Giants

Giants make trade to help bullpen, but there's no fix for slumping lineup

Giants make trade to help bullpen, but there's no fix for slumping lineup

MILWAUKEE — The Giants can dream about what their new right-hander might become. Sam Dyson is a former closer, a right-hander with 99 mph in his arm, and a proven track record in the majors. If he gets back to form, the Giants will have a setup man for Mark Melancon, and they’ll have acquired him virtually for free. 

It’s not hard to picture a reliever with a 10.80 ERA turning it around. It happens all the time. It’s much harder to hit that kind of jackpot with position players, so there’s no help coming for this lineup that continues to need it. 

The Giants nearly got shut out Tuesday, settling for a 5-2 loss thanks to a ninth-inning rally that was cut short just as quickly as it started. There are problems every night, some the same and some different. On Tuesday, it was the double plays. The Giants hit into three of them in the first seven innings against Chase Anderson. In another inning, Eduardo Nuñez was caught stealing on a strikeout pitch to Brandon Belt. 

“Even when we ran a guy to stay out of (the double play) that was a double play,” Bochy said. “Those are rally-killers.”

There were not many rally-starters. The Brewers had their share, though, getting 10 hits off Matt Cain, who has an ERA north of eight on the road. Asked if there’s any rhyme or reason why he is so dominant at home and so hittable on the road, Cain was brief. 

“No,” he said, the answer lingering until the interview finished. 

Cain suffered from some hard luck when Eric Sogard’s two-out flare dropped for a two-run double. But he had already allowed a run to that point and he would allow two more. With the way Corey Knebel got out of the ninth-inning jam, it probably didn’t matter either way. 

Dyson has that kind of power stuff, but his strikeout rate is way down and his walk and home run rates have skyrocketed. Bochy said he had to check with general manager Bobby Evans to get specifics on Dyson’s arrival, but he’ll be part of the bullpen soon, and the Giants will try to work some magic. 

They have not hit with reclamation projects on the offensive side recently. Perhaps they can still bring the best out of a power pitcher. 

“Here’s a guy who has a lot of experience pitching late in ballgames,” Bochy said. “It’s a good arm. He’s gotten off to a rough start there in Texas and we’re hoping a change of scenery serves him well.”

Could Michael Brantley solve one of lineup's biggest problems?

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USA TODAY Sports

Could Michael Brantley solve one of lineup's biggest problems?

SAN FRANCISCO — The lack of power sucks up most of the oxygen in the room, but for the 2018 Giants, there was a bigger offensive issue. 

The Giants ranked 14th in the National League with a .300 on-base percentage, the eighth-lowest OBP in franchise history and lowest in 33 years. Farhan Zaidi knows that’s one of the first issues he must address. The 10 postseason teams last season all finished in the top 13 in the Majors in on-base percentage, and Zaidi’s Dodgers ranked third in the National League at .333. 

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi, who previously also worked for the OBP-obsessed A’s, talked about ways to improve a Giants lineup that had major issues simply getting on base last season. 

“Any team that walks at a high level, it’s a function of a couple of things. One is, it is a function of personnel — there are guys that just have the skill of being able to work the strike zone and being able to take walks,” he said. “Then there’s a mindset of, ‘What’s our goal?’ Is our goal to put the ball in play or is our goal to get on base? I think both of those things are areas that we can look at philosophically. 

“How are we attacking the game from an offensive standpoint, and then, also, do we have the type of personnel that can play the type of offense that we want, which is a real grinding approach and getting guys on base and creating pressure for the opposing pitcher.” 

The mindset aspect can be addressed with coaches throughout the organization up to and through spring training. As for personnel, that’s a bit more pressing, and there are multiple ways to add OBP to the lineup in free agency.

You can go straight to the top of the market with Bryce Harper, who led MLB with 130 walks and ranked seventh with a .393 OBP, but there might be a much more cost-effective option. Michael Brantley, formerly of the Indians, ranked 17th with a .364 OPB, which would have led the 2018 Giants. 

Throughout an injury-plagued career, Brantley has shown an ability to get on base. He has a .351 career OBP — only one current Giant, Buster Posey (.359), finished above that mark in 2018 — and has finished above .350 in four of the last five seasons.

There’s a reason Brantley, who hit 17 homers and had a .832 OPS, isn’t looking at a massive deal, of course. He has had trouble staying on the field, with shoulder, ankle and biceps injuries limiting him to just 101 games in 2016-17. That, plus the fact that he turns 32 in May, will limit his market, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he’ll get a three-year, $45 million deal. That would be less than the Giants paid Hunter Pence annually. 

Zaidi wants to get younger and more dynamic in the outfield, but if he’s looking for a short-term solution that won’t break the bank, Brantley may end up being a solid fit, and someone who could help solve one of the lineup’s most glaring issues.

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper is a free agent, but don't expect him to play baseball in the Bay Area next season -- unless it's as a visitor.

While some Giants fans have drooled at the prospect of the slugger in orange and black, it doesn't appear likely, given their new head of baseball operations' past history. Agent Scott Boras, who's masterful at building markets for his clients, sees San Francisco as a fit, even if the team probably does not, with the reported $40 million-per-season asking price too rich.

There's no way Harper will join the payroll-light A's, either. In fact, his annual salary could cost more than a possible Oakland 25-man roster.

So, where exactly will Harper end up when the dust created by Boras' bluster is all said and done? Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross debated that question and came up with different conclusions.

ALEX: Ben, this is the Winter of Bryce and Manny ... but so far Bryce Harper has been the one on center stage. That’ll happen when your agent stands up in front of reporters at the GM Meetings and declares that Harper’s Bazaar is open. It’s been a cold market so far. The Yankees say they’re out, the Cubs say they don’t have payroll space, and I reported last week that the Giants aren’t as interested as they once were.

Where does that leave us? Phillies? Dodgers? White Sox? The #MysteryTeam? His Nationals? Who am I missing?

BEN: The Phillies definitely look like the favorite at this point, but who knows? It seems like every article about him is telling us why he WON’T sign with a certain team. I still say he’s not worth the ridiculous salary being projected. Am I wrong?

ALEX: I think we've found over the years that most of the massive deals don't work out. A year ago at this time, we were on Giancarlo Stanton Watch, and he had a pretty quiet 2018. It's definitely safer to spread that money around, but you know Boras will find an owner -- and make no mistake about it, he goes straight to the ownership level -- to write that check. I know what I would do if I were Harper, but what do you think he should do?

BEN: Maybe I'm an idiot (actually, that's confirmed), but I think Harper is a little overrated. He's obviously a really good hitter, but he's only hit 30-plus home runs twice in seven years. Want to know where he ranked in WAR last season? Tied for 186th. If I were him, I think I'd stay with the Nationals. What would you do?

ALEX: I would stay with the Nationals, too. It's different if you can get yourself closer to home by playing for the Dodgers or Giants, or put yourself on the biggest stages in Chicago or New York -- but if it comes down to choices like the Phillies, I'd definitely stay home, unless the contract difference is overwhelming. It's rare that you're given an opportunity to be THE GUY in one city for your whole career, and it seems like the Nats really do want him back.

As for the overrated part, you're not an idiot -- I've talked to plenty of scouts and executives who point to Harper's poor defense and say he's not worth close to $300 million. Will he get it? We'll see. I think he will, which leads to our two big questions: Does he get the largest contract in MLB history, and where does he end up?

BEN: Good point on his defense. His career defensive WAR is -3.0. I still think he will get the largest contract in MLB history, although I don't expect him to end up out West. The Phillies seem like the best bet at this point, based on chatter around baseball, although I'm not completely convinced the Yankees and Cubs are out of it, regardless of what they say.

But if I had to bet, I'd pick the Phillies on a 10-year, $375 million contract. They have the money to spend, and they're a big-market team looking for a new face of the franchise. Harper would be that.

ALEX: All year, I've thought Harper would end up with the Cubs. But now everyone I check with around the game points to the Phillies. I get it -- and they probably have the most money to offer -- but for some reason, I just can't get on board with him jumping to another NL East club like that. It feels dirty.

Boras has a history with the Nationals, and I think he'll ultimately go back to ownership there and find a way to make a reunion happen. I'll say it's 10 years and $340 million, with at least two opt-outs that allow him to get back onto the market if he wants to go through all this again.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey