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."

Clayton Kershaw listed as Austin Slater's son in Wikipedia page edit

Clayton Kershaw listed as Austin Slater's son in Wikipedia page edit

Austin Slater entered Saturday's game against the Dodgers with two singles in nine career at-bats against Clayton Kershaw,.

Everything changed for the Giants right fielder in the Giants' 5-4 win over their archrival.

Slater homered off Kershaw in the third inning, and then he did it again in the fifth inning, becoming the first Giants player with two homers off the Dodgers ace in the same game.

After the game, an intrepid (presumably) Giants fan went to Slater's Wikipedia page and made a change.

Yes, you interpreted that correctly. Slater is Kershaw's daddy. The edit lasted a few hours before "Son: Clayton Kershaw" was removed.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Regardless of what his Wiki page says, it's a night Slater will never forget. Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher of the current generation, so to take him deep twice in a game has to be a career highlight for the 27-year-old.

Following Saturday's game, Slater now is hitting .310/.394/.586 with two homers and three RBI in 29 at-bats over 10 games.

[RELATED: Pence feels awful for spoiling Cueto's no-hit bid]

Slater's performance against Kershaw and the Dodgers makes the case that he should play more consistently. But that up to first-year Giants manager Gabe Kapler.

Our recommendation? Put Kershaw's daddy in the lineup as much as possible.

Giants' Hunter Pence feels awful for spoiling Johnny Cueto's no-hit bid

Giants' Hunter Pence feels awful for spoiling Johnny Cueto's no-hit bid

Hunter Pence said he was mad and that he felt terrible. The disappointment was still clear in his eyes as the Giants left fielder sat down for a Zoom call with reporters, and a few minutes in, he said a misplay in left field had made him feel sick to his stomach. 

This, it should be noted, all came after the Giants won 5-4 at Dodger Stadium. But this was one of the stranger wins in recent memory. 

There was so much to celebrate. Austin Slater homered off Clayton Kershaw twice, Mike Yastrzemski did once, Johnny Cueto pitched well, and the bullpen was brilliant in locking up a two-hitter, just the ninth for the Giants at Dodger Stadium since the teams moved west. 

But the Giants shouldn't have had to hold on in the first place. Manager Gabe Kapler let Cueto face Justin Turner with two on and a blister hobbling him on the mound. Turner hit a three-run homer, and this all came a few minutes after Pence completely lost a fly ball to left, costing Cueto and the bullpen a shot at a no-hitter and starting the four-run rally. The ball dropped far behind his outstretched arms as Kiké Hernandez cruised into third for the first hit of the night to lead off the sixth. 

"Johnny had the magic going, the rhythm going, had everything working, it was a special night that doesn't always come around and you could just feel it," Pence said. "To spoil that feels awful ... he deserves better."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Cueto still got the win, and the Giants did, too. Some saves are worth more than others, and when Trevor Gott made it through the ninth for the second victory of this tough trip, he saved a teammate and the coaching staff from some serious pain. 

Pence was still feeling it afterward. Kapler was able to shake it off, because he pushed all the right buttons with his lineup against Kershaw -- the Giants hit three homers off him for the first time in 50 tries -- and because of his management of the bullpen. 

It was only that sixth inning that was precarious, but the trouble really started at the end of the fifth. Cueto has a blister on his right big toe and he hobbled off the field after the final out of the fifth. With one on in the sixth, he got Mookie Betts to pop up and limped off the mound as he tried to cover his position. 

Kapler and trainer Dave Groeschner came out to check on Cueto, who threw some warm-up pitches and said he was good to go. But he walked Cody Bellinger, missing badly on ball four, and then hung a curveball to Justin Turner that was smashed into the seats for a three-run shot. 

"I thought Johnny was the right guy," Kapler said, noting that the injury was not one that could lead to long-term issues. "He certainly let us know that he wanted that opportunity. He had earned it. He was the right man for the job."

There's context here, and it's why the decision was so interesting. The Giants have been extremely cautious with their starting pitchers through two weeks, and Cueto himself complained publicly after getting a quick hook at Dodger Stadium 16 days ago. But Kapler was always planning to ramp his starters up to a more normal workload, and on this night he felt that Turner was Cueto's batter. 

It backfired, but the Giants held on, with Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers and Gott picking up where Cueto left off. They had a lead in large part thanks to Slater, the first Giant to homer off Kershaw twice in one game. 

Those early blasts partially obscured what Cueto was doing, but Pence certainly was paying attention. He has been a part of no-hitters before and made a play that once saved one for Tim Lincecum, which is why he felt so awful as he stood there in the sixth and thought about his mistake. 

[RELATED: Luciano will be No. 1 prospect in 2022, analyst predicts]

This was a win, but Cueto could have taken a shot at more. 

"That's part of the game," Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "My teammate just lost a baseball and those things happen. It's part of the game."