Giants Review: Shoulder injury wrecks Jeff Samardzija's third year in SF


Giants Review: Shoulder injury wrecks Jeff Samardzija's third year in SF

SAN FRANCISCO — For some reason, Jeff Samardzija never quite got his due in his first two seasons with the Giants. He was worth more than five Wins Above Replacement in those seasons, giving the Giants plenty of value for their significant investment. 

Samardzija’s third season in orange and black was a step back in every way. 

His shoulder flared up in the spring and never healed. Samardzija deserves plenty of credit for trying — he repeatedly came back from the DL and took the ball, trying to contribute even as his numbers took a hit. But it wasn’t working. Samardzija was shut down for good on July 14 and still has not resumed throwing. He was worth negative .7 WAR in 10 starts, which lines him up to be the third big leaguer featured in this look back at the 2018 season. 

If you missed it, here’s a recap of Chris Stratton’s year and a look at Hunter Pence’s past and future. And here’s what you need to know about the year Samardzija broke down … 

What Went Right: This may seem like grasping at straws, but it is significant that Samardzija was never sent for shoulder surgery. Johnny Cueto will miss all of 2018, but doctor after doctor told Samardzija he just needed to rest. Even in September, Samardzija was seeking outside opinions. He was again told to rest and rehab the bursitis in his shoulder. 

Should surgery can be far more significant than Tommy John, and Samardzija was relieved with the diagnosis. He plans to spend the offseason in San Francisco, getting treatment and strengthening his shoulder, with the expectation that he’s 100 percent healthy next spring. 

What Went Wrong: The clearest sign that something was wrong was diminished velocity. Samardzija’s fastball was down about 1.5 mph on average and 4-5 mph in some starts. His changeup was down 4.6 mph and his cutter was down nearly two ticks. That led to really ugly results. 

In 10 starts, Samardzija went 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. A year after leading the majors with a walk rate of 1.4 per nine innings, he handed out 5.2 free passes per nine. His strikeout rate dropped from 8.9 to 6.0. In all, Samardzija struck out just four more batters than he walked. After three straight 200-inning seasons, Samardzija managed just 44 2/3 in those 10 appearances. He made it past the fifth inning just twice. 

Contract Status: Samardzija has two years left on a five-year, $90 million deal. He’s owed $18 million in 2019 and will get a $1.5 million bonus — a chunk of his signing bonus — on January 15. 

The Future: Samardzija’s no-trade clause is more limited than most, but truthfully, that doesn’t matter at all. Even if the Giants wanted to deal him, they can’t. You simply cannot make calls about a 33-year-old pitcher who is owed nearly $40 million and is rehabbing a shoulder injury. The Giants have no choice but to hope Samardzija finds a fix for the issue and returns next spring to provide solid innings. With Dereck Rodriguez behind Madison Bumgarner, the Giants do not need Samardzija to be a top-of-the-rotation arm. They just need him to go six innings a night and keep them in the game. If he’s healthy, that’s more than reasonable.

Giants cut Kelby Tomlinson, four more from 40-man roster before MLB offseason


Giants cut Kelby Tomlinson, four more from 40-man roster before MLB offseason

SAN FRANCISCO -- With five players set to come off the 60-day DL, the Giants on Monday parted ways with some familiar names. Five players were outrighted off the 40-man roster, clearing the way for the Giants to add Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Julian Fernandez back to the 40-man roster, as they had to before the start of the offseason. 

Infielder Chase d'Arnaud and right-hander Casey Kelly were outrighted and elected to become free agents. Infielders Kelby Tomlinson and Miguel Gomez became minor-league free agents. Tyler Herb was outrighted to Triple-A and remains with the organization. 

Tomlinson saw the most time of the group, playing 273 games for the Giants over the past four seasons. But he hit .207 in 2018 and was passed on the depth chart by Alen Hanson and Abiatal Avelino. 

Kelly and d'Arnaud contributed in the second half, but neither would have been in the Opening Day plans next season. D'Arnaud was eligible for arbitration and the Giants did not plan to bring him back at a higher price. Gomez was once viewed as a promising switch-hitting prospect, but his bat has not developed as hoped and the Giants do not believe he has a defensive position. 

The Giants will have to make further 40-man cuts over the next six weeks as they protect players from the Rule 5 draft and potentially add free agents. 

Giants Review: Steven Okert makes most of late call-up, but future still murky


Giants Review: Steven Okert makes most of late call-up, but future still murky

SAN FRANCISCO — It took a while for the Giants to find consistent left-handed relief after the end of the Javier Lopez-Jeremy Affeldt Era, but in 2018, Tony Watson and Will Smith were one of the National League’s best lefty bullpen duos. Ty Blach did a nice job once he was pulled from the rotation, too, and looks like a solid long reliever. 

But don’t forget about a fourth lefty, one who spent most of his season in Sacramento. Steven Okert was up on the taxi squad in April but didn’t get into a game. He wouldn’t return to AT&T Park until September, and when he did, he opened some eyes.

What Went Right

Okert made it back on Sept. 3 and made his 2018 debut that day, pitching a sharp scoreless inning at Coors Field. Over 10 September appearances, he would allow just one run in 7 1/3 innings, holding opponents to four hits in 27 at-bats.

The lefty struck out the side against the Brewers in his second appearance and had eight strikeouts and no walks in those 7 1/3 innings. In his final appearance, he struck out three Dodgers in two innings while allowing his lone run of the year. 

What Went Wrong

It’s a small sample, but Okert’s fastball maxed out at 93.4 mph in September, per Brooks Baseball, which was down from two previous stints, when he was often peaking at 94-95.  

The bigger concern for him is just the simple fact that the Giants didn't feel the need to have him up until September. The staff chose Josh Osich coming out of the spring and Okert had a down year in Triple-A, posting a 4.55 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. He struck out 43 in 31 2/3 Triple-A innings but also allowed opponents to bat .289. 

Contract Status

Okert used up his third minor-league option at the end of the spring. 

The Future

Okert, 27, appeared slimmed down in September, and the staff was pleased with the way he threw the ball. There wasn’t much to celebrate over the final month, but after a couple of losses, manager Bruce Bochy pointed to Okert as a positive.

Still, it’s hard to see where he fits in 2019 because the Giants have three lefties in their bullpen already and Okert cannot be optioned again. Bobby Evans always found a way to keep players like that in the organization, but a new boss might view things differently, and Okert could be thrown into a trade this offseason to find an easier path to a big-league job next spring.