Giants notes: Offseason starts with focus on pitching upgrades


Giants notes: Offseason starts with focus on pitching upgrades

SAN FRANCISCO -- The theme of Monday’s season-ending press conference was an obvious one, with Larry Baer, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy all hammering home the same point.

This team needs starting pitching.

The Giants have good timing in that respect, as the market will be flush with options this winter. David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto are among the names at the top end, with Mike Leake highlighting a list of more palatable options salary-wise, and guys like Ian Kennedy and Doug Fister potentially available for the back end of a rotation.

Evans said the Giants will “be open-minded.”

“We recognize our needs, starting with our pitching, and that’ll have to get addressed,” the general manager said. “We’ll keep as many balls in the air as we can to try to address these things in creative ways. We know there are no off days in the offseason. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re ready to get started.”

The focus will almost certainly be Leake, and the right-hander showed what he can do with a two-hitter in his last start for the Giants. Leake didn’t quite live up to expectations after being acquired from the Reds, but the Giants believe he was hampered by hamstring and elbow issues. Fully healthy at the end of the season, Leake had one of the best performances of his career. 

The Giants have made it clear that Leake is a priority, although they’ll have to beat others, including the Arizona Diamondbacks -- Leake went to Arizona State and lives in the Phoenix area. Leake has said he hopes to get something done early in the offseason.

“We’re going to be open-minded about the pace of negotiations and discussions,” Evans said Monday. “I’m not ready to pin down any one guy at this point. I think we’ll be open-minded to the pace. I’ve spoken with Mike. He’s aware there’s mutual interesting. The timing may not be as quick as we would both like.”

Evans said the Giants are focused on getting someone who gets deeper into games, and in that respect, Leake is a great fit. He pitched at least seven innings 13 times this season. While monitoring Leake, the Giants will be in on the market for bigger names. They went hard after Jon Lester last year and then chased James Shields. 

“We’ve shown over the years that we’re in the deal flow, so to speak,” Baer said. “We may or may not push the button, they may or may not be the right fit in terms of years, dollars, culture -- but we’re going to look at the market and look at it pretty exhaustively.

“Anything is possible, but it’s got to be the right fit. All the pieces have to fit.”

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Neither Baer nor Evans would say much specifically about the top of the market, but Evans did acknowledge that “you don’t necessarily need to solve the rotation for the next seven years this offseason.” Evans mentioned several times Monday that the front office will try and be creative when putting together a rotation for next year. Madison Bumgarner is the ace, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are locked into place, and at least one pitcher will be added from the market. Evans also mentioned trades and the international market, and team officials have made it clear over the last month that Clayton Blackburn is a potential option at some point in 2016. 

Blackburn, a 22-year-old right-hander, led the Pacific Coast League with a 2.85 ERA and the Giants pulled him back from the Arizona Fall League because they were so impressed by the way Blackburn finished his Triple-A season. 

“Nobody was better than Clayton Blackburn down the stretch,” Evans said. “He’s really turned a corner for us. His command, his stuff, pitching the way he did at Triple-A, which is a very tough hitters league. Certainly he’s a guy on the tip of our minds.”

Evans also mentioned Tyler Beede, Ty Blach and Chris Stratton as future options in the high minors, and Chris Heston still could potentially keep his rotation spot depending on how the winter shakes out. In his first offseason as the official GM, Evans was ready to get right to work, looking for a combination that can push this rotation to a point where it’s capable of keeping up with a young, All-Star-filled lineup. Asked about keeping up with the Dodgers’ duo of Clayton Kershaw and Greinke, he smiled.

“We don’t want to keep up with them,” he said. “We want to pass them.”

Some more other highlights from the hour with management, starting with the outfield....

--- Kelby Tomlinson will play outfield in instructional league games starting on Monday, but Evans said “that’s a lot to ask” for Tomlinson to platoon in center field with Angel Pagan, who was the worst defensive center fielder in the majors per defensive metrics. Pagan will have a minor knee procedure Tuesday and should need just two or three weeks off. He’s expected to be healthy next spring, and of course, it’s a contract year. Evans said Pagan will not be considered for a corner outfield spot (left field).

“Pagan is a center fielder,” he said. “I don’t see that move happening.”

As for the current corner guys, Marlon Byrd fell a couple starts short of reaching his $8 million option. Nori Aoki has a $5.5 million option for next year that hasn’t been picked up yet. The Giants have about a month to make that decision.

“It will be a close call,” Evans said. “We’re not ready to (make that decision) right now.” 

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--- I thought it was interesting that Bochy, in his final comments, mentioned the bullpen as an area that could use some help. It was a strong group for the most part, but Jeremy Affeldt is retiring and there were some issues down the stretch as guys wore down. That’s not ideal when you’re aiming to play an extra month. 

Bochy said Josh Osich will basically become the new Affeldt (the retiring left-hander helped Osich all year long) and Hunter Strickland will be in that seventh-inning area with Osich. Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo are under contract and George Kontos hits arbitration for the first time.

“Kontos had a huge year,” Bochy said. “Forget yesterday, he carried a really heavy workload for us.”

Bochy said Yusmeiro Petit did a “great job,” but it really wouldn’t be a shock for the Giants to move on from their long reliever. Petit made $2.1 million in arbitration last year and barely pitched over the last month. 

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“Petit has been a very valuable part of our bullpen,” Evans said. “It will be a hard choice to make if we decide to do anything different than tender (him a deal), but we haven’t made that choice.”

If the Giants let Petit go, Cody Hall could be an option for that spot. 

“I thought he did a nice job,” Bochy said. 

As for Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, it’s clear that Vogelsong is on the back-burner, and he does not expect to return. Evans said the focus with Lincecum is on his rehab. 

[RELATED: Vogelsong will pitch in 2016, but knows it may be elsewhere]

“Physically, this is a pretty stiff rehab for him,” Evans said. “It will not be easy and he’s learning that. He’ll progress and we’ll be given the opportunity to assess him as we get into the offseason.”

It has always made the most sense for Lincecum to return on an incentive-filled deal. Nothing I've seen or heard over the past month has changed that.

--- Roberto Kelly can rest easy: Bochy said he expects his whole staff to return. Kelly got better as the year went on, but still, he’ll need to improve a bit more next year. On this note, it’s pretty amazing that Ron Wotus and Hensley Meulens haven’t been mentioned today for some of the managerial openings. Both guys are ready for a shot at the big job. It's a boost for the Giants, but a bummer for those two.

--- The signing of young Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez will be announced soon. Evans confirmed that a deal is in place. That’ll be one of the minor announcements of the offseason, and of course there will be some big ones.

You can follow it all on Twitter and Facebook. At the very least, Monday’s press conference made it clear that Evans will continue to provide one-liners no matter how the offseason turns out. Asked how “the payroll concluded,” he had a quick reply.

“The payroll concluded with everyone getting paid one last check,” he said. 


Gabe Kapler's relationship with Giants' clubhouse must be focal point

Gabe Kapler's relationship with Giants' clubhouse must be focal point

Gabe Kapler’s tenure in Philadelphia wasn’t met with much in the way of brotherly love.

Kapler was fired after just two seasons in Philadelphia, both of which saw the Phillies fail to reach the postseason.

Now officially minted as the newest manager of the Giants, NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury spoke about Kapler’s tenure and how it ended for the 44-year-old.

“I’m sure Gabe learned a lot, because a lot of things went wrong,” Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury said on SportsNet Central on Tuesday night. “Failure can be a great teacher.”

An overall record just below .500 (161-163) doesn’t necessarily evoke abject failure, but Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi made sure to cover all his bases (I’m sorry, it’s late) in learning about Kapler’s time in eastern Pennsylvania. 

One thing the front office liked, in particular, was the reviews from players who had operated under Kapler.

“Players like Gabe a lot,” Salisbury said. “ And I think the reason they do is he lets them do whatever they want.” 

Although Kapler’s leadership style resonated with his roster in Philadelphia, he had a much stronger connection to Phillies’ management than he did with his own dugout. 

“I always thought in Philadelphia, he bonded a lot better with the front office than he did with the clubhouse,” Salisbury said. “I didn’t think they always played for him, but I think he always responded to what the front office wanted.”

[RELATED: Zaidi addresses Kapler controversy after Giants hire him]

Joining an old co-worker in Zaidi likely will make that transition a lot smoother for Kapler, but it remains to be seen how players in the Giants’ clubhouse respond to a very different style of manager from three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy.

More on Kapler from NBC Sports Philadelphia

Leadership issues led to Kapler's firing
Kapler's reactions on final day of Phillies season
Bryce Harper's thoughts on Kapler's future
Kapler and Velasquez have miscommunication

Why Farhan Zaidi tied his, Giants' fortunes to new manager Gabe Kapler

Why Farhan Zaidi tied his, Giants' fortunes to new manager Gabe Kapler

SAN FRANCISCO -- The best way to get through life on social media is to never check the mentions, but a lot of Giants employees couldn't help themselves over the past month.

The franchise's search for a new manager was mostly quiet outside of the building, but occasionally a scrap of information would leak out, and Giants fans were not shy about making their opinions known about one particular candidate. Team employees found themselves gravitating toward Twitter, reading some of the reaction.

Gabe Kapler was the favorite when the Giants started this process more than a month ago, and in the end, he was Farhan Zaidi's choice.

Zaidi and Andrew Friedman nearly hired Kapler as the manager in Los Angeles before settling on Dave Roberts, but given a second chance, the Giants' president of baseball operations is tying a large part of his own future to Kapler, whom the Phillies fired last month after two seasons.

This perhaps is the biggest decision Zaidi will make over the course of his initial five-year contract with the Giants, and it's one he did not at all take lightly.

The Giants knew Kapler would be a controversial choice, and sources say there was division at the upper levels of the organization about which way they should go. As the finish line neared, Kapler came back to San Francisco.

"He has met with everybody we have," one Giants person said Monday.

There are team employees who preferred Astros bench coach Joe Espada and a path with less baggage, but in the end, this was Zaidi's choice, and it needed to be.

When the Giants brought Zaidi up from LA a year ago, they handed him the keys to the baseball operations department. You can't do that, and then keep him from making his own decision with his most important hire.

Zaidi was deliberate, interviewing two internal candidates and a handful of rising coaches from other organizations. As of Monday afternoon, some of his coworkers believed Zaidi truly had not made up his mind, but the search kept coming back to Kapler.

The reasons for optimism are clear. Kapler is known as a good communicator, and he was a rising star while with the Dodgers. The Giants believe they need changes across all levels, and Kapler helped modernize the Dodgers while serving as director of player development. While he went 161-163 as the manager in Philadelphia, Kapler does have two years of experience and hopefully has learned from his mistakes. Zaidi has publicly talked of the boost a manager can get the second time around.

Kapler certainly has the résumé that can help overhaul a Giants clubhouse that had become stale. He played a dozen years in the big leagues, and that carries significant weight. His time working in the minors should serve him well, as he takes over a team that used 64 players in 2019 and expects to bring in plenty of prospects over the next two years.

But there also are reasons why you'd be ratioed with the mere mention of Kapler as a front-runner. There are questions about the way he handled assault allegations against Dodgers prospects while in LA, and Kapler and his bosses will have to answer those as he's introduced Wednesday. Zaidi gave his initial thoughts Tuesday night, but he'll likely have to address it again. Kapler will, too.

[RELATED: Krukow explains why he likes Kapler's hiring]

Ultimately, this decision will be judged on wins and losses, and Kapler is coming off a rough finish in Philadelphia. The Phillies had plenty of injuries, but they went 81-81 and finished fourth in the NL East after adding Bryce Harper.

The Giants have been worse than that in recent years, of course. That's why they brought in Zaidi and tasked him with overhauling the organization. They gave him the keys and trusted him to make the right decisions.

The first year was mostly positive, with the big league roster showing strides and the farm system hinting that it might get this team back to contention sooner than expected. This is the start of Zaidi's second year with the Giants, so he took a big swing, giving Kapler a three-year contract. Starting Wednesday, when they'll stand side by side at Oracle Park, they'll try to prove it was the right decision.

The easiest way to do that is one that worked for the previous regime. Win, and win big.

More on Kapler from NBC Sports Philadelphia

Leadership issues led to Kapler's firing by Phillies 
Kapler's reactions on final day of Phillies season
Bryce Harper's thoughts on Kapler's future
Kapler, Velasquez have miscommunication