How 'nimble' Giants moved quickly after losing Greinke


How 'nimble' Giants moved quickly after losing Greinke

SAN FRANCISCO — After a four-hour meeting at AT&T Park last month, the Giants offered to call for a car that would escort Zack Greinke back to his San Francisco hotel. The man who would become the most expensive player in MLB history politely declined, saying he wanted to walk through a city that just a month earlier had considered him a rival. 

Giants officials watched Greinke head downtown, unassuming and unrecognized. In their minds, a thought started to form, one that solidified over the coming weeks. It was a possibility that could shake up the National League and forever change a rivalry: Zack Greinke was going to be a Giant.

Members of the front office were confident after a mid-November meeting in which Greinke blew the Giants away, per sources familiar with the conversation, asking about prospects who were unknown even to some people in the meeting. They were confident over the coming weeks as word leaked that the Giants and Dodgers were the two finalists. They were confident up until the afternoon of Dec. 4, when Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Arizona Diamondbacks had jumped into the mix.

The Diamondbacks, per Rosenthal, made their decision to pursue Greinke and then agreed to terms on a six-year, $206.5 million deal in less than six hours. The move was a shock to the industry, and it altered the rotation plans of two teams trying to end the Dodgers’ reign atop the division.

[PAVLOVIC: Cueto, healthy and relaxed, gives Giants another workhorse]

When Greinke was introduced to the Phoenix media he said that he was “minutes away from going to a different team … it was that close.” It was assumed that Greinke meant the Dodgers, but industry sources have told CSN Bay Area that the Giants are believed to be the “different team,” that Greinke was prepared to choose orange and black when the Diamondbacks swooped in at the last minute.

The surprising Greinke decision was the story of Major League Baseball's offseason, but the story of the Giants’ offseason is a different one. They were not going to come close to the record-setting deal the Diamondbacks offered, but they didn’t let that disappointment linger. Giants officials will remember this month not as the one when Greinke got away, but as the one when Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and the rest of the front office reshaped the organization’s future in a matter of hours.

“Sometimes you have to be nimble,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. “We weren’t crying in our beer. We were moving.”

The Giants moved quickly. Hours after the Greinke decision, Jeff Samardzija agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal. Samardzija, per sources, had indicated all along that he was so intent on being a Giant he was willing to wait until after Greinke made a decision. That patience was rewarded.

“Obviously, you have to play it cool, right?” Samardzija said at his introductory press conference. “It’s kind of like being in high school and trying to find a homecoming date. You just don’t want to be left out there in the cold. I was like, ‘I might go to San Fran. I might think about it.’ 

“But, really, in the back of my head, that’s where I wanted to be.”

The Giants had their potential No. 2 starter, but they weren't done. Bryce Dixon, Johnny Cueto’s agent, was the next to get a call. The Giants met with him face-to-face at the winter meetings, four days after losing out on Greinke.

“I give a lot of credit to Bobby and the group,” Baer said. “We immediately (signed) Samardzija and immediately called Cueto.”

In a way, the Diamondbacks had shaped the Giants’ offseason a second time. Cueto was thought to be Arizona’s top target but he reportedly turned down a $120 million offer. Dixon said the Diamondbacks gave his client 48 hours to make a decision.

“We negotiated quickly and then they gave me an ultimatum, and I was still talking to a bunch of teams at the time, and I just didn’t feel like it was the time to pull the trigger on a deal that early when there was so much interest,” Dixon said Thursday.

For months the Giants had talked internally of adding a strong presence behind Madison Bumgarner. They figured Greinke could be the choice, with a mid-tier outfielder rounding out their offseason. When Cueto was still around in early December — at a reasonable price for a pitcher of his caliber — the Giants went all-in on pitching. With a young, cost-controlled infield and a set lineup and bullpen, ownership approved a $220 million spending spree that seemed more fitting for a team like the Yankees or Dodgers. 

“They were extremely supportive,” Baer said. “We’ve been in a situation now here for a lot of years where I can’t think of one time where any owner has said ‘it doesn’t work’ or ‘stop it.’ Everyone wants to win. It’s our job to come up with rational proposals and we spent a lot of time figuring out what’s best in the organization in a rational way. Two arms, spending ($220 million) on the two arms, plus obviously (the Brandon Crawford extension), it’s hard to argue with.

“Everybody (in ownership) was extremely supportive. They want to win, they want to win and get back to the World Series.”

The offseason spending means the Giants will pay the competitive balance tax for the second time after never approaching that mark before 2015. Contracts for starting pitchers — from these two to Matt Cain’s nine-figure deal — have gone a long way in putting the Giants into the tax, but Baer said the sport has come to grips with the fact that spending on starting pitching “is just the world we live in.” Starting pitchers have received more than $900 million in guaranteed contracts this offseason, with several big names still on the market.

The Giants are no strangers to big deals for pitchers, and the Cain and Barry Zito deals didn’t work out as hoped. That clearly didn’t spook ownership. A year after chasing Jon Lester and James Shields, the Giants nearly had Greinke before signing Samardzija and Cueto.

“We are beyond thrilled,” Baer said. “To a person, we asked what single move can we make to improve our chances to get to the World Series and win the World Series. And the one word was 'Cueto.’”

There’s an alternate baseball world where Greinke is a Giant, and it’s hard to tell which situation is better for the Giants going forward. Greinke’s talent is undeniable, but for a similar price the Giants nabbed a pitcher they believe can be just as good (Cueto) and one (Samardzija) they believe can stand right with the Bumgarners and Cuetos of the world.

“In our eyes, there were many different ways to put this roster together. There was never one way we envisioned it,” Evans said this week. “We looked at it in different respects. Anytime you’re mentioning (Greinke, Samardzija and Cueto), in any combination, you know you’re making your team better and stronger. 

“There were some excellent options out there, and we tried to take advantage of it.”

Giants vs. Dodgers lineups: Shaun Anderson opposes Clayton Kershaw

Giants vs. Dodgers lineups: Shaun Anderson opposes Clayton Kershaw

On Monday, Tyler Beede got a win in his first-ever start against the Dodgers. On Tuesday, Giants rookie right-hander Shaun Anderson will attempt to do the same.

Anderson (2-1, 3.97 ERA) enters Tuesday's start at Dodger Stadium on a roll. He's coming off three consecutive outings in which he went at least six innings and gave up no more than three runs, and he's picked up two victories over that span.

Anderson will face a significant challenge in his first-ever start at Chavez Ravine, not just in the formidable Dodgers' lineup, but in Giants' nemesis Clayton Kershaw. While Kershaw (6-1, 3.13 ERA) took his first loss of the season on June 7 against the Giants, he's dominated San Francisco throughout his career, and enters Tuesday's start with a 22-11 record against the Giants with a 1.72 ERA over 330 1/3 innings.

[RELATED: Beede relieved to get first big league win against Dodgers]

First pitch for Dodgers vs. Giants is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. PT with pregame coverage beginning at 6 p.m. You can follow all the action on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming online and on the MyTeams app.

San Francisco Giants(31-39)
Donovan Solano, 2B
Brandon Belt, LF
Tyler Austin, 1B
Buster Posey, C
Evan Longoria, 3B
Kevin Pillar, RF
Brandon Crawford, SS
Steven Duggar, CF
Shaun Anderson, RHP (2-1, 3.97 ERA)

Los Angeles Dodgers (48-25)
Joc Pederson. LF
Alex Verdugo, CF
Justin Turner, 3B
Cody Bellinger, RF
Max Muncy, 2B
Matt Beaty, 1B
Chris Taylor, SS
Austin Barnes, C
Clayton Kershaw, LHP (6-1, 3.13 ERA)

What can Giants get in Madison Bumgarner trade? Tim Kurkjian answers

What can Giants get in Madison Bumgarner trade? Tim Kurkjian answers

Every Madison Bumgarner start can be his last as a Giant. 

The July 31 MLB trade deadline is over a month away, but Bumgarner could be gone before we know it. Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is sure to be taking and making calls regarding his team's ace. Those calls should start with the New York Yankees, ESPN MLB analyst Tim Kurkjian says. 

"The Yankees have to be at the top of that list," Kurkjian said Tuesday on KNBR. "Their lineup is ridiculously productive when it comes to hitting the ball out of the ballpark. But I still think they're one really good starting pitcher short of going into October as the team to beat. ... The question is, how much are they willing to give up?"

One Yankee the Giants should covet could be more available than ever. Clint Frazier, 24, was demoted to Triple-A on Sunday to make room for veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion, despite Frazier proving he clearly belongs in a major league lineup. Through 53 games this year, Frazier is batting .283 with 11 home runs and a .513 slugging percentage. 

Frazier is the exact kind of player the Giants should be pursuing. He struggles on defense and has received ample criticism this year for his play in the outfield, but he's a young, right-handed power bat that can actually hit the ball over the wall at Oracle Park. Frazier would also be under team control through 2024.

It won't be that easy to acquire him, however.

"I had an executive tell me the other day, 'There's no way the Yankees would trade Frazier even straight up for Bumgarner.' I think the Giants would need Frazier and at least another top prospect before they're gonna move Bumgarner, even in a rental situation," Kurkjian said. 

The Yankees still value Frazier even though there might not be room for him on a star-studded roster. On the other hand, the Giants want to make sure they get the best return possible for a team legend despite the fact he'll be a free agent at the end of the season. 

"How many teams are going to be willing to give up a tremendous amount for a two-month rental who's not the best he's ever been?" Kurkjian said. 

Bumgarner is 3-6 with a 3.87 ERA this season. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. His ERA has lowered every month so far. In March/April he posted a 4.30 ERA in six starts; in May he had a 3.72 ERA in six more starts and he has a 3.32 ERA through three starts in June.

The big left-hander has seen his fastball velocity rise as well. Bumgarner's average fastball velocity of 92.2 mph also is his highest since 2015, according to Brooks Baseball.

Oh, and there's that whole playoffs thing, too. 

[RELATED: History shows teams shouldn't wait to trade for MadBum]

The Yankees need Bumgarner to win another ring. The Giants need Frazier for the ball to go over the wall.

Let's make a deal.