Giants

Giants need to make major changes right now, ESPN's Buster Olney says

Giants need to make major changes right now, ESPN's Buster Olney says

I heard somewhere recently that when 40 games pass by in a baseball season, you're no longer allowed to say "it's too early to tell." And while we're entering the "there's still plenty of baseball left in the season" portion, the Giants' are right at that 40 game mark, sitting at a 17-23 record -- last in the NL West. 

ESPN's Buster Olney wrote that if Farhan Zaidi and the front office want to make changes, the time is now and the president of baseball operations needs to get serious during Bruce Bochy's final season as manager. 

"The No. 1 puzzle in this era is how to cope with and adapt to a World Series hangover; like the Cubs and Astros and other teams before them, the Red Sox are trying to become the first repeat champion since the 1998-2000 Yankees by navigating through the complications of a deep run through October," Olney writes. "But another major quandary that some front offices have struggled with, in the past decade, is identifying the appropriate time to break up a championship team."

The struggle with the hangover is real. The championship rings and individual awards (ahem Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta) cause headaches that no amount of hydrating can cure. Staying true to the hangover theme, fans are clinging on to the younger bodies that were able to bounce back from such things.

Now, they have to recover and move on from the 2010, 2012, and 2014 years like Olney says. Some of those players remain with the team and still own those gorgeous rings they earned, but the young bucks need to be introduced -- and more importantly, acquired.

This brings Madison Bumgarner into the conversation, who has been the center of trade talks for the team since the offseason and his impending end to his contract year.

The eight teams on his no-trade cause list have been revealed, which ultimately gives him more control and potentially more cash in his pocket. He loves playing for the Giants and would ultimately want to stay playing for them, but has picked his no-trade list full of contenders so that he has leverage. Additionally, Olney suggested that Zaidi to clean out those "mess of those contracts as best he can." 

And the moves? OIney has some opinions on those as well starting with pitching. 

"The Giants also can flip some pitchers. Derek Holland, making $7 million this year, was dropped out of the rotation Saturday night, but has the stuff to be effective out of the bullpen for a contender."

Despite having some harsh words for the front office -- which have since been put to rest, as NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported -- Holland boasts a 6.75 ERA with a 1-4 record. But his K/9 rating has improved drastically this season and Olney mentions his ability to control lefties could make him a tasty target for some teams. And Will Smith has always been a potential trade chip with the way he's been pitching and his affordable $4.23 million contract.

Infield wise, Brandon Crawford was mentioned, but it's hard to believe they would part ways with someone of his magnitude -- the dude bleeds orange and black. But what about Evan Longoria? He blew 33 candles out on his last birthday cake and as much as it scares me to admit 30 isn't the new 20 -- and never will be in the world of sports --  his contract has three and a half years left on it.

[RELATED: Bumgarner trolls Yasiel Puig over homer]

"But the larger sell-off appears to be inevitable, now that the Giants have declared themselves the kind of team they are in 2019."

Zaidi has been making a lot of moves. Erik Kratz was DFA'd on Monday and everyone sporting a Giants' jersey is holding their proverbial breath and waiting for the next move to be made -- and it needs to be a big one. 

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

MESA, Ariz. -- With the Giants nursing a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday, manager Gabe Kapler called right-handed prospect Luis Madero into the game. As Madero faced the A's, Sean Hjelle started warming up in the bullpen. Kapler saw Hjelle getting loose and called down to make sure he knew he was getting the ninth, not part of the eighth. 

"He was the one pitcher today who got loose before we told him to get loose," Kapler said, smiling. 

The 22-year-old, picked one round after Joey Bart in the 2018 draft, was excited to make his spring debut for the big league club and hid any butterflies. Hjelle is known for standing 6-foot-11 and having uncanny command and body control for a pitcher that size. But he came out throwing 95 mph and bumped 96 in a perfect inning, closing out a 5-3 win that clinched Kapler's first handshake line in orange and black. 

"As much as we're excited by his stuff, we're also excited by him pounding the strike zone," Kapler said. "That's certainly encouraging to see him come out there in this situation, certainly a nerve-wracking situation, and fill up the zone with his fastball."

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, reached Double-A last season and could debut this year. It was one inning and he was amped up, but the ceiling certainly will get a bit higher if he's sitting 95 in the future instead of the low 90s. The Giants always have felt there was more velocity in that massive frame. 

Here are four more observations from the first 18 innings of the Kapler Era ... 

--- There was a new whiteboard up in the clubhouse this morning with a bunch of circles and a spot for each game this spring. A photo of a beaming Austin Slater was glued inside the first circle, making him the "baserunning BOSS" from Saturday's game. The Giants have put a heavy emphasis on leads and turns this spring and the new staff has identified that as one area they can gain an edge. One player will be recognized after every game. 

We'll see if it works. This isn't a roster with much speed, but guys were aggressive Sunday and it led to a couple runs. Kapler credited first base coach Antoan Richardson for his work thus far. 

"We really want them to push the envelope," he said. 

--- Kapler has been hesitant to offer many public criticisms, but when asked about Derek Rodriguez the other day, he immediately mentioned that the staff needed to see more velocity from the starter/reliever heading into his third season. Rodriguez's average fastball dropped from 91.6 to 90.7 year over year. Rodriguez pumped a few 93s in his first inning of the spring and generally sat at 92, a positive sign this early.

"The first day of the spring, I'm happy about that," he said. 

Rodriguez said he took just two weeks off in the offseason -- to plan for his wedding -- and then got to work on mechanical changes. He made three Winter League starts and was encouraged by how he felt there. 

--- When Max Muncy came up early in Saturday's game, Evan Longoria shifted over to the right side but he didn't stand where he would last year. Longoria played kind of behind the first baseman, with Donovan Solano playing up the middle behind the bag. Last year the Giants had Longoria shift over between the second baseman and shortstop; this year he's between the second baseman and first baseman. It makes a lot more sense this way, allowing the actual second baseman to stay close to the bag where he might have to make a turn.

[RELATED: How might the Giants use 26th roster spot?]

--- Some early standouts, aside from Mauricio Dubon and Joey Bart, who homered Saturday: Matt Carasiti, a non-roster invite who struck out the side in his lone inning and got A.J. Pollock and Kiké Hernandez ... Abiatal Avelino, who hit a laser onto the berm in left on Sunday ... Kean Wong, who had two hits and showed his speed ... Finally, Rob Brantly, who has brought constant energy to camp and capped Sunday's game by yelling "Never in doubt!" as the Giants celebrated a spring win. Every team needs a quirky backup catcher, right? 

How Giants, Farhan Zaidi might choose to use new 26th roster spot

How Giants, Farhan Zaidi might choose to use new 26th roster spot

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Giants veterans checked into camp last week, a couple of them referred to the 25-man roster in interviews. Like writing a new year on your checks, it'll take a while for players to adjust to having a 26th man.

But on the second floor of the new facility at Scottsdale Stadium, there already have been plenty of conversations about it. 

The front office has an extra roster spot to work with, and few executives will dig that more than Farhan Zaidi, who spent 2019 in an endless roster shuffle as he added depth and talent to the 40-man roster. Zaidi, general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler have talked this spring of all the different ways they can go. 

As the Giants go through their spring rotation for the first time, it's far too early to project a full roster, especially in a camp where so many jobs are up for grabs. But we can take a look at how that roster will be impacted by the extra spot. The Giants will have 13 pitchers, that much we know. But what will they do with that 13th position player?

Pablo Sandoval

Just about seven months removed from Tommy John surgery, Sandoval already is taking part in nearly every drill, with some restrictions on his throwing. But he's a month ahead of schedule in that department, and he hasn't ruled out Opening Day. 

The staff is looking more at a May return, but they'll leave the door open for Sandoval. There's some thought that given his age (33) and the fact that he's on the back end of his career, it might be easier to push Sandoval than a younger player. He's not a 24-year-old looking for that life-changing contract; he's someone who above all simply wants to play baseball. 

Sandoval feels he's ready to pinch-hit now and he has looked sharp in early BP sessions. If, say, his throwing arm will be fully healed by mid-April, could the Giants put him on the Opening Day roster purely as a pinch-hitter and let him rehab his elbow before games? They've talked about it. 

Speed/defense

This is the Billy Hamilton section. Hamilton no longer is the 50-stolen base threat he was in Cincinnati, but he still is one of the fastest players in the game and an elite defensive center fielder. He hasn't hit enough in recent years to be a regular starter, but the Giants still could find creative ways for him to impact a game. 

Let's say Mike Yastrzemski starts in center and Hunter Pence in left and Pence leads off the sixth with a single. If you know he won't hit again until late in the game and your preference is to replace him defensively anyway, you can bring Hamilton in to pinch-run and play center, with Yastrzemski sliding to left. The Giants also have discussed making this type of move much earlier in a game to gain a slight edge. 

They don't have a true center fielder and there's not much speed on the locked-in part of the roster. The 26th spot makes it a lot easier to carry a Hamilton or Steven Duggar. 

A full infield

You start adding them up: Brandon Belt, Wilmer Flores, Mauricio Dubon, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria ... that's five infielders before you even get to Sandoval, Donovan Solano (who had a very solid 2019) or Yolmer Sanchez (who won a Gold Glove last year and chose San Francisco over other offers, indicating he was told he has a really good shot at making the roster). 

The Giants could go with four in the outfield and use Dubon as their fifth, while keeping Solano and Sanchez on the Opening Day roster. This team may simply have to carry seven infielders at times, because that's where most of their core guys are. 

Third catcher

The Giants don't have the depth to do this but you can bet some other clubs will. Long term, though, this will be an appealing option. Zaidi has talked a lot over the past year about versatile catchers and it would be a nice boost if they could find a lefty to pair with Buster Posey and Joey Bart next year, ideally someone with options. That would allow Kapler to freely use both Posey and Bart in every game. 

Stephen Vogt, who played some left field, is in Arizona now, but someone like that would make sense in future years. The best bet would be developing a lefty-swinging catcher who could be optioned back and forth as a third guy. 

[RELATED: Watch Bart, Dubon homer in Giants' spring training opener]

Inventory

This isn't about any particular player, but adding a 26th player makes it a bit easier at the end of the spring to stash a veteran who is out of options. There are a lot of waiver claims during that final week before Opening Day rosters are set, but teams generally slow down once the season officially starts. No executive likes to lose a player who is out of options.

The Giants could stash someone on Opening Day, and then DFA him later and try to sneak him through waivers and onto the Triple-A roster.