Giants

Matt Cain's Willie McCovey connection left impression for a lifetime

Matt Cain's Willie McCovey connection left impression for a lifetime

Matt Cain is the epitome of a Forever Giant. He spent his entire 13-year career wearing the orange and black -- quite a feat in today’s game. He earned countless accolades while being at the center of magnificent moments time and time again during his Giants tenure.

Matt’s consistency in performance and personality always made him seem wise beyond his years. And his stoic yet professional demeanor always resembled players of a former era.

Players like Willie McCovey.

Since Matt is a former Willie Mac Award winner, I thought he’d be the perfect person to share what another Forever Giant meant to him personally and to his teammates. It helps that Matt now lives in the same town as I do, and so over a cup of coffee, he recently told me how the Hall of Famer known as Stretch -- who died last week at age 80 -- impacted him as a player and a man.

Matt was drafted by the Giants out of high school in 2002, and as a young kid, he was plucked out of his parents’ home. He found a little piece of comfort when he realized he and McCovey both hailed from Alabama.

“It was brought up,” Matt said. “He was from southern, southern Alabama (in Mobile). I was born in Dothan and grew up in Birmingham.

“We would exchange stories and try to figure out where everything was, but I was still very young (when I lived in Alabama), and my geography wasn’t great. But we would try to put all the pieces together. It came up every once in awhile.”

I was curious about Matt’s initial thoughts when he first met Willie McCovey. What kind of presence did this great Giant have, and what kind of impression did he make?

“You’re in awe at first because you’ve learned what he did over his career,” Matt said. “And then that fades, and you realize he’s just a genuine person who cared about his teammates and the teammates that followed him. He took care of those guys.

“He was really the picture perfect Forever Giant. He’s what really all of us have lived up to. You saw what he did for the team as an ambassador throughout the years, even when he was done playing. His numbers and everything explain him on the field, but it’s more of getting to know him on a different level being in the clubhouse, having some personal time with him, seeing him as a true human.”

[RELATED: Amy G remembers McCovey as a treasure of a person]

Being so young when he was drafted, Matt didn’t have a lot of time to expand his knowledge of former pro players before he actually became one. His day consisted of playing baseball, not studying the history of it. But when he got the call from the Giants, his curiosity about who else had been with this organization was piqued, and he sought out well-known individuals to fill in any blanks about just how storied this franchise and its Hall of Famers were.

“This was back when we had the flip phones and we weren’t as in tune with what was going on Internet-wise,” Matt said. “A lot of it was word of mouth, talking with Will Clark and Rags (Dave Righetti), and hearing Felipe (Alou) and all these guys just talk about what these Hall of Famers did and what Willie brought to the team.

“It was word of mouth, which was so much fun, like talking with (Jim) Davenport -- that was fun for me, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about people through stories because they always get skewed a little bit -- a little better, a little worse -- but it’s always fun to be able to hear stories about guys and talk about them, and I really enjoyed learning about all the Hall of Famers, but especially Willie McCovey.”

The access to Giants Hall of Famers always has been impressive. Rookies learn to relish it, while veterans who come to San Francisco via trades or other acquisitions often find themselves stammering over the Hall of Famers’ presence. It’s something that sets the Giants organization apart, and Cain always greatly appreciated it in his playing days.

“McCovey would always come in, and he was always willing to ask questions. He was one of the guys,” he said. “You would talk with him, and it wasn’t so much ‘what I did’ and what was going on ‘back in the day’ that we can tend to hear about, and I’ll end up doing it too, but he would talk to you about what guys are thinking or what’s going on with the team. He was always trying to keep up to date with the game.

“He did a great job of relating to everybody and not just making it a sideshow of himself. That’s what everybody loved about Willie.”

McCovey was known for attending every Giants home game, unless an ailment kept him away. This was noticed and respected. When Willie spoke, Matt listened.

“For a guy to actually see what was going on day in and day out. Heck, he might have been there more than we were!” Matt said. “He was always there. He knew what was going on. It wasn’t take in a game or two, and all of a sudden dissect the whole team – ‘That’s what’s wrong with the team,’ or, ‘That’s what’s great about the team.’ He understood what was going on for the whole 162 games.

“There was something about his voice, something about the way he spoke and articulated to everyone. He earned that, and he gathered that, and he had one of those voices that when he spoke, everyone listened and really soaked it up.”

[RELATED: Kruk and Kuip appreciate the "gentle Giant"]

Matt and I talked about the numerous times McCovey made himself available to the media. McCovey set an example to the players who came after him.

“That’s so impressive about him. If he said no, it wasn’t very often,” Matt said. “… It takes a lot of energy to say yes when you have a lot of people pulling at you, and I can’t even imagine what he had, being the status that he was, so for him to say yes and a handful of times say no, that’s draining, and that says a lot about his personality.”

Cain and McCovey forever will be connected, not just as Giants but in name. Matt was the 2009 Willie Mac Award recipient, and he confirmed my assumptions that this honor means more to Giants players than all the other hardware they play for in the season.

“Personally, it was something that is up there with any of the rings that we have or any All-Star Game or any highlight that I’ve ever had,” he said. “To know your teammates and your coaches and everybody respected you and what you did for them and the way you carried yourself as an athlete and a professional, that was something that meant a lot to me and something I’ll always take away.

“It was mentioned to me as a young guy. Dave Roberts said, there are a lot of things that you can be given in this game. One of the biggest, when you’re done and walk away, is to have the respect of everybody in the clubhouse. To be honored that way with the award solidifies that. It’s something that can’t be taken away from you. You can’t quit on it, you need to keep carrying it, but it means you were doing things the right way.”

And then we joked that we kind of rooted for Dave Roberts and ONLY Dave during the Dodgers-Red Sox World Series.

Lastly, I wanted to know, beyond a tangible connection to McCovey having won the award, what stays with Matt about Willie, whose life will be celebrated Thursday at AT&T Park.

“His presence. The way he carried himself. The way he took over a room when he spoke. I’ve always been impressed with people who could walk into a room and chat with anyone and hold court and get people to listen because what they said, it was meaningful and it was coming from a good place.”

Marlins acquiring Julian Fernandez frees up Giants roster spot

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USATSI

Marlins acquiring Julian Fernandez frees up Giants roster spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- Julian Fernandez didn't want to succumb to Tommy John surgery this spring, but a couple of veteran teammates pulled him aside and helped him come to grips with the fact that it was the only way forward with his career. If that career is to include time in the big leagues, it won't be with the Giants. 

Fernandez was claimed off waivers by the Miami Marlins, clearing a 40-man roster spot for the Giants, who need to add players Tuesday to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. That draft is where the Giants found Fernandez, who regularly throws triple-digits but remains extremely raw and has not pitched above A-ball. The Giants took Fernandez out of the Rockies' system at the Winter Meetings last December and he nearly made their Opening Day roster out of necessity; they would have had to put him on the roster to keep him. 

Instead, after a shaky spring, Fernandez needed elbow reconstructive surgery. He missed the entire season, but the Giants thought enough of his arm to keep him on the 60-day DL. It was a bonanza for Fernandez, who earned a big league salary and got a year's worth of service time as he rehabbed. 
 

If the Mariners are selling, both the A's and Giants should be calling

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USATSI

If the Mariners are selling, both the A's and Giants should be calling

The MLB hot stove is alive and well, now that we’ve had some significant action. The Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees made waves on Monday for a deal that will put ace James Paxton in pinstripes for the 2019 season.

[RELATED: A's and Giants poised to feel ripple effects of James Paxton trade]

As it turns out, that stove may just be warming up, particularly as it relates to Seattle. There are reports abound that the Mariners are entering a full-on rebuild, with their focus now on competing during the 2021 season.

Prior to sending Paxton to New York, Seattle traded catcher Mike Zunino to the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s two big pieces of their 2018 roster now elsewhere, and if the Mariners follow through with this rebuilding plan, there may be more moves coming soon.

Rumors coming out of the GM Meetings insisted that even in the event of a rebuild, Seattle would prefer to hang onto their young, valuable contributors like closer Edwin Diaz, outfielder Mitch Haniger and starting pitcher Marco Gonzales. That message was reiterated by Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto following the trade of Paxton on Monday:

However, if the Mariners are dead set on a full-blown sell-off, some uncomfortable moves may need to be made. So, would any of Diaz, Haniger or Gonzales make sense for the Giants or A's? Let's go one at a time.

EDWIN DIAZ

With 57 saves in 2018, Diaz saved at least 14 more games than any other pitcher in baseball last season, posting a 1.96 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 73.1 innings.

How he fits with the A's: Blake Treinein ranked third in the AL in 2018 with 38 saves, sporting a 0.78 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 80.1 innings. His job is safe. Diaz to the A's isn't happening.

[RELATED: Treinen misses out on AL Reliever of the Year to Diaz]

How he fits with the Giants: San Francisco blew 30 saves last season, more than any other MLB team. Mark Melancon is still owed $38 million over the next two seasons. Diaz comes significantly cheaper and is one of the best bang-for-your-buck closers in the game, but it's unlikely the Giants would be able to offer the kind of prospects in return needed to get a deal done.

MITCH HANIGER

Haniger broke out in a big way for the Mariners last season, batting .285 and accounting for 26 home runs and 93 RBIs. The 27-year-old right fielder is a Bay Area native, having graduated from San Jose's Archbishop Mitty High School. Could a return home be in store?

How he fits with the A's: They're not taking Khris Davis' bat out of the lineup. Stephen Piscotty is under contract for the next five seasons. Ramon Laureano burst on the scene in August. Still, Haniger made only $560,200 last season, and his .366 OBP ranked 10th in the AL. Factoring in his age, position and skillset, he'd fit right in with Oakland, and they might have the combination of prospects and cheap veterans that Seattle would find acceptable in return. That said, here's assuming the Mariners would rather not trade Haniger within the division.

How he fits with the Giants: Come on down!

Seriously. The Giants desperately need an infusion of youth and power into their outfield, and with Hunter Pence now departed, right field is wide open for the taking. He hits for power, average and to all fields. So, yes, Haniger would make a ton of sense for the Giants. The question, again, is whether or not they possess the assets to make a deal.

MARCO GONZALES

Gonzales went 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 166.2 innings for the Mariners last season. He was 12-5 with a 3.37 ERA through the end of July, but the 26-year-old lefty withered down the stretch, losing four of his final five decisions.

How he fits with the A’s: Oakland had only three players pitch at least 100 innings for them last year. Sean Manaea led the way with 160.2, and he’s expected to miss all of the 2019 season after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder in September. Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk, Daniel Gossett and Kendall Graveman are all coming off Tommy John surgery. Jesus Luzardo had a tremendous season in the minors, but may need more seasoning. Mark Fiers, Frankie Montas, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn and Aaron Brooks remain under contract, but that’s the extent of the A’s starting pitching options currently on the roster.

That’s a lot of quantity, but how much quality remains to be seen. Gonzales is due to make $900,000 in 2019 and $1 million in 2020, with three more years of team control beyond that. Financially, it would certainly be feasible, but it’s possible the additional cost (in terms of assets going the other way) may be prohibitive to the A’s. It’s also worth mentioning Gonzales underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016.

How he fits with the Giants: Johnny Cueto (33) is due to make $21 million each of the next three seasons. Jeff Samardzija (34) will make $19.8 million in each of the next two. Madison Bumgarner is entering the final year of his contract, and if the Giants do end up re-signing him, it certainly won’t be for cheap.

Suffice to say, San Francisco could really use an affordable, dependable lefty in their starting rotation. Dereck Rodriguez came out of nowhere to be the bright spot of an otherwise forgettable season in 2018 and figures to be a staple in the rotation moving forward, but he needs help. Gonzales would check a lot of boxes for San Francisco, but again, they might not have what the Mariners would be looking for in exchange.

Of course, the A’s and Giants wouldn’t be limited to those three players in a potential trade with the Mariners. Seattle won 89 games in 2018, so it’s not as if their cupboards are bare. Perhaps a player like shortstop Jean Segura, who batted .304 with 10 home runs and 20 steals last season, could be a fit for either team, although a position change would almost certainly have to be involved on someone’s part. 

The fact of the matter is, the A’s and Giants are facing significantly different realities right now. Oakland is building off a surprisingly successful 2018 campaign, fully capable of fielding a competitive team in 2019 and beyond. San Francisco, on the other hand, has considerably more question marks moving forward.

Despite those differences, however, both teams should be looking to improve whenever and wherever possible. If Seattle is truly intent on expediting a rebuild, both Bay Area teams have the potential to take advantage.