MLB free agency: Giants, Madison Bumgarner's agents to meet this week

MLB free agency: Giants, Madison Bumgarner's agents to meet this week

SAN DIEGO -- The news that Stephen Strasburg had just signed the richest pitching contract in MLB quickly bounced through the lobby at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on Monday morning, but it didn't take long before the focus turned elsewhere. 

Does Strasburg's $245 million contract mean it will take $300 million to sign Gerrit Cole? And what does this surprisingly strong market mean for longtime Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who reportedly is seeking at least five years and $100 million.

Bumgarner downplayed concerns about the state of free agency throughout his final year, and it appears he was right. There will be a line of suitors, and the Giants remain part of that group.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday that the Giants will meet with Bumgarner's agents this week and a reunion remains possible.

"We're involved in those discussions," Zaidi said while appearing on Winter Meetings Live. "We're planning to meet with his representatives this week and they have other meetings scheduled, too. That's what happens when a player is a free agent, they're going to explore all their options. Guys are looking for different things, looking for maybe a particular geography, maybe a team in a specific part of their competitive cycle.

"We're one of the suitors. We're just going to put our best foot forward and see what happens, but he's earned this opportunity to be a free agent and, as we expected, there's no shortage of interest in a guy with his pedigree."

Bumgarner has been connected to about a third of the majors at this point. The Braves and Phillies were two teams with early interest but seemingly have spent most of their free-agency money elsewhere. The New York Post's Joel Sherman reported Monday that the division rival Diamondbacks have checked in on Bumgarner, and the Cardinals have also recently been connected.

Industry sources speculated that the Angels could be a suitor if they miss on Cole, and sources also said the Twins remain a strong possibility. Some Giants people believe the Twins, who won 101 games last year with a young team, could emerge as the strongest contender for Bumgarner's services.

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The Giants have been on the outside of the race throughout the offseason, but it's not uncommon for a team to let a popular player hit free agency with the understanding that the sides will circle back at the end of the process. Bumgarner is as popular as any recent Giant, and Zaidi said the club will consider what any move would mean to the city and the fan base. 

"I think it's definitely part of it," Zaidi said. "People talk a lot about how we're in the entertainment business and one thing I've learned about the fans of our team is the connection they have with the players is different than what I've experienced elsewhere, and that's something that I've had to learn and appreciate and make an adjustment to. At the same time, I think ultimately what fans respond to is a winning team. We saw it when our organization was winning the World Series and as we haven't been a winning team the last three years, it's kind of shown up at the turnstile. 

"I think (winning) has to be our primary goal and sometimes that takes making difficult decisions, but we definitely appreciate the connection that our fans make with these players. It's very unique in baseball."

Wilmer Flores looks to add more power to Giants' lineup this season

Wilmer Flores looks to add more power to Giants' lineup this season

Wilmer Flores made history this offseason. He became the first player Farhan Zaidi signed to a multiyear contract with the Giants, when the veteran infielder inked his two-year deal earlier this month. 

Now that he's with the Giants in spring training, Flores is trying to add something to San Francisco that the team badly lacked last season: Power. It's not like that's what the 28-year-old is known for, though. 

Flores hit nine homers in 89 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, but his .848 OPS was a career-high and his .487 slugging percentage was one point off the best of his career. 

"I've always been a guy who puts the ball in play," Flores said Friday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show." "I'm trying this year to hit the ball a lot more in the air. That's what I'm trying to do a lot more this year. Ground balls are not hits anymore. You gotta hit the ball in the air." 

From 2015-2018, however, he averaged 15 long balls per season and clearly has bought into baseball's power movement with more launch angle. 

Flores should have an interesting role on the Giants this season. The keyword around Gabe Kapler's spring training is "versatility." Mauricio Dubon already has embraced it, and Flores believes he can thrive anywhere around the infield. 

"In the infield, I can play anywhere if you want me to," Flores said.

But he clearly prefers a certain spot.

"If you ask me, I'll stay at second base," Flores said. 

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That position is full of competition for the Giants this season. Along with Flores and Dubon, Yolmer Sanchez -- who won an AL Gold Glove last season -- and Donovan Solano are vying for time as well. Flores played 64 games at second base and 16 at third last year. He also has plenty of time at shortstop and first base under his belt as well. 

Whether it's more defensive versatility or adding more power, Flores figures to be a key player for the Giants this season.

Giants GM Scott Harris explains signing Hunter Pence over Kevin Pillar

Giants GM Scott Harris explains signing Hunter Pence over Kevin Pillar

Madison Bumgarner wearing a jersey other than one for the Giants still remains a shock to some. The front office made a bit of another controversial decision as well when moving on from last season's home-run leader. 

Kevin Pillar quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco for his diving catching in center field and ability to actually his the ball out of Oracle Park. And then, the Giants let the Willie Mac Award winner walk this past offseason. 

The Giants non-tendered Pillar in December, making him a free agent. The veteran outfielder was expected to make around $10 million in arbitration. Instead of bringing him back, the Giants essentially opted to replace him with a Hunter Pence reunion, costing the front office only $3 million.

Pillar wound up signing a one-year, $4.25 million contract with the Boston Red Sox earlier this month.

General manager Scott Harris further explained what went into those decisions. 

“Hunter fills an important hole for us on our team," Harris said on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show" on Friday. "He helps us run out a very formidable lineup against left-handed pitching. He’s also familiar with our ballpark and brings leadership skills we think are going to complement our young core.

“In Kevin’s case, he was an excellent player for us last year, he had one more year of team control so he was going to be a free agent at the end of next year anyways.

"We wanted to create opportunities for our young players and invest in our young players. That doesn’t mean money, it means investing at-bats, it means investing innings in center field, it means investing in the opportunity to grind through a major league season and really prove yourself at this level.”

The Giants still seem to have question marks in center field. Middle infielder Mauricio Dubon will get innings there this spring, and has embraced being a versatile player for manager Gabe Kapler. Mike Yastrzemski is expected to start the season in center, and he can play all three outfield positions. Steven Duggar, Jaylin Davis and the speedy Billy Hamilton all are expected to fight for innings as well. 

Pence, however, will not play any center field. He is expected to mostly play left field while also helping in right as well. 

As Kapler and the Giants hope to be versatile all over the field, it's likely their outfielders will have to play multiple positions. 

[RELATED: How MadBum pitched for D-backs in his first spring outing]

Harris is right, though. While Pillar hit .278 with nine homers and an .823 OPS against lefties last season, Pence was even better. In his comeback season with the Texas Rangers, Pence batted .327 with a 1.015 OPS and knocked out eight homers against southpaws. 

Whether Harris wants to admit it or not, money did play a factor here. But Pence does bring mentorship to a young roster, and fans already are clamoring about having him back in San Francisco.