Giants

With Melancon set to start rehab, Bochy ready to see a core group in bullpen

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USATSI

With Melancon set to start rehab, Bochy ready to see a core group in bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after his bullpen blew yet another lead, Bruce Bochy was able to dream a little bit. Mark Melancon will start a rehab assignment Sunday in Sacramento, and Bochy intends to have Melancon return as the closer after a few rehab innings. That will bump red-hot Sam Dyson to the eighth and Hunter Strickland down to the seventh. 

"It's going to give us a better idea of where we're at as we go into the future," Bochy said. 

The Giants intended to have a similar setup this season, but Will Smith had Tommy John surgery, Derek Law pitched his way back to Triple-A, and Melancon struggled and then got hurt. Bochy said it's important to see some sort of structure in the back of the bullpen, and the Giants are sketching out a future where it's better than it's been. Smith will return next year and should give them a reliable lefty in the bullpen, and there's another option developing. 

Kyle Crick struck out two in the eighth inning of his first game at Dodger Stadium. He has a 1.88 ERA but he has only pitched in one game the Giants have won. Bochy said that will change. 

"We're bumping him up each time," Bochy said. "I think he's handled it well and he's commanding his fastball. The thing I like about him is he's getting better with his slider and using his changeup."

The bullpen has given up leads for two straight years, but Bochy sees a light at the end of the tunnel. Now, that could change. Strickland is a trade chip, Dyson could revert to his earlier Texas form, Melancon's elbow could finally give out, Crick could lose his command. But Bochy is optimistic, and he's hoping that he soon has two months of games to test whether the Giants really are on the way to having this fixed. 

--- I wrote yesterday that Tyler Beede's season is almost certainly over. Bochy confirmed the details, and added that the Giants haven't given up hope on Beede returning in late September. The Giants are also hoping to get Austin Slater and Christian Arroyo back over the final couple of weeks. 

--- Nick Hundley was originally in today's lineup but he has a headache after taking a wicked foul tip yesterday. So Buster Posey is catching, with Jae-Gyun Hwang at first since Brandon Belt still has a sore wrist. If Hundley does have a concussion, Tim Federowicz is the likely pick. He's ahead of Trevor Brown on Sacramento's depth chart, although he's not on the 40-man roster. 

--- Madison Bumgarner will start Sunday night to stay on turn. Matt Cain has been bumped to Monday in Oakland. It'll be a sneaky-big moment for Bumgarner. His reputation took a hit with the accident, but he'll get a chance to pitch in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Baseball. 

--- For the weekend crowd, a podcast with top prospect Chris Shaw.

Sources: Giants interested in Kevin Pillar trade with Blue Jays

Sources: Giants interested in Kevin Pillar trade with Blue Jays

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants still do not consider themselves anywhere near the Bryce Harper chase. Over four days in Las Vegas, they added two outfielders to their 40-man roster, both of whom are just prospects potentially fighting for bench roles.

There’s a middle ground between Harper and the recent additions, though, and the Giants have been active in that market while exploring trades. One name discussed by the front office, according to multiple sources, was Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is interesting for a number of reasons.

Pillar, 29, is a defense-first center fielder who would seem to be an odd fit at first since the Giants already have a young version of that profile in Steven Duggar. But Pillar is a right-handed hitter who always has hit lefties better, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi would like to find a platoon partner for left-handed-hitting Duggar, at least early in his career. 

Beyond that, the Giants are intrigued by the idea of occasionally playing two center fielders at the same time in their massive ballpark. Both prospects picked up this week — Mike Gerber and Drew Ferguson — can play center field, and Pillar is known as one of the top true center fielders in the game. In those discussions, the Giants imagined an alignment that occasionally could have Pillar in center and Duggar in right. 

[RELATED: Why Duggar wants to bring bunts back to life for Giants]

“Right field at our place is just as hard as playing center field,” one source said. 

It’s unclear if the Giants gained any traction in talks for outfielders this week. Zaidi believed he might have a couple of deals in place next week, although he could go in a number of directions as he looks to fill holes. 

Pillar has not been widely known to be available. Still, the Blue Jays are rebuilding in a tough division, with plenty of young talent on the way, and that’s the type of team the Giants have targeted at times. 

The Giants are not fully rebuilding on their own. They prefer to add minor pieces to the lineup and find platoon advantages, and Pillar — or someone similar — is the type of player who makes sense for a team that hopes to be somewhat competitive next season.

Why Madison Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline

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USATSI

Why Madison Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline

LAS VEGAS — When the Giants arrived here on Sunday, Madison Bumgarner was their Opening Day starter. After four days of circulated casino air, room service, $7 cups of coffee, a few rumors and one minor transaction, Madison Bumgarner is still their Opening Day starter.

That still could change, though. 

While the Giants are not close to any deals and have not gotten close, multiple sources familiar with their discussions said this week that the front office is still fully ready to trade the franchise’s ace if the right deal comes along. The Giants have come to grips with the reality of making such a move, but also believe at this point that if they are to trade Bumgarner, the best deal likely will come before the July 31 trade deadline. 

Discussions about Bumgarner have been overshadowed by contenders focusing elsewhere. The Yankees filled their hole by trading for James Paxton and signing another lefty, J.A. Happ. The Nationals signed Patrick Corbin. Other dominoes will fall, but the Giants have never been all that close to finding their own deal, and they are sensitive to a perceived shift in recent weeks.

[REPORT: Giants might hold Bumgarner until midseason]

Some recent stories written by national outlets have focused on Bumgarner's declining velocity, poor road numbers and concerning peripherals, but for the Giants, he still is valued highly. "He's still Madison Bumgarner," one Giants person said this week. He also, several team officials pointed out, remains an incredible bargain at $12 million, regardless of what some might believe about Bumgarner's current skill level. 

“I would never bet against him,” another source said when asked if Bumgarner’s value has dropped. 

During his required media availability on Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he’s confident Bumgarner will bounce back from an up-and-down season, pointing out that he had a tremendous spring in 2018 and looked poised for a big year before a line drive caught his finger. 

“I can assure you he is working and he’s going to come in like he did last spring,” Bochy said. “He’s young. He’s strong. He’s smart. He has the ability to adjust. So I’m not going to be surprised if he has done something to tweak his delivery or whatever. Not that I think he needs to. This guy, he’s still really, really good.”

Bumgarner had a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts last season but his strikeout rate was down and his walk rate was a career-worst. There are other concerns for scouts who watched him last season, mainly a 4.97 ERA and 1.45 WHIP away from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. 

But for the Giants, Bumgarner remains more than just the numbers. When asked about Bumgarner on Monday, team president and CEO Larry Baer pointed down to a ring on his hand, one Bumgarner helped the Giants win.

[MORE: Bumgarner almost played first base?]

Baer said the organization has dealt with “conflicting feelings” when discussing Bumgarner’s future. There is an emotional pull, certainly, but this is also Farhan Zaidi’s show now, and he has no ties to Bumgarner. Zaidi’s most interesting quote this week may have come when asked about the Diamondbacks taking a step back by trading Paul Goldschmidt. He challenged that assumption that they’re rebuilding, saying that deal was largely about the Diamondbacks "trying to fill multiple spots with a guy that maybe they had doubts about their ability to re-sign.”

The Giants and Bumgarner did not have extension talks last season, when the previous regime was in place. New leadership will make the decision, and multiple rival executives said this week that Zaidi will do what he thinks makes sense for the Giants on the field, no matter the resulting PR hit. 

“You hired the experts — Farhan and his team — to do what’s best for the organization,” Baer said. “At the end of the day, it’s the San Francisco Giants on the front of the uniform, and we’ve got to figure out a way to build this into where we want to go.

“If it’s with Bum, great. There are multiple scenarios here. It’s just too early to forecast it because we want to put the best team together. He may or may not be in that equation. Obviously you have your heart, and then you have what’s good for the team. There are a lot of scenarios to understand where it’s going to go. You may very well see him on Opening Day as the starting pitcher.”

For now, Bumgarner is still in that position. But the Giants do not in any way feel that they have approached the meaty part of their offseason, and they will remain open to any possibility with Bumgarner, even if this drags deep into the offseason. They believe there could be a contender — perhaps the Astros, or Braves, or Phillies — still looking for another big arm when the dust settles in January. This likely, though, will drag into the season and all the way to the trade deadline.

After weeks of whispers, the Giants still do not know where they’ll end up with Bumgarner. He’s still a Giant, but there’s a long way to go before he’s set to take the mound at Petco Park on March 28.