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.”

MLB rumors: Giants-Twins Madison Bumgarner trade chatter ‘premature’

MLB rumors: Giants-Twins Madison Bumgarner trade chatter ‘premature’

It's possible that Madison Bumgarner made his last start for the Giants on Saturday at Oracle Park.

Charley Walters, a columnist for The Pioneer Press in Minnesota, reported that the Twins are "moving closer to a trade with the Giants for left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner."

Don't get too worked up just yet.

Darren Wolfson, a sports reporter for KSTP-TV in Minnesota, isn't ready to say a deal between the Giants and the Twins is close.

Bumgarner is the Giants' biggest trade chip, and he's expected to fetch them a haul of prospects before the July 31 trade deadline. A deal this far away from that deadline would be a surprise, though, as the team might want to wait longer for more suitors and richer offers.

The Twins aren’t one of the eight teams on Bumgarner's no-trade list, so that would make it easier for the Giants to facilitate a trade with Minnesota, which has surprised everyone this season and owned the best record in baseball through Saturday.

In 14 starts this season, 29-year-old Bumgarner has a 3.83 ERA and struck out 84 batters in 87 innings.

[RELATED: Will Smith remains focused as trade rumors swirl]

With the Giants in last place in the NL West, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi could start trading off his valuable pieces to restock the farm system. Along with Bumgarner, you can expect veteran relievers Will Smith, Tony Watson and Sam Dyson to be traded by the deadline.

Stephen Vogt's speed vs. Brewers leads Giants to fourth straight win

Stephen Vogt's speed vs. Brewers leads Giants to fourth straight win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey first worked together in the minors, and for a decade in the big leagues, more often than not, Posey has been in the squat when Bumgarner digs in and looks in at the plate in the first inning. Posey has caught nearly 80 percent of Bumgarner's big league starts, a number that would be much higher if not for a couple of season-ending injuries.

But when Giants manager Bruce Bochy sat down this week to plan out playing time, he made an interesting decision. With a day game Saturday, Bochy knew Posey, coming off a hamstring injury, would catch just one of the first two against the Brewers. He chose Friday, pairing Posey with Drew Pomeranz. That meant Stephen Vogt caught Bumgarner for a third straight start, and the left-hander didn't mind one bit. 

"That's definitely the fastest and easiest transition I've had with another catcher besides Buster," Bumgarner said. "The first game, it just clicked."

Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the partnership found smooth waters so quickly. Vogt is apparently all about speed these days. 

The 34-year-old catcher had two triples and an infield single Saturday, providing much of the energy in an exciting 8-7 win over the Brewers that was the fourth straight for the Giants. Vogt, popular in every big league stop, has quickly become a favorite of longtime Giants, including Bumgarner. 

"The guy's a ballplayer," Bumgarner said. "He's fun to watch. He gives it all he's got. Everybody really appreciates that. He's a guy that's easy to pull for."

The two triples got most the attention, but Vogt's most impactful sprint may have been the one he made in the bottom of the eighth. With runners on the corners and two outs, Vogt hit a slow roller up the middle and beat Orlando Arcia's throw to first, reaching 27.6 feet per second, his second-fastest sprint of the season. 

"I like to joke that the fastest human being on the planet is a baseball player that smells a hit," Vogt said, smiling. 

All kidding aside, those four and a half seconds told the Giants a lot about their backup catcher. After being in the squat for nearly three hours, Vogt busted it down the line, providing a necessary insurance run. Will Smith would give up a solo shot to Christian Yelich in the ninth but held on when Mike Yastrzemski made a diving catch for the final out. 

"It ended up being a huge run," Bochy said of Vogt's final hit. "In the eighth inning, for a catcher to get down there like that, that's impressive."

Vogt's day was historic in a way. He became the first Giants catcher since Steve Nicosia in 1984 to record two triples in one game and just the third catcher in the last eight years to do it. The Giants had not had a two-triple game from any player in three years. 

Vogt's first triple, just the 10th of his career, came when he lined a 2-0 fastball from former teammate and friend Jimmy Nelson off the fourth archway. The ball would have been a home run in 18 ballparks, but it ricocheted into center field and Vogt cruised into third, his helmet flying off, as Yelich chased it down. With a sprint speed of 26.4 feet per second, Vogt reached third in 12.4 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the MLB average this season. He would score on Kevin Pillar's single. 

The second triple was a bit more traditional by the ballpark's standards, as Vogt lined a Junior Guerra splitter into Triples Alley and hustled into the bag in 12.14 seconds. Again, he scored on a Pillar single. Afterward, Vogt briefly took on a serious tone when noting that he hopes the ball won't be able to roll that far in the future. Vogt joined the chorus of players who want the bullpens moved off the field and into Triples Alley. He said it's a safety issue, pointing out that Chris Taylor toppled over a mound earlier this homestand. 

"If that's how we have to get that done, let's do it," he said. 

[RELATED: Will Smith focused despite trade rumors]

That's a conversation for the future. In the present, the Giants are just trying to put a positive stretch together. They remain eight games under .500, but this is their best run of the season, and on Sunday they have a chance to sweep a contender. 

"That's a big win," Vogt said. "A big win for us."