Giants

Giants not looking at rebuild, but rather at a reload for 2018

Giants not looking at rebuild, but rather at a reload for 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — When Ian Desmond’s fly ball landed in Denard Span’s glove Wednesday afternoon, the Giants officially hit the halfway point of the season. They gathered at the mound for handshakes and fist bumps. Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that the handshake line would be just their 30th of the first 81 games. 

With half their season gone, the Giants — even with a sweep of the Rockies this week that brought good vibes back to AT&T Park — are 21 games under .500. Their .370 winning percentage would be the third-lowest in the franchise’s long and storied history, and they are threatening to join the 1985 squad as the only 100-game losers. 

It is the type of season that has led to complete rebuilds elsewhere, including in Chicago, the home of the defending champs, and in Houston, home of the American League’s best team this year. Don’t expect that blueprint to be unrolled in the executive offices at Third and King. 

“This is not going to be a thing where we go underground for three years to five years,” team president and CEO Larry Baer told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s just not who we are.”

This will not be a rebuild. If anything, the Giants consider it a reload. Baer echoed the thoughts of other team employees who spoke about the future over the past week: The Giants have a core they believe in, and they don’t intend to break it up. This season might be lost, but that doesn’t mean competing in 2018 has been taken off the table. 

“We’re in the human performance business and you can’t script it out,” Baer said. “This was certainly not what we expected, but the commitment is there and the energy is there from everyone throughout the organization to get us back. In baseball, you’ve found that teams in today’s world can change fast. Arizona flipped their record the exact opposite of where they were this time last year — same thing with Colorado, and then you look at the Yankees.”

The Yankees, current leaders of the American League East, are mentioned often around the ballpark. They sold some big pieces last year, most notably Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, to restock their farm system, and this year it’s paying off. The Giants can’t count on their own Aaron Judge walking through the door, but other aspects of the model are already in place. After Judge, four of the team’s next five position players by WAR — Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro — were already in-house. Their rotation is filled with holdovers (CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Mashiro Tanaka) and homegrown arms (Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery). 

As the July 31 deadline approaches, the Yankees provide a roadmap for how to trade players away without taking an axe to your roster. The Chapman deal brought back a haul, and then he signed back in the offseason. 

“That’s possible,” Baer said of trading player and then re-signing him. “I think more in that mode. Now, I can’t promise any of that because it depends on (a lot) but directionally that’s sort of where we are.”

This could only really come into play with two Giants, and they are the two most likely to be dealt. Johnny Cueto has an opt-out at the end of the year, and while sources say there has been no decision made to deal him, he would likely bring back the biggest return, even with his contract hanging over negotiations. Cueto has indicated he would not hold a trade against the Giants. If he was dealt and became a free agent in November, he would consider returning. He has told teammates he loves playing in San Francisco. 

The same holds true for Eduardo Nuñez, a versatile player who will return this weekend in Pittsburgh. Nuñez does not want to be traded, but he knows it’s likely. Nuñez, it is said, would also welcome an offseason reunion. 

The Giants will listen on both, along with just about every other player on the roster. General manager Bobby Evans has shown during his tenure that he kicks the tires on any opportunity. Remember, before landing Cueto, the Giants went hard after Jon Lester and Zack Greinke, and last year they came out of nowhere to land Matt Moore. 

Cueto and Moore are now part of a surprising downturn, and like just about every other player on the roster, they have had a hand in the last-place start. But the front office believes both can be part of the next winning Giants team, and team executives are not operating under the belief that the uptick is years away. 

A one-year dip would come with benefits, too. The Giants should land a top draft pick and the increased bonus pool that comes with it, and it’s possible they could slide under the luxury tax ahead of schedule and reset their penalty payments. 

Those would be benefits that would be felt three or four years down the line. For now, the future starts in 2018. Baer pointed out that the Giants lost 94 games in 1996 and then made the postseason the next season, and that the 90-loss 2008 team was followed by a championship two years later. The 2013 Giants decided not to blow it up and held on to Hunter Pence, Javier Lopez and Tim Lincecum at the deadline; a year later they were parading down Market Street. 

“Directionally it’s, ‘How can we get right back there in 2018,’” Baer said. “It’s not how can we get right back there in 2022 or 2021.”

You can make the argument that this is a different group than some of the others. The Giants have played much worse and they are older, with some of their key players exiting their peak years. But that also means this is a roster that is essentially pot-committed. Many of the names being thrown around on the airwaves and social media cannot be traded, either because of they money left on their deals, no-trade clauses, lingering injury concerns, poor performance, or some combination of those factors. 

This is, for better or worse, pretty much the group that will return in 2018, with some youth mixed in and some offseason additions. Perhaps that will be untenable or unwatchable a year from now, too, but at the moment, the Giants are not as under siege as they might look. Their average ticket price is actually the exact same as it was a year ago, despite the cheap tickets flooding the market, and they still lead MLB in tickets sold on StubHub. The vast majority of empty seats over the past two months belong to season ticket holders who don’t show up, and that’s a locked-in base of 31,000 with a long waiting list.

Perhaps the sellout streak will disappear later this season. But the core of this team won’t. 

“Look, we’ve had these kinds of years before,” Baer said. “I don’t know where this is going to turn out, but if it turns out to be a losing year — I’m not going to proclaim it is halfway through — but if it does turn out to be a losing year, we’ve shown the ability to bounce back fast from tough years. This organization will throw the resources at it to do that.”

Four Giants have chance to hit 20 home runs for first time in years

Four Giants have chance to hit 20 home runs for first time in years

SAN FRANCISCO -- The NL's 40 Home Run Club got crowded last week, with Cody Bellinger hitting the mark first, followed by Christian Yelich and Pete Alonso, who broke the NL record for a rookie. That mark was just two years old and was set by Bellinger. 

Ronald Acuña Jr. (35) and Eugenio Suarez (34) should get to 40 soon, and six other NL sluggers are already at 30 with six weeks left in the season. It's been that kind of year, but the Giants have more modest goals. 

They haven't even had a hitter reach 20 since Brandon Crawford went deep 21 times in 2015, but this should be the year a Giant ends that powerless run. In fact, it should happen easily, and multiple players could get to 20. 

The Giants haven't had multiple guys hit 20 since 2014, when good friends Buster Posey and Hunter Pence did it, and they haven't had three get there since 2006, when Barry Bonds, Moises Alou, Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz all hit at least 20. 

Here are three with a good shot at ending the organization's drought, and one wild card:

Kevin Pillar

Currently the team leader at 17, Pillar already has set his career-high. He said last week that the lineup has to keep the same approach day in and day out and take advantage of the rewards that ballparks like Chase Field provide, but Pillar has actually done plenty of damage at home. He has 10 homers at Oracle Park, four more than any other Giant. 

Pillar is streaky, but his pull power works well at home and he plays every day. The odds are high that he becomes the first Giants outfielder since Pence in 2014 to hit 20 homers, and the next guy should join him ...

Mike Yastrzemski

The rookie has become the best story of the season, and with three homers on Friday night he got up to 16, one more than he ever hit in a minor league season. Yastrzemski's power is for real; he has 28 homers across two levels this season, has hit six out of Oracle Park, and distributes his blasts to all fields.

With two more, Yastrzemski will tie Buster Posey's mark as a rookie. The Giants haven't had a rookie hit 20 homers since Dave Kingman in 1972. Their rookie record is 31, set by Jim Ray Hart in 1964. That'll be out of reach for Yastrzemski, but he should easily get to 20. He already has 11 homers in the second half. 

Evan Longoria

The third baseman has 15, but he missed time with a foot strain and remains slightly hampered by the injury. Still, Longoria has two homers since returning and has a shot at his 10th 20-homer season in the big leagues. 

With Pablo Sandoval out, Longoria is no longer in a timeshare, although he'll want to take advantage of road trips like this one. Of Longoria's 15 homers, 12 have come away from Oracle Park, where he's hitting just .215. 

Brandon Belt

A wild card, because he only has 14 but has traditionally gone on runs where he hits four or five in a week. Belt hasn't really gotten hot this season, but he hit a pair of homers over the weekend after a talk with Bruce Bochy and a move down in the lineup.

[RELATED: Giants miss out on sweep ahead of huge series vs. Cubs]

It would take a hot streak to get him to 20, but Belt has gotten close before. He has a pair of 18-homer seasons and two with 17. 

Giants miss out on sweep ahead of huge series vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field

Giants miss out on sweep ahead of huge series vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field

PHOENIX -- On days like this, Giants manager Bruce Bochy often says "you like to get greedy." Madison Bumgarner nodded as those words were repeated to him Sunday afternoon.

The Giants took three of four in Phoenix, which was good work given their spot in the NL wild-card race. They moved a game ahead of the Diamondbacks, one of many teams they're battling for two spots. But it was hard not to feel a bit disappointed given that they went into the fourth game with Bumgarner on the mound and lost 6-1

"We'll leave here feeling good because we did take three of four from a team we're chasing. We keep doing that, I think we'll be okay," Bumgarner said. "But at the same time, everyone here -- especially me -- wanted to come away with a sweep."

The Giants had not lost with Bumgarner on the mound in nearly five weeks. The lefty hadn't taken a loss on his record since June 20. But the Diamondbacks scored three in the first and got four in six innings against Bumgarner.

There were two key plays in the loss, one on defense and one at the plate.

With runners on the corners and two outs in the first, Adam Jones hit a sinking liner to center that looked like a hit off the bat. But Kevin Pillar has made a habit of coming out of nowhere for a diving catch, and he got a good break on the ball, which had a hit probability of 73 percent. 

Pillar's diving effort came up about two inches short and the Diamondbacks scored a pair. Jones would score on a single. 

"He makes a lot of unbelievable catches and I want him to try to do that," Bumgarner said. "I was glad to see he tried to go for it instead of trying to play it on a bounce. I like the aggressive play. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't in this game."

The Giants had a chance to get back into the game in the sixth when Mike Yastrzemski tripled and a single and two walks loaded the bases. The Diamondbacks brought lefty Andrew Chafin in to face Brandon Crawford, who had five hits in 19 previous at-bats against Chafin.

Bochy had Evan Longoria on the bench and could have pinch-hit the righty while sliding Donovan Solano from third to short, but he stuck with Crawford, who is batting .224 on the season and came out early on a double-switch the other night. Crawford grounded out. 

"His numbers aren't bad off (Chafin). It's two outs and I'm trying to stay away from Longo," Bochy said. "Hey, he's gotten a lot of big hits for us. I'm not going to quit on him now."

The finale was rough, but the weekend was still a good one for the Giants. Their problem right now is that good may not be enough. Two of the teams they’re chasing won while the Giants were on the field. They’ll now visit the Cubs, who occupy the second wild-card spot.  

The Giants will go with Tyler Beede, Dereck Rodriguez and Jeff Samardzija at Wrigley Field this week. They'll face Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. 

[RELATED: Bergen DFA'd; Giants to keep Webb in rotation for now]

"They're all big. We've got to win games. We're the ones who are behind," Bochy said. "It was a good series. You come in here and take three out of four, you've got to feel good about that. We lost this one but you take three out of four, you'll take that.

"We'll head to Chicago, take a day off and regroup, and it's going to be another big series."