Giants

How Gabe Kapler plans to accentuate strengths of Giants' veteran lineup

How Gabe Kapler plans to accentuate strengths of Giants' veteran lineup

SAN FRANCISCO — The game of baseball has changed, but if you sit with most big leaguers, particularly those who have been around a few years, you’ll hear them talk of how important traditional statistics still are. 

Hitters often point to runs and RBI, not OPS+ or WAR, and pitchers still prefer ERA and, yes, wins, to xFIP or spin rates. During the final week of the season, Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar summed it up while discussing a low on-base percentage that may impact the decision to bring him back.

“(For) as long as this game has been played, scoring runs and driving in runs is an important statistic,” Pillar said. “Last time I checked, that's how you win games, if you score more runs than the other team."

Pillar likely will play for Gabe Kapler next year, and while Kapler’s introduction largely consisted of discussing off-field issues, he did give several examples of things he has learned as a manager and executive. Kapler didn’t mention many current Giants, but at one point, asked about the ballpark, he brought up Brandon Belt, which was interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, Belt is as likely as any longtime Giant to be traded before Kapler fills out his first lineup card. He has a limited no-trade clause, but it’ll be much more difficult for the new-look front office to deal other veterans if they truly want to shake it up. Belt still has plenty of fans in opposing front offices despite declining power numbers.

The second aspect was that Kapler was demonstrating how the new front office and staff might approach their evaluations of current Giants. 

"I've thought a lot about Brandon Belt and specifically what he brings -- how impressive it is to watch him take an at-bat, independent of the outcome of the at-bat. He tends to look over pitches and make really good swing-or-don't-swing decisions," Kapler said. "I know the power has dropped off a little bit but taking the things that he does very, very well and highlighting some of those things might lead to some more of that power production."

Kapler hit on what has always made Belt a polarizing player. His plate appearances are as controlled as anyone’s, and over the course of a game or series or season, there’s a lot of value in that. Every time Belt shakes his head at a pitch that was half an inch out of the zone, he’s adding to a starter’s workload and increasing his own odds of getting on base. 

Even in a disappointing season, Belt's .339 on-base percentage was the highest of any Giants regular. He ranked 15th in the National League by seeing 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, something Zaidi and Kapler's old clubs excel at. The Dodgers and Phillies ranked third and fourth in the NL, respectively, seeing 4.00 pitches per plate appearance. The Giants were ninth at 3.89. In 2018, Kapler's first year, the Phillies finished behind only the league-leading Dodgers, while the Giants ranked ninth in the league. 

[RELATED: Watch Kapler laugh at Belt for trying to bunt]

The ability to have consistently good plate appearances is something that was a focus throughout the organization in Zaidi's first year, and Kapler sure seems to be a fan. If the new staff can get some more power out of Belt, great, but if not, they still plan to focus on his strengths as a hitter. 

Kapler said that will be an emphasis with all of his players and the minor leaguers who come up. The Giants still lack in overall talent, but they believe there are ways to squeeze more juice out of this roster, regardless of what the ballpark's dimensions might do to hitters. 

"It's about instilling confidence in players for the things they do really well, and then reminding them how those positive steps forward can play in the environment that they play in specifically here in San Francisco," Kapler said.

MLB rumors: Cardinals 'entering the fray' to pursue Madison Bumgarner

MLB rumors: Cardinals 'entering the fray' to pursue Madison Bumgarner

With the Winter Meetings rapidly approaching, MLB free agency is heating up.

One of the top available pitchers -- Madison Bumgarner -- is expected to be in high demand, particularly now that Cole Hamels has signed with the Braves and Zack Wheeler reportedly has agreed to a five-year contract with the Phillies. For teams who scoff at Gerrit Cole's price tag, Bumgarner might be the logical compromise.

The Giants have been "in communication" with Bumgarner, but rumor has it another interested team has entered the mix.

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported Thursday that the St. Louis Cardinals have been linked to Bumgarner, citing a source.

St. Louis already has brought back veteran Adam Wainwright on a one-year deal, and after he, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson, there appears to be an opening for Bumgarner in the starting rotation. Signing with the Cardinals would not only allow Bumgarner to continue pitching in the National League, but would also allow him to continue taking his own at-bats, which we know he loves so much. He also has been linked to teams such as the Twins and White Sox, but would forfeit his at-bats to a DH in each of those situations.

[RELATED: How Wheeler's reported $118M contract could affect MadBum]

While Bumgarner is expected to receive a contract in excess of $100 million, Feinsand suggests Wheeler's reported $118 million payday might serve to increase the total.

MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

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MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

Gerrit Cole is far and away the gem of the 2019 MLB free-agent class.

The former Pirates and Astros ace led the American League in both ERA and strikeouts last season and finished just behind teammate Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young Award race.

The team that historically always has had the deepest pockets in baseball -- the New York Yankees -- have made Cole a priority in free agency, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday, citing a source.

Cole is a Southern California native with familial ties to the Giants, a team that also features one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the MLB. San Francisco also has been mentioned as a destination for the ace, who reportedly desires a return to the West Coast.

But if the Yankees, who always have jumped to outbid every other team for talent in free agency, decide to back up the proverbial Brinks truck for the 29-year-old, the Giants might be swiftly eliminated from contention for Cole.

Reports indicate that Cole’s price tag will “shatter” the record set by David Price when he signed a $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2015.

[RELATED: Report: Giants targeted UGA's pitching coach for same role]

While San Francisco has plenty of money to spend this offseason, it likely won’t engage in a bidding war that could approach $300 million.

Even if longtime Giant and current free agent Madison Bumgarner elects to go elsewhere in free agency, it remains to be seen how much money San Francisco would be willing to shell out for an elite talent like Cole in the heart of his prime.