crawford's time at short, as well.

This will be an interesting spring and season for Crawford and other core Giants. The new manager almost certainly won't have ties to them and won't be as committed to keeping them in the lineup (or the heart of the lineup in one case). 

Who is a sleeper player you can see surprising at big league camp? -- nilesgraham

I'm not sure if this qualifies, but I'm going to be fascinated to see what kind of runway the Giants give Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos next spring. More and more, big league teams are giving their best prospects a chance to win a job coming out of spring training (Pete Alonso and Fernando Tatis Jr. are two examples from this year), and while it's still a bit too soon for Bart and Ramos, I don't think it's out of the question that one of them puts himself in the conversation with a huge spring. 

Bart, in particular, is just about big league ready with the bat, and there will be plenty of at-bats waiting for him next spring. Both of these guys are ticketed for Triple-A, currently, but they'll get a chance to open eyes in February and March. 

Do you think names like Cyr and Adon will get a shot this year? -- _juanvillasenor_

That would be Tyler Cyr and Melvin Adon, two hard-throwing right-handed relievers who are in slightly different situations. I do think both will get a shot next year. 

Cyr was on the fast track and made it to big league camp in 2018 before suffering an elbow fracture that knocked him out for six months. At the time, he sent me a message that said "will be back pain free and stronger than ever," and his 2019 season was certainly encouraging. 

Now 26, Cyr had a 2.05 ERA in 37 Double-A appearances, striking out 57 and allowing just one homer in 48 1/3 innings. Cyr joined Sacramento's bullpen for a their postseason run and should start there next season. 

Unlike Cyr, Adon is on the 40-man roster, so he could get his first look pretty quickly. He actually was up on the taxi squad at the trade deadline just in case the Giants dealt another reliever or two. 

Adon has closer stuff, a triple-digits fastball and hard slider that dominated the Eastern League. Triple-A wasn't nearly so kind, as he allowed 16 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings, but he did have 18 strikeouts.

That rough PCL stint cost him a September look, but something would have to go seriously wrong for him not to get an opportunity in 2020. Cyr has a longer road because of the roster issue, but the Giants used approximately 324 relievers in 2018, so you'll see him if he keeps throwing as he did in Double-A. 

Are the Giants going to keep Smith? -- dominiclovesthegiants

They've been burned by paying relievers before, but I do think there's one path to a reunion. 

I wouldn't be surprised if Zaidi gives Smith the qualifying offer, and it might be hard for him to turn down $17.8 million for one season given some of the uncertainty in free agency in recent years. He should get much more than that, but long-term, might he be better off cashing in for a year and then hitting the market at 31? That would be an interesting decision.

Other than that, I have a hard-time seeing a long-term contract getting done. 

Do you think this offseason will be slow to develop like last year? -- kfitz023

I'll turn this one over to Zaidi. Here's what he said at his end-of-season press conference:

"The free agent market has extended an uncomfortably long time for all involved and I know that's a topic of conversation around the game. Unfortunately, I don't see any reason why it would be any different this offseason. I think some of the top names in free agency may wind up being out there for a while because there's just no incentive on either side to get something done sooner."

Yep, it'll be another slow one, especially with Scott Boras -- who had Harper sit out the start of last spring -- representing Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and most of the biggest names. It's not good for the sport, but it is what it is. Get ready for another winter of rumors that won't lead to much until January and February ... 

How Sean Hjelle impressed Farhan Zaidi in Giants spring training debut

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USATSI

How Sean Hjelle impressed Farhan Zaidi in Giants spring training debut

It's easy to pick Giants prospect Sean Hjelle out of the crowd, but the 6-foot-11 pitcher stood out for other reasons over the weekend. 

Hjelle touched 96 mph on the radar gun in a perfect inning during San Francisco's first spring-training win Sunday, closing the Giants' victory over the split-squad A's. With three pitches, Hjelle caught Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi's attention.

"[He's] already an intimidating presence out there on the mound, [6-11] with a downhill plane," Zaidi said on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show" on Monday, "and I love that he just came in and threw strikes."

The 22-year-old finished the 2019 season in Double-A with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, posting a 6.04 ERA in 25 1/3 innings in five August appearances. He likely will spend a lot of time in Richmond in 2020, but Hjelle can make a strong case for an eventual call-up this spring. 

His first appearance went about as well as he could have asked for, but the Giants will monitor Hjelle -- and everyone else in camp -- in two key areas: Walks and strikeouts. Zaidi said strikeout-to-walk ratio "actually winds up being a little bit predictive" of regular-season performance, unlike most spring-training statistics. 

"If you're a pitcher and you've got a 6 or 7 ERA but you strike out 15 guys and walk one, it usually means that's a good springboard for you going into the season," Zaidi said. "And same on the hitting side: Guys that control the strike zone in spring training, that usually suggests that those guys are going to get off to a good start and have a good season."

[RELATED: Find out where some ex-Giants have ended up this spring]

Hjelle will need more than just a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio in the spring to make -- and eventually stick with -- the Giants. 

But early in spring training, he has turned the right head by impressing Zaidi. 

Archie Bradley praises D-backs GM for Madison Bumgarner alter ego comments

Archie Bradley praises D-backs GM for Madison Bumgarner alter ego comments

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Nobody at the Diamondbacks' spring training facility had uttered the name "Madison Bumgarner," despite seeing him numerous times.

He goes by Mason Saunders for now. That is his alter ego after all -- the one he uses to win cash prizes at rodeo events.

The sports media world had a field day when the information on MadBum's alias surfaced, but D-backs general manager Mike Hazen had his back.

"Madison is a grown man and we know he's committed to helping us achieve our goals as a team," Hazen told media on Monday. 

Arizona pitcher Archie Bradley said that resonated with him as well.

"It's great. I personally have a lot of respect for Mike Hazen, but that was something I was actually talking to CC Sabathia yesterday," Bradley told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. "You're seeing this new wave where guys aren't afraid to showcase the other side of their life. I think there's kind of been this build of 'You just have to be a baseball player.' LeBron started with 'More Than an Athlete,' I think guys are kind of catching on."

He also loves the fact that MadBum now is on his team instead of facing him as much as he did during their NL West matchups when Bumgarner was on the Giants. MadBum has made a huge impression on the 27-year-old.

"He just raises everyone's level of awareness and preparation," Bradley said. "When you win a World Series, that holds a lot of weight, it puts your name in bold font. You know, Madison Bumgarner is a big-time name, not only because of his talent level, but because of how he competes, but how he's won."

"When you add a guy like that who is very old school and very hard-nosed, you kind of perk up a little bit."

[RELATED: MadBum's young teammates ready to see what he's about]

Bradley said MadBum, after winning multiple World Series championships, is bringing that mentality to his new team in Phoenix. 

"This is a guy that has not only done it but is vocalizing how he wants to do it here."