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Giants set to open spring training with plenty of positional battles

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Giants set to open spring training with plenty of positional battles

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants on Monday morning were part of a pair of transactions that seemed odd on the surface. While Stephen Vogt is preparing to take a physical and sign a minor league deal with the organization, Nick Hundley signed a similar deal with the A’s

Why not just bring Hundley back? Farhan Zaidi wants flexibility, on the field and off, and that made Hundley a less-than-ideal fit. Signing him for a third straight year would have locked the Giants into their catchers on Feb. 11. With the group currently in place, it would be a shock if any catcher spends the entire season backing up Posey, as Hundley did. 

It’ll be a different kind of camp for the Giants, and as they look to become younger, more athletic and more versatile, we might see some roster permutations that would have looked out of whack under the previous regime. As players prepare to take the field at Scottsdale Stadium for the first time, here’s a look at some of the competitions that should heat up … 

Outfield: Assuming Steven Duggar doesn’t have any setbacks, there are two starting spots to be won here, in left and right. Bryce Harper certainly could take one of them, and even if he chooses another team, the Giants likely will add a veteran. But they traditionally go with five outfielders, so currently there may be four spots up for grabs. The Giants really would like to take a long look at Drew Ferguson, the Rule 5 pick who must make the roster or else he must be offered back to the Astros. Mac Williamson is out of options and has the longest track record of big league success. He’s currently a favorite to start in one of the corners and could land in the starting lineup even if Harper is added. 

Backup catcher: Buster Posey expects to be ready for Opening Day, but he’ll be slow-played in April, so this is an important spot. Aramis Garcia is the frontrunner after a nice September — remember, he can play first base, too — but there are plenty of veterans who will be given a shot this spring to win the job, which would allow Garcia to get more minor league at-bats. Cameron Rupp has had big league success and Vogt, if he can get his shoulder back to 100 percent, is a two-time All-Star who can play first and has dabbled with the outfield. Rene Rivera was signed Friday and the Giants still could add another veteran to the mix. 

Fifth starter: Madison Bumgarner will start Opening Day and it’s a pretty good bet that Drew Pomeranz and Derek Holland will follow in some order. If Jeff Samardzija is healthy, he’ll be in the rotation, but the Giants could ease him into the regular season. That leaves Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, both of whom had long stretches of dominance as rookies. On merit, they deserve to be in the rotation at the end of camp, but Zaidi has been open about limiting their innings early on. One could end up in the bullpen, or perhaps back in the minors for a few weeks. 

Last spots in bullpen: Did you remember that Josh Osich, Roberto Gomez and Pierce Johnson made the Opening Day roster last season? There’s always a surprise with the bullpen, and the Giants have plenty of candidates in camp fighting for that spot on the line in San Diego. 

Bruce Bochy, Ned Yost reflect on touching moment after 2014 World Series

Bruce Bochy, Ned Yost reflect on touching moment after 2014 World Series

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few minutes after his team lost the 2014 World Series in a heartbreaking way, Royals manager Ned Yost walked over to the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium and quietly slipped into Bruce Bochy’s office. With champagne still flying through the air and players getting deep into their celebrations, Yost and Bochy shook hands and had a brief conversation.  

The show of class and sportsmanship meant a lot to the winning side. That moment meant even more to Yost. 

“I’ve still got that picture hanging in my office,” he said recently. “I don’t have many pictures that I put up, but there’s that one of me and him shaking hands afterward. That one is special to me. It was a hard time because he was trying to celebrate, but I just wanted to tell him congratulations.”

Yost’s Royals will face Bochy’s Giants today in Cactus League action, and it will almost certainly be the final matchup between their teams. Bochy has announced his intention to retire, and neither team is favored to reach the postseason.

That 2014 matchup was a memorable one, though, and it still leaves Yost shaking his head. A day after Bochy announced that 2019 would be his last season, Yost, at an MLB event, recalled thinking he had gotten the better of Bochy. 

“I just remember him sending Bumgarner out in Game 7 and I just thought, ‘Okay, we’re going to kill him.’ And it just didn’t turn out that way,” Yost said. “Even to send Bumgarner out there in the ninth, it was like, ‘whoa,’ but it worked out perfectly.”

Yost and the Royals would win the next year, getting their own moment in the sun. But on that cold October night in Kansas City, Yost watched Bumgarner get out of a jam in the ninth. He watched Bochy celebrate, and then he went over to congratulate a manager he says is a surefire Hall of Famer. 

[RELATED: Bochy announces he will retire after 2019 season]

“I just have the ultimate respect for him. I’ve always admired him, his longevity, and what he has been able to do,” Yost said. “The one solace I can find, as tough as it was to lose a World Series, especially when you’re 90 feet away, is just that I lost it to my boyhood team and to a manager who I probably have more respect for than any other present manager in the game. 

“He’s right behind Bobby Cox for me. He’s accomplished everything that every manager looks to accomplish.”

Bryce Harper explains hitting at Oracle Park wasn't a factor in decision

Bryce Harper explains hitting at Oracle Park wasn't a factor in decision

When it was first reported the Giants were interested in acquiring six-time All-Star Bryce Harper, we checked the numbers on how he performed at AT&T Oracle Park.

Across his career thus far, Harper boasts a .164/.305/.284 line with just two home runs in 19 games.

Not great, but he knew that. It's also well documented that Oracle Park is one of the toughest places to hit in all of baseball.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal recently asked Harper if the difference in parks offensively was an issue. Harper said that wasn't a concern -- he did the homework just like you and I did.

“I saw my (home-run) overlays on each park — Nationals Park, L.A., San Fran, Philly. The overlays weren’t as crazy as people would think," Harper said in an interview with FS1.

“Hitting the ball to left-center in San Francisco, it’s a little bit of a jet stream. And I hit my balls to left-center a lot. Of course, you factor in wind and cold weather, things like that. But that was never really a factor."

Oracle Park is a terror to hitters not named Nolan Arenado or Gerardo Parra. but it can be a pitcher's best friend if said pitcher is able to take advantage of that.

But Harper seemed to indicate he would have enjoyed the challenges of playing in a pitcher's park, even telling Rosenthal it would make him a more refined hitter.

“I’m not scared of ballparks. It was kind of like, ‘If I go into San Fran, it will make me a better hitter because I’ll have to stay on the ball.’ You have Triples Alley to right. But if I stay on the ball and hit the ball to left, then pull homers to right, the line drives to left would have played. So ballpark-wise, it wasn’t that big of a decision to me.”

[RELATED: Giants offer Harper 12-year, $310 million]

We will see if that confidence still resonates with him when he and the Phillies come to Oracle Park later this summer