SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants made it clear a month ago that they are going to look at all available options while trying to upgrade their rotation. Now they'll do the same with left field.
In what was a bit of a surprise move, the club declined Nori Aoki's $5.5 million option for 2016, opting instead to pay a $700,000 buyout. Marlon Byrd's $8 million option was also declined, although that move became all but official when Byrd fell just short of reaching the required plate appearances to guarantee an additional year. General manager Bobby Evans said the Giants have not ruled out bringing back either veteran outfielder, but they want to go into the offseason with "our options open in a number of areas."
“It’s just timing," Evans said late Wednesday night. "We’re going to keep an open dialogue with (Aoki) and an open door with Byrd and just see what happens over the course of the winter and our attempts to address a number of different things. Both have interest in returning and are possibilities, but it’ll have to be something we address more up the line."
The decision to at least temporarily part ways with Aoki, the leadoff hitter for much of the year, leaves Evans and the rest of the front office with additional flexibility. The Giants are planning to have Hunter Pence back in right field on opening day and a healthy Angel Pagan in center, but they can go in a number of different directions in left field. Kansas City star Alex Gordon declined his player option earlier Wednesday and is one of several big names on the market, but the Giants would seem a long shot to win a bidding war for a Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton given their bigger needs elsewhere.
Still, Wednesday's move allows Evans to at least have those conversations, and he said the club will be active in seeking trades and scouring the international market. Evans said he has a pretty good idea of what the market holds, but he's not sure about which players may become available via trade, and he did not want to enter the offseason with all three outfield spots locked up. The trade market may provide the best option in left field.
"To pre-determine left field today is just premature," he said.
For much of the season, Aoki seemed a lock to return for a second year. He finished with a .287 average and .353 on-base percentage, but was hitting .317 on June 20 when a Carlos Frias fastball fractured his right fibula and started a second-half spiral. Aoki missed a month with that injury and then spent most of August and September dealing with a concussion after getting hit by a Jake Arrieta pitch. Evans said Aoki, who returned to his Japan home in early October, has been fully cleared by doctors. Wednesday's move was not health-related. Evans said the decision is something that's been discussed for weeks during organizational meetings. It wasn't easy to part with Aoki.
"He was a significant contributor, particularly in the first half," the GM said. "He was virtually an All-Star, or very close to it. He certainly was a big part of igniting our offense early in the season."
Aoki had to wait until January to find the right deal last offseason and at 33 years old he may not find a robust market. The Giants will keep in touch, and they will do the same with Byrd, who is 38 and wasn't thrilled when he came six plate appearances short of $8 million, but also possesses the kind of right-handed power the Giants covet, especially in their home park.
Evans has signaled a desire to be creative, but there are caveats. He said he much prefers Brandon Belt to play first base -- where he is a Gold Glove finalist -- and not left field. Belt will see a concussion specialist this week and the Giants expect him to be 100 percent healthy well before pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. Kelby Tomlinson is working out in the outfield, but Evans said his time in the instructional league showed that "it's not his natural position." Tomlinson got an offer to play outfield in a Winter League and he may take it.
As for Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, two young power hitters who played often down the stretch, the Giants prefer to go into next spring without a rookie ticketed for left field, at least at the beginning.
"In a perfect world you’d like for young outfielders like Williamson and Parker to show up at spring training and give you reasons to be on the club," Evans said. "That’s how guys have performed. That’s how (Matt) Duffy made the club, that’s how Belt made the club. But you don’t necessarily make offseason plans built on that."