How Giants can answer Giancarlo Stanton's biggest questions of concern


How Giants can answer Giancarlo Stanton's biggest questions of concern

SAN FRANCISCO — As a brutal 2017 comes to a close for the Giants, they just had one of their best days without ever taking the field.

Being granted a meeting with Giancarlo Stanton’s representatives on Thursday is a clear sign that the Giants can at least see the finish line for what would be a franchise-altering move. Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans, per sources, led the contingent to Los Angeles, and the Marlins wouldn’t let those two speak to Stanton’s agents at the Wasserman Media Group unless they were confident that the right package is in place. 

Now it’s up to Stanton, who has a full no-trade clause, to make up his mind. The Giants executives were greeted with questions about a future arrangement, and while it’s not known exactly what was discussed, some educated guesses can be taken. 

The Giants need to convince the reigning National League MVP that he should waive his no-trade clause and maybe spend his next 10 seasons in San Francisco. How can they do it? Here are some potential questions Stanton might have, and some ways the Giants might try to swing him over to their side. 

You lost 98 games last season. How can you contend? In September, Stanton told Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports that he didn’t want to rebuild anymore. “I’ve lost for seven years,” Stanton said. Heyman reported earlier Thursday that Stanton might have some concerns about the Giants’ roster. 

A couple of years ago, Sabean might have just pointed to the three rings on his fingers. But after a last-place season the Giants pushed a different blueprint in end-of-season meetings and press conferences. They had a clear message for fans: We can compete with a full season of Madison Bumgarner; health for Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt and Mark Melancon; a bounce back from Brandon Crawford; a few tweaks to the bullpen; and improvement defensively. 

A lot of things have to go right, and Stanton couldn’t be blamed for thinking this might just be a sinking ship. But if you’re trying to convince a player that you have a winning core, you could do worse than bringing up names like Posey, Bumgarner and Crawford. 

Is there a commitment to turning this around? This one is a no-brainer. To convince Giancarlo Stanton that you’re willing to do anything to get out of this hole, all you have to do is point out that you’re trying to spend nearly $300 million on Giancarlo Stanton. From an aggressiveness standpoint, the Giants can note that they’ve guaranteed more than $400 million in multi-year deals over the past 24 months to try and be competitive (they should not point out that much of this approach has backfired). At the very least, Stanton will never have to worry about a Marlins situation, where resources were never fully devoted to the roster. 

What about the ballpark and my numbers? Free agents hitters always avoid AT&T Park, but Stanton has a .676 slugging percentage there in 27 career games and regularly takes aim at the Coke bottle during batting practice. This shouldn’t be a sticking point.

What about the fact that I grew up in Dodger territory? It’s believed within the industry that Stanton’s first choice is to play in Los Angeles. He went to high school minutes from Dodger Stadium and the 818 area code is in his Twitter handle. But if the Dodgers aren’t interested — and they don’t seem to be — the Giants can point out that they provide a meaningful alternative. They play nine games a year in Los Angeles (triple what the Marlins do), nine more in nearby San Diego, and spend occasional off days in both towns. Stanton would return home as a rival, but he would still be spending an extra week or so in L.A. during the season, and the flight is a short one for family members and friends. 

What about my taxes? According to ESPN's Buster Olney, a move from Florida to California could cost Stanton $25 million over the next decade in state tax increases. There's no way to sugarcoat that one unless the Giants are willing to change the finances of his deal, which they really shouldn't given how massive it already is. If Stanton is willing to go to Los Angeles, there's no tax difference in ultimately accepting a deal to play in Northern California. 

How can you protect me in the lineup? This would surely be important to a player who might be wary of being the next Barry Bonds, a prolific slugger who lives life in the intentional walk lane. Stanton got 419 of his 597 at-bats in the No. 2 spot last season, with Dee Gordon in front of him and Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna right behind him. The Giants don’t have a Dee Gordon, or a Yelich-Ozuna combination, but they can offer Posey as lineup protection and that should be a strong selling point. If Stanton would rather become an RBI machine, he could hit behind Posey (.400 on-base percentage) and Belt (.355). It’s not what he had in Miami, but as long as Posey is on the field, Stanton should be confident that he won’t be on an island. 

Bumgarner's rehab includes use of new pitch tracking technology

Alex Pavlovic

Bumgarner's rehab includes use of new pitch tracking technology

SAN FRANCISCO — Madison Bumgarner’s bullpen session on Saturday looked normal in almost every respect. Manager Bruce Bochy, pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Matt Herges stood a few feet behind the pitcher, watching his mechanics and the movement of his pitches. Andrew Suarez, who would follow with his between-starts bullpen, sat on the grass as a spectator. Eli Whiteside caught Bumgarner, and special assistant Will Clark stood in the box to mimic a hitter. At Bumgarner’s feet was a bag of baseballs to help him get through his work. 

There was a new element, though, one that wasn’t present for Bumgarner’s rehab work last season but will likely be standard for the Giants moving forward. 

Behind Bumgarner’s left shoulder was a mounted camera shooting super slow motion images of his pitch grips, hand movement and release point. Behind the plate, the Giants set up a Rapsodo device to track everything from velocity and spin rate to horizontal and vertical break. Both devices had cords running directly to laptops held by members of the baseball operations staff. In real time, they were able to provide Bumgarner with any sort of data or image he might want. 

Some team officials were surprised that Bumgarner, known for an old-school approach to reading a hitter’s swing during an at-bat, would want the machines set up. But he did look at the results after his bullpen session. 

“I was trying it out. I was just curious about it, really,” Bumgarner said. “It tracks everything. Where the ball goes through the zone, release point, it gets your hand coming through in super slow motion. You can adjust if you need to. You’re not going to get a better look at (your pitches). It’s info to have, and that’s what I was curious about.”

Bumgarner didn’t need Rapsodo to know that he’s ready for a minor league rehab assignment Saturday in Sacramento. He could feel that his arm strength had returned but that his off-speed pitches needed work. Giants coaches are wary, too, about putting too much stock into the spin rate and velocity numbers for a rehab bullpen session, knowing that everything ticks up with the adrenaline of a game situation. 

But just as Bumgarner was curious, the team is, too. Trainer Dave Groeschner envisions a day in the near future when the data helps determine how a pitcher’s rehab is going. 

“In theory, down the road, you should know how the ball is spinning right away, and — especially with a guy like Bum, who is coming off a hand injury — you could see if he’s getting back to normal.” Groeschner said. “We haven’t used it to determine where he’s at because we haven’t had a baseline, but it’s nice to see the info.”

The baseline is key for practical use. The Giants acquired the technology in the offseason and started using it at their Arizona facility in January. During spring training, about 15 pitchers had their data logged while throwing off a mound on a back field at Scottsdale Stadium. That sets a baseline going forward and they can always check back and compare themselves to those healthy numbers, but because this is relatively new to the Giants, most of their established pitchers have not gone through that process. Bumgarner did not, and thus did not have baseline data to compare Saturday’s data to, but the staff still found the slow motion images of his hand placement and release point to be useful. 

Mark Melancon also used Rapsodo during some of his rehab bullpen sessions and the Giants expect it to be the norm going forward. It tracks eight pitch metrics and can show a 3D version of the ball’s path through the strike zone. It’s already used by other teams, including the Astros, Indians and Phillies, organizations known to be on the front lines of baseball’s data revolution. The Giants generally try to be quiet about their use of advanced metrics and emerging technology, but there was no way to hide a couple of cameras mounted around their franchise pitcher. 

“We’re just trying to use it with as many guys as we can,” Groeschner said. “I think eventually, when we get more baseline results, it’ll help us with guys returning from injury. There are a lot of things you can take out of the numbers.”

Giants make two crucial mistakes, get rocked by Astros

Giants make two crucial mistakes, get rocked by Astros

HOUSTON — On Saturday, acting on an idea from hitting coach Alonzo Powell, a former Astro, the Giants placed a call to the Warriors. By Monday, Warriors equipment manager Eric Housen had delivered 60 sets of warm-ups to Minute Maid Park so the Giants could represent the Bay Area on their flight to Chicago. 

It was an idea that had players excited as they tried on the gear for the first time. It was also an idea that seemed like a better one before the team actually took the field against the Astros. 

The Giants got smoked in a two-game series here, losing 4-1 on Wednesday and getting outscored 15-3 in 18 innings. For good measure, the hometown Rockets upset the Warriors a few minutes after Tuesday night’s blowout loss to Gerrit Cole. Justin Verlander was just as tough, allowing one run in six innings, which actually raised his ERA a bit, to 1.08.

“It’s such a good staff over here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You’ve got your hands full. We saw two really good ones. You know you’ve got your hands full to try to get some runs. I thought last night we had some chances, but not so much today.”

The Giants grabbed an early lead when Gorkys Hernandez lined a triple and scored on Buster Posey’s sacrifice fly. But you have to play perfect baseball to come in here and beat the Astros, and they made two huge mistakes. 

First, Andrew McCutchen overran a pop-up to right field. Carlos Correa scored all the way from first on the two-out error. 

“I missed it. No excuses,” McCutchen said. “The ball got hit in the air and I missed it. Plain and simple.”

The bigger mistake came an inning later, after Samardzija had issued one of his five walks. He tried to throw a 1-2 slider to George Springer and ended up leaving a flat 89 mph meatball in the exact heart of the strike zone. Springer crushed it for a two-run shot. Ballgame. 

“It was just a pitch that stayed middle,” Samardzija said. “If you get it going more to the outer half of the plate you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting an out.”

A year ago, Samardzija might have dotted that outer half. But his command has taken a huge step back. He has 25 strikeouts to 23 walks after issuing just 32 free passes all of last season. 

“When you don’t have your best stuff, you don’t ever want to be missing in the middle of the plate,” Samardzija said of the lack of command. 

The shame of all this is that the Giants could have stolen a huge win on Wednesday. Hernandez had a solid day — nine-pitch leadoff out, triple, single — and looks poised to be the everyday center fielder when the Giants remember they employ Mac Williamson. The bullpen had a solid day. Bochy had Will Smith, Sam Dyson, Tony Watson and Hunter Strickland lined up to try and shorten the game and possibly get extended. Smith and Dyson did get in, and had an easy time of it. 

But all too often, the starters have come up short. Before Bochy could turn to the trusted arms in the ‘pen, Samardzija had done too much damage. He was out by the fifth, and the Astros cruised home from there.