Giants

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

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AP

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."

After unexpected detour, Chris Shaw will finally get to play at Fenway Park

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USATSI

After unexpected detour, Chris Shaw will finally get to play at Fenway Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Major League Baseball released the 2019 schedule last August, Chris Shaw immediately circled September 17. Shaw grew up a few miles from Boston and lost count of how many times he sat in the cramped seats at Fenway Park while starring at Lexington High and Boston College.

Shaw took a big step toward accomplishing a lifelong dream when he was called up a few days after the schedule release, and he spent most of September getting regular time in the big leagues. With a new regime coming in and an increased focus on youth, Shaw's path to Fenway seemed relatively clear -- until a shocking phone call this spring. 

It was not a surprise that Shaw did not break camp with the Giants. But teammates were stunned and disappointed when he started the year back in Double-A for the first time since the early months of 2017. Six months from the series in Boston, Shaw found himself buried on the depth chart. 

"I had that thought many a time throughout the year," Shaw said. "It's not a thought you try and continue to have, but it is something that creeps in your mind, where you try and envision yourself being in Boston and not being with the team. That just would have crushed me."

That phone call from Farhan Zaidi could have crushed Shaw. Perhaps it would have for another player. It's unusual for a young player to hit 24 homers in Triple-A, earn a September promotion, and then find himself dropped two levels the next April, and the decision did not go unnoticed in the big league clubhouse. There was some confusion about Zaidi's methods early on, and Shaw's demotion was among the topics that veterans quietly grumbled about. 

Shaw did not allow any anger to show, though. His teammates in Richmond raved about the leadership he showed, and Giants executives took note of the behind-the-scenes work Shaw was doing with younger players as he tried to make his own swing adjustments. 

"A thing like that would have broken a lesser man, but Chris is the type of guy who sometimes you wonder if he's too good to be true with how he handles certain things," farm director Kyle Haines said. "He took it as a challenge. He went there on a mission to show that he wants to be not just in Triple-A, but in the big leagues. That's a great attitude to have. A lot of guys would have had some sour grapes, but Chris handled it as well as he possibly could."

When the Giants initially made the decision, they said Shaw needed to go back to Double-A because there wasn't enough playing time in a Triple-A outfield filled with imported lottery tickets. Zaidi told Shaw that Richmond would be a good place to get his bearings back, and insisted that the assignment was his fastest track back to the big leagues. 

"As difficult as it was to do at the beginning of the year, I made Richmond my big leagues," Shaw said. "Going into the year I envisioned it going a little differently, obviously, but the year I had, this might be my favorite season I've ever had. There were so many times where it was just like, am I going to be able to get up? Am I going to be a Giant? There were so many times where it would have been easy to throw in the towel and been like, this isn't your year. But I truly believed I was going to get back here and I let that be my motivation every day."

Shaw played 45 games in Double-A before heading back to Sacramento. He showed improved plate discipline at both stops, cutting his strikeout rate by nine percent from his previous stint in Triple-A while hitting 28 homers across two levels. 

The Giants called Shaw back up when rosters expanded September 1, and while he hasn't gotten much playing time, manager Bruce Bochy is well aware of what this trip means. He said he will try to get Shaw meaningful at-bats this week at Fenway, and Shaw was all smiles last week as he talked of the upcoming trip. 

"This is something I've wanted since I started playing baseball," he said. 

Those dreams blossomed in Lexington, a small town that's better known for being the location of the first shot fired in the Revolutionary War. Shaw joked that the entire city would show up at Fenway this week, and that might not be that far from the truth. On Wednesday, Lexington will celebrate "Chris Shaw Day," an honor that didn't seem possible at the end of the spring. 

[RELATED: MadBum in line to start Bochy's last game, as it should be]

The Giants always were going to spend this week in Boston, and Shaw was, too. His trip included an unexpected detour, but when the team faces the Red Sox this week, Shaw will be in the dugout, not watching from his couch. 

"Every single day I just wake up and it's just the best day of my life because I'm back in the big leagues," he said. "I'm just grateful to have this opportunity again. Last year in September, I don't know if I understood how fragile it is to be up here and how special it is. 

"You get down to Richmond and you think, 'Oh crap, I was in the big leagues last year.' So now that I'm here again, I'm not going to let any opportunity go by. I'm just really enjoying it."

How Giants' top five MLB prospects from preseason performed in 2019

How Giants' top five MLB prospects from preseason performed in 2019

While the Giants have tumbled down the standings in the final month of the season after making an earlier postseason push, the team's farm system experienced quite the 180 this season. 

The Sacramento River Cats won the Pacific Coast League and now play one final game Tuesday against the Columbus Clippers in the Triple-A National Championship. San Francisco's Triple-A team was one of the Giants' five affiliates to make the playoffs this year. In one season, the Giants went from one of the worst collections of minor leaguers in baseball to a middle-of-the-pack farm system with prospects on the rise. 

Through trades, call-ups and players rising and falling, the Giants' top prospects list has changed for the better. Trading for a player like Mauricio Dubon, who looks like an everyday solution up the middle for the long term, only helps. 

Prior to the season, and the Giants improving their farm system, here is how MLB.com ranked the team's top five prospects: Catcher Joey Bart, outfielder Heliot Ramos, shortstop Marco Luciano, pitcher Shaun Anderson and pitcher Logan Webb.

Let's look at how each performed this year and what it says about their future.

Joey Bart, Catcher

Bart entered the season with unreasonable expectations. He hit .298 with 13 homers for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Class A Short Season last year after the Giants selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. Fans really started clamoring for his MLB debut when he hit .350 for the big league club in spring training, and took home the Barney Nugent Award

Bart began the 2019 season with the San Jose Giants in Class A Advanced. He had two hits and two RBI in his team debut and really hit his stride in July when he batted .289 with six homers for the month. 

His time in San Jose came to an end in early August when the Giants promoted the catcher to Double-A Richmond. After a slow start, Bart caught fire to end the year. He was named the Eastern League Player of the Week to end the regular season when he hit .538 with a homer, four doubles, a triple and six RBI in his final seven games. 

[RELATED: Why Giants top prospects exceeded expectations]

Between San Jose and Richmond, Bart hit .278 with 16 homers and an .824 OPS this season. He will take the next big step this week when the Arizona Fall League begins Wednesday. There, he could learn another position for the first time, advancing his ETA to big leagues. 

Though it likely won't be at the beginning of the season, expect Bart to join the Giants at some point next year.

Heliot Ramos, Outfielder

Ramos, who just recently turned 20 years old, came into the season after a down year in Low A Augusta. He made the needed adjustments over the winter, however, and was the Giants' most impressive prospect this year. 

Built more like a running back than a center fielder, Ramos showed off his five-tool potential this year. The Giants' top pick in the 2017 draft hit .306 with 13 homers and an .885 OPS. He was promoted to Double-A the same day as Bart and hit .242 with three more homers for the Flying Squirrels. 

At the time of his call-up, Ramos was the youngest prospect ever to play for Richmond. He hit .290 with 16 homers, 24 doubles and an .850 OPS. There's no overstating just how special he was this season at such a young age. 

Ramos will be 20 all next season. The Giants want he and Bart to be on similar paths to the majors, but will they bring him up that young? 

When the Giants drafted Ramos, he said he wanted to play at Oracle Park in three years. It's quite the stretch, but don't doubt the young star.

Marco Luciano, Shortstop

For as much hype as Bart and Ramos garnered this year, Luciano might have earned even more. 

Luciano turned 18 less than a week ago. Like Ramos, he's extremely advanced for his age. Already standing 6-foot-2 and 178 pounds, Luciano hit .322 with 10 homers and a 1.055 OPS over 38 games in the Arizona Rookie League. He also added nine doubles, two triples and eight stolen bases. 

Before he even turned 18, Luciano played nine games with Salem-Keizer. His season was cut short due to an ankle injury, but it's not thought to be serious.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has raved about Luciano and the shortstop already is getting compared to a young Alfonso Soriano. Giants fans will need some patience with this one, but he looks to be worth the wait. 

Shaun Anderson, Pitcher 

All Anderson needed was eight starts with Sacramento this season to get called up to San Francisco. His future, however, still is a bit of a mystery.

Anderson, 24, was 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA for the River Cats over eight starts when he received his promotion. He has had his ups and downs with the Giants, especially as a starter. 

The young right-hander had a 5.33 ERA with six strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 starts with the Giants. He recently has pitched as a reliever, striking out 11 batters in 9 2/3 innings. Anderson is posting 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings out of the bullpen and his strikeouts-to-walk ratio has jumped to 2.8. 

There's no doubt Anderson will have a future on the mound in the majors. Whether he's starting games or relieving -- possibly as the Giants' closer -- is yet to be determined.

Logan Webb, Pitcher 

Webb came into the year as the Giants' fastest rising pitching prospect. He then had a 2.00 ERA with Richmond after the first month of the season, but was suspended 80 games for PEDs. 

The 22-year-old breezed through the minors upon his return and was called up to the Giants on Aug. 17. He's looked like a future ace at times, but also has had moments where he's seemed overmatched.

Webb has struggled with his command in the past and is dealing with the same issues in the bigs. He only has lasted at least five innings in two of his five starts so far. That doesn't mean he can't lead this staff one day, though. 

For now, the Giants can deal with Webb's shortcomings. He has the repertoire and tenacity to stay in the rotation for a long, long time.