Giants show frustration with MLB's slow free agency as offseason ends


Giants show frustration with MLB's slow free agency as offseason ends

SAN FRANCISCO — As Giants executives and the team’s stars talked about Bryce Harper on Friday morning, a veteran stood in one corner of the sprawling room on the suite level at Oracle Park and pointed to Dereck Rodriguez.

“Those are the types of guys I’m really thinking about,” he said.

Harper will get his payday, whether it’s tomorrow or in March, $250 million or $350 million. He’ll be fine. Same with Manny Machado. The Giants who gathered Friday at Oracle Park had a general sense of dissatisfaction with the kinds of offers Harper and Machado have received as two of the best free agents in MLB history, but the list of concerns goes much deeper.

Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford mentioned how many other quality free agents remain out there. Several of Nick Hundley’s former teammates quietly grumbled that the popular catcher was sorting through minor league deals. Many of the players in the room talked of the need for change, none more forcefully than Jeff Samardzija. He spoke passionately about the need to overhaul a system players believe is broken.

This is where someone like Rodriguez comes in. He broke through last season at the age of 26, but as a pre-arbitration player, he’s likely to simply have his contract renewed at or near the MLB minimum. Perhaps Rodriguez will get a raise of a few thousand dollars, but he’s two years from being able to get a real bump in arbitration, and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. 

For years, players have slogged through all of this knowing they would cash out as free agents. That’s no longer the case. 

“We’re going to have to get arbitration moved up a year earlier and get guys to free agency earlier,” Samardzija said. “It seems like there might only be one way to get that, but we’ll see. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that because we want to keep the fans happy. We want people coming to the stadium and watching a great product, but they need the best product available, and having 50 guys sitting at home that are big league players is not the best product.”

If your eyes widened at part of that quote, you read it correctly. 

“You know, striking is the last thing you want to do, but you have to be willing to do it,” Samardzija said. “But I think there are other things before then that can get the ball going the right way."

Part of that involves getting the game’s biggest stars involved, and that’s already happening. Evan Longoria has taken to Instagram and Twitter to advocate for change. Buster Posey, who usually stays away from any hint of controversy, tweeted about the situation on Friday. A day later, he doubled down.

“Somehow the notion that it’s okay not to be competitive for any window of time has become acceptable,” Posey said onstage at FanFest. “That’s my issue.”

The increased chatter -- Justin Verlander of the Astros joined in Monday on Twitter -- has been noticed. Giants president and CEO Larry Baer spent the middle of last week at owners meetings in Florida, and said the concerns will be addressed. 

“If this is a market that doesn’t work then we’ve got to change the system in ways that maybe work better," Baer said.

At the same time, the owners and players agreed to this CBA, and Baer pointed out that they’re just two seasons into a five-year deal. The players were caught off guard last offseason. This offseason they have grown angry, but front offices are unlikely to start operating in a different way. They mostly have come to the same conclusion in recent years.

“You have a lot of really accomplished free agents still out there, but our job is less about what a player has done in the past and more about what we think they’re going to do going forward,” new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “I think that’s some of the slowdown that you see in the market, is players valuing themselves based on what they feel they’ve earned in their careers and front offices maybe being a little more oriented towards what can we expect for this player in 2019 and going forward.”

Zaidi has shied away from big contracts throughout his front office career, but he is currently trying to bring Harper to San Francisco. If that chase fails, ownership and the front office could hear increased grumbling from the clubhouse. The Giants have committed less than $10 million to free agents this offseason, and for the players, that’s not an encouraging sign. 

[RELATED: Bookmarker lists Giants as betting favorite to sign Harper]

On Tuesday, pitchers and catchers will take the field at Scottsdale Stadium and officially begin their season. A week from now, position players will join. They’ll smile and joke and enjoy the fact that they’re getting paid to play a game they love, but in quiet moments, you can expect the business discussions to continue.

Players are concerned about the direction of their game, and that’ll be a part of the story of this season, and possibly the two seasons that follow. 

"Everyone kind of went along with it last year because (teams were) saying Machado and Harper are going to be available and we want to save funds for that," Samardzija said. "Well, now that's happened. I'm sure every team knows whether they're in or not on Machado or Harper, so they can allocate their cash elsewhere, because I'm pretty sure a lot of teams know they're not getting them. But then they're not allocating that cash elsewhere, which they said they were going to do.

"To me, they're just taking a tactical approach as owners to shorten the window for guys to sign, and (they hope) two things come from it. They get guys to panic and sign bad deals as veterans, and also they get guys to sign pre-arb deals because they don't want to test the waters of free agency. That's what's happening now. Hopefully as players we can get on the same page and figure out how we ourselves can change the rhetoric of what's going on."

Giants vs. Cubs lineups: Abiatal Avelino starts at shortstop vs. Cole Hamels


Giants vs. Cubs lineups: Abiatal Avelino starts at shortstop vs. Cole Hamels

Shortstop Brandon Crawford has played 114 of the Giants' 125 games this season. On Tuesday, he's taking the day off. 

Giants manager Bruce Bochy is using right-handed bat Abiatal Avelino against Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels. Crawford is batting just .173 in August and certainly could use a breather. 

Avelino, on the other hand, has hit .285 with 12 home runs in Triple-A for the Sacramento River Cats. The 24-year-old also has stolen 15 bases this season. 

Bochy is wheeling out a right-handed heavy lineup against Hamels, with just two lefties in the order -- Mike Yastrzemski and Brandon Belt. 

[RELATED: Yaz starring for Giants after getting big league chance]

Here are the full lineups for Tuesday's game. You can follow the action on NBC Sports Bay Area or by downloading and streaming on the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. PT with first pitch at 5:05.

San Francisco Giants (63-62)
Donovan Solano, 2B
Mike Yastrzemski, LF
Buster Posey, C
Evan Longoria, 3B
Kevin Pillar, CF
Austin Slater, RF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Abiatal Avelino, SS
Tyler Beede, RHP (3-7, 5.77)

Chicago Cubs (66-58)
Jason Heyward, CF
Nic Castellanos, RF
Kris Bryant, 3B
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Javier Baez, SS
Kyle Schwarber, LF
Jonathan Lucroy, C
Tony Kemp, 2B
Cole Hamels, LHP (6-4, 3.69 ERA)

Mike Yastrzemski starring for Giants after getting big league chance

Mike Yastrzemski starring for Giants after getting big league chance

SAN FRANCISCO -- A prominent member of the Giants organization watched Mike Yastrzemski take batting practice one day last week and shook his head. His eyes grew wide and he held up one finger. 

"The Orioles couldn't give him one at-bat? Just one at-bat?" he exclaimed. 

It's a good question, one they should be asking regularly in the front office at Camden Yards. It's one Yastrzemski struggled with for years as he toiled away in the upper minors for an organization with little talent at the big league level.

"That's a question I asked myself a lot and it drove me crazy for a little while," Yastrzemski said. "I honestly, I don't know, and I let go of it. I stopped trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong. Now that I've had a chance here it's just a weight off my shoulders that I don't even have to have in the back of my head anymore. It doesn't matter anymore to me."

Six years after the Orioles took him in the 14th round out of Vanderbilt, Yastrzemski has traded Baltimore's orange and black for the San Francisco version. The results have helped keep the Giants in the postseason race and altered the future potential of their outfield. 

At 28, Yastrzemski has broken through. After never hitting more than 15 homers in the minors for the Orioles, he has 16 since getting promoted to the big leagues May 25. If Yastrzemski had enough at-bats to qualify for NL leaderboards, his .874 OPS would rank him 17th, just ahead of Bryce Harper and Javier Baez, among others. 

Yastrzemski seemed to be a nice find in the first half, a player who handled all facets of the game well and could maybe be a bench outfielder moving forward. But he has turned into a star since the All-Star break and the days shortly after when the Giants briefly considered a demotion to Triple-A. Yastrzemski has 11 homers since the break and is slugging .662, ranking second among rookies in both stats. His 1.5 Wins Above Replacement over the last five weeks rank him third in a loaded rookie class. 

Yastrzemski is older than the rest in the class because it took so long to get his shot. He has nearly 3,000 plate appearances in the minors but reached Double-A in 2014 and Triple-A in 2016. Yastrzemski bounced back and forth between the two levels for several years. There were times when the stats certainly seemed to merit a big league look for the struggling Orioles, (who picked first in this year's draft).

Yastrzemski had a .832 OPS and 15 homers across two levels in 2017. Last year he had a .801 OPS and nine homers in 94 Triple-A games, but the call never came. The Giants did, however, come calling in the offseason, as Yastrzemski spent time working on swing changes with former Vanderbilt teammates. 

Ask people within the organization how they found Yastrzemski and they'll point right at Farhan Zaidi. He targeted the outfielder as soon as he took the job in November, and the Giants finally traded right-hander Tyler Herb to Baltimore on March 23, getting a deal done. 

Herb has a 6.43 ERA in the minors this season. Yastrzemski currently is Bruce Bochy's leadoff hitter and is under team control for six seasons. 

[RELATED: Giants top prospect Bart to play in Arizona Fall League]

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, the outfielder talked about the changes that helped get him here and the opportunity the Giants have given him. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

The Giants have struck gold, as Zaidi did in Los Angeles with guys like Chris Taylor and Max Muncy. All it took was someone finally giving Yastrzemski a chance.