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.

Sources: Giants interested in Kevin Pillar trade with Blue Jays

Sources: Giants interested in Kevin Pillar trade with Blue Jays

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants still do not consider themselves anywhere near the Bryce Harper chase. Over four days in Las Vegas, they added two outfielders to their 40-man roster, both of whom are just prospects potentially fighting for bench roles.

There’s a middle ground between Harper and the recent additions, though, and the Giants have been active in that market while exploring trades. One name discussed by the front office, according to multiple sources, was Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is interesting for a number of reasons.

Pillar, 29, is a defense-first center fielder who would seem to be an odd fit at first since the Giants already have a young version of that profile in Steven Duggar. But Pillar is a right-handed hitter who always has hit lefties better, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi would like to find a platoon partner for left-handed-hitting Duggar, at least early in his career. 

Beyond that, the Giants are intrigued by the idea of occasionally playing two center fielders at the same time in their massive ballpark. Both prospects picked up this week — Mike Gerber and Drew Ferguson — can play center field, and Pillar is known as one of the top true center fielders in the game. In those discussions, the Giants imagined an alignment that occasionally could have Pillar in center and Duggar in right. 

[RELATED: Why Duggar wants to bring bunts back to life for Giants]

“Right field at our place is just as hard as playing center field,” one source said. 

It’s unclear if the Giants gained any traction in talks for outfielders this week. Zaidi believed he might have a couple of deals in place next week, although he could go in a number of directions as he looks to fill holes. 

Pillar has not been widely known to be available. Still, the Blue Jays are rebuilding in a tough division, with plenty of young talent on the way, and that’s the type of team the Giants have targeted at times. 

The Giants are not fully rebuilding on their own. They prefer to add minor pieces to the lineup and find platoon advantages, and Pillar — or someone similar — is the type of player who makes sense for a team that hopes to be somewhat competitive next season.

Why Madison Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline


Why Madison Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline

LAS VEGAS — When the Giants arrived here on Sunday, Madison Bumgarner was their Opening Day starter. After four days of circulated casino air, room service, $7 cups of coffee, a few rumors and one minor transaction, Madison Bumgarner is still their Opening Day starter.

That still could change, though. 

While the Giants are not close to any deals and have not gotten close, multiple sources familiar with their discussions said this week that the front office is still fully ready to trade the franchise’s ace if the right deal comes along. The Giants have come to grips with the reality of making such a move, but also believe at this point that if they are to trade Bumgarner, the best deal likely will come before the July 31 trade deadline. 

Discussions about Bumgarner have been overshadowed by contenders focusing elsewhere. The Yankees filled their hole by trading for James Paxton and signing another lefty, J.A. Happ. The Nationals signed Patrick Corbin. Other dominoes will fall, but the Giants have never been all that close to finding their own deal, and they are sensitive to a perceived shift in recent weeks.

[REPORT: Giants might hold Bumgarner until midseason]

Some recent stories written by national outlets have focused on Bumgarner's declining velocity, poor road numbers and concerning peripherals, but for the Giants, he still is valued highly. "He's still Madison Bumgarner," one Giants person said this week. He also, several team officials pointed out, remains an incredible bargain at $12 million, regardless of what some might believe about Bumgarner's current skill level. 

“I would never bet against him,” another source said when asked if Bumgarner’s value has dropped. 

During his required media availability on Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he’s confident Bumgarner will bounce back from an up-and-down season, pointing out that he had a tremendous spring in 2018 and looked poised for a big year before a line drive caught his finger. 

“I can assure you he is working and he’s going to come in like he did last spring,” Bochy said. “He’s young. He’s strong. He’s smart. He has the ability to adjust. So I’m not going to be surprised if he has done something to tweak his delivery or whatever. Not that I think he needs to. This guy, he’s still really, really good.”

Bumgarner had a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts last season but his strikeout rate was down and his walk rate was a career-worst. There are other concerns for scouts who watched him last season, mainly a 4.97 ERA and 1.45 WHIP away from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. 

But for the Giants, Bumgarner remains more than just the numbers. When asked about Bumgarner on Monday, team president and CEO Larry Baer pointed down to a ring on his hand, one Bumgarner helped the Giants win.

[MORE: Bumgarner almost played first base?]

Baer said the organization has dealt with “conflicting feelings” when discussing Bumgarner’s future. There is an emotional pull, certainly, but this is also Farhan Zaidi’s show now, and he has no ties to Bumgarner. Zaidi’s most interesting quote this week may have come when asked about the Diamondbacks taking a step back by trading Paul Goldschmidt. He challenged that assumption that they’re rebuilding, saying that deal was largely about the Diamondbacks "trying to fill multiple spots with a guy that maybe they had doubts about their ability to re-sign.”

The Giants and Bumgarner did not have extension talks last season, when the previous regime was in place. New leadership will make the decision, and multiple rival executives said this week that Zaidi will do what he thinks makes sense for the Giants on the field, no matter the resulting PR hit. 

“You hired the experts — Farhan and his team — to do what’s best for the organization,” Baer said. “At the end of the day, it’s the San Francisco Giants on the front of the uniform, and we’ve got to figure out a way to build this into where we want to go.

“If it’s with Bum, great. There are multiple scenarios here. It’s just too early to forecast it because we want to put the best team together. He may or may not be in that equation. Obviously you have your heart, and then you have what’s good for the team. There are a lot of scenarios to understand where it’s going to go. You may very well see him on Opening Day as the starting pitcher.”

For now, Bumgarner is still in that position. But the Giants do not in any way feel that they have approached the meaty part of their offseason, and they will remain open to any possibility with Bumgarner, even if this drags deep into the offseason. They believe there could be a contender — perhaps the Astros, or Braves, or Phillies — still looking for another big arm when the dust settles in January. This likely, though, will drag into the season and all the way to the trade deadline.

After weeks of whispers, the Giants still do not know where they’ll end up with Bumgarner. He’s still a Giant, but there’s a long way to go before he’s set to take the mound at Petco Park on March 28.