Giants

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler spent nearly an hour discussing the more controversial aspects of the Giants' manager hire, new general manager Scott Harris sat to Kapler's left and took it all in. Other than his own introductory remarks, Harris was mostly silent, but Zaidi smiled and looked at his GM when a reporter asked Zaidi how he planned to "attack free agency."

"Scott?" Zaidi said, laughing. 

Harris took the question, but he didn't give up much more than Zaidi would have. 

"We're excited to have the three of us in place and to start having those conversations that are full of debate, that are full of challenging each other," Harris said, "To make sure that we're targeting the right players and Gabe feels comfortable deploying those players in the right way to allow them to succeed."

More than anything, Kapler simply needs better players. Zaidi and Harris jumped right in to that process, flying to Scottsdale after the Kapler press conference despite the fact that they had already missed most of the first three days of the four-day GM Meetings. Zaidi and Harris have spent plenty of time over the last month discussing their future plans, but they planned to set up meetings in Scottsdale to start zeroing in on specific free agent targets. 

Who are those players? We know one who is off the list. Closer Will Smith signed with the Braves before Kapler could even move into his office, leaving a big hole in the bullpen. That's where we'll start in this early look at what the Giants need in free agency:

Bullpen

The closer right now is ... maybe Tony Watson? Maybe Shaun Anderson? Tyler Rogers and Sam Coonrod showed flashes as rookies, Trevor Gott is healing well, and guys like Jandel Gustave, Sam Selman and Andrew Suarez should be part of the mix. But that's not a good bullpen on paper. 

The Giants will need to add, although as we saw last year, they're more likely to do so with minor additions and trades -- like the Gott move. Don't expect them to spend big on what's left of the relief market. One of the best arms still out there, Drew Pomeranz, is already familiar to them. They're more likely to find the next reclamation project than sign a player looking for big money. 

Backup catcher

Stephen Vogt is wildly popular and had a very nice year as Buster Posey's partner, but he has talked of trying to win a World Series. He is smart enough to know San Francisco is not the place to do that in 2020. 

Vogt liked San Francisco and may return, but if he signs with a contender, the Giants will need a bridge to Joey Bart. Aramis Garcia is an option, but if Zaidi wanted to go with Erik Kratz last opening day over Garcia, it seems likely another veteran is brought in a year later. 

Lefty infielder

The Giants used more platoons last season and could use a left-handed hitter to take some at-bats away from Evan Longoria and Mauricio Dubon. Longoria had a .722 OPS against righties last season and Dubon is still unproven. Pablo Sandoval did some heavy lifting at third base last season, but he'll miss most of 2020 after Tommy John having surgery and is a free agent. The other backup infield option, Donovan Solano, also hits from the right side. 

Kean Wong, claimed off waivers earlier this month, hits left-handed, but he has just 18 big league at-bats. 

Righty outfielder

Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson (if he can stay healthy) should go into next season looking at meaty roles, but the Giants don't have much from the right side other than Kevin Pillar. Austin Slater's numbers took a nosedive in the second half and Jaylin Davis struggled in a September cameo. Joey Rickard is a candidate to be non-tendered. 

The Giants need outfield help in general, but they're especially lacking in right-handed pop. Zaidi tried plenty of fringe options in 2019. He has the financial wiggle room to take some bigger swings this offseason if he wants to. 

[RELATED: Giants continue Triples Alley work, move bullpens off field]

The Bumgarner situation

If it feels like we've hit on all corners of the roster here, it's because, well, yeah, the roster has a lot of holes. 

The biggest one is now at the top of the rotation, where the Giants very well may be looking for a way to replace their longtime ace. Bringing Bumgarner back would actually pretty much set the rotation. The Giants could feel pretty comfortable going into next spring with Bumgarner, a healthy Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, followed by the group of Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Tyler Anderson and any depth options Zaidi is able to scoop up. 

But pull Bumgarner out of that group and you have a big hole, especially because Beede is still mostly unproven and Webb will have an innings limit. Internally, Zaidi and Harris likely have already decided how hard they'll go after Bumgarner. If they're not intent on bringing him back, they'll need rotation help. 

MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

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MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

Gerrit Cole is far and away the gem of the 2019 MLB free-agent class.

The former Pirates and Astros ace led the American League in both ERA and strikeouts last season and finished just behind teammate Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young Award race.

The team that historically always has had the deepest pockets in baseball -- the New York Yankees -- have made Cole a priority in free agency, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday, citing a source.

Cole is a Southern California native with familial ties to the Giants, a team that also features one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the MLB. San Francisco also has been mentioned as a destination for the ace, who reportedly desires a return to the West Coast.

But if the Yankees, who always have jumped to outbid every other team for talent in free agency, decide to back up the proverbial Brinks truck for the 29-year-old, the Giants might be swiftly eliminated from contention for Cole.

Reports indicate that Cole’s price tag will “shatter” the record set by David Price when he signed a $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2015.

[RELATED: Report: Giants targeted UGA's pitching coach for same role]

While San Francisco has plenty of money to spend this offseason, it likely won’t engage in a bidding war that could approach $300 million.

Even if longtime Giant and current free agent Madison Bumgarner elects to go elsewhere in free agency, it remains to be seen how much money San Francisco would be willing to shell out for an elite talent like Cole in the heart of his prime.

What to watch for as Giants head to MLB's Winter Meetings

What to watch for as Giants head to MLB's Winter Meetings

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are two things that we can guarantee will happen next week at Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings. 

On Sunday, all of the reporters from the East Coast and chillier portions of the Midwest will take a few seconds to tweet out their appreciation for San Diego. A few days later, Scott Boras will find a cozy spot -- likely in front of the Christmas tree at the Manchester Grand Hyatt -- and explain to everyone with a microphone why owners are being cheap when it comes to his difference-making players (he's not wrong).

The rest of the week is generally unpredictable. The last time the Meetings were held in San Diego, reporters and team executives scrambled through the lobby as midnight approached one night, with Matt Kemp having just been traded to the Padres. There surely will be another moment like that next week, but nobody can tell you right now which players will be involved. 

But, there is a third guarantee in the middle of all that uncertainty. NBC Sports Bay Area will be there the whole time, bringing you stories, videos, podcasts and live shows. I'll be doing a live stream on our My Teams app with Amy Gutierrez every day, with special guests lined up. You also can follow any rumors on Twitter or go behind the scenes on Instagram. 

It should be a fun and unpredictable week. Here's what you should know before the Giants get on that short flight to The Tin Fish San Diego. 

So, What's The Plan, Guys?

It's not hard to figure out the direction the Giants are headed. They're going young as often as they can and trying to open up playing time for prospects and inexperienced big leaguers who might be the next Mike Yastrzemski. With every decision, the Giants are trying to build towards a contender in 2021 or beyond. That's why Kevin Pillar is gone and Jaylin Davis and Steven Duggar might be getting plenty of time next year. 

The coaching staff thus far has been filled with guys who have a strong background in player development, and the Giants quietly have invested millions of dollars in their infrastructure in Scottsdale to help that push. 

All of that is great if you're trying to catch up to the Dodgers in a few years, but it means 2020 looks a bit frightening right now. When the Giants have sent out youth-filled lineups during stretches the last couple of seasons, they've generally played like a 100-loss team. 

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hasn't had much time to explain his roster plans this offseason because he spent so much time looking for new general manager Scott Harris and new manager Gabe Kapler, and then explaining the Kapler hire. He'll meet with beat reporters every afternoon in San Diego and will have an opportunity to further lay out his vision for the 2020 season. 

Harris and Kapler also should get their first opportunities to speak specifically about current Giants. Both still were getting up to speed last month, but the Winter Meetings generally provide the first opportunity to discuss the lineup or bullpen hierarchy, or what the rotation might look like. 

Bumgarner Watch

The Giants seemed to prefer being on the outside of this chase even when it looked like Bumgarner would have to settle somewhere around $80 million. If he truly does wind up with $100 million, or even tops Zack Wheeler's $118 million, as some have predicted in recent days, it's hard to see how Bumgarner's only previous employer is even part of the conversation at the end. 

Whatever happens, it largely will shape the Giants' offseason. If there's a surprise and Bumgarner is brought back, all will be forgiven. But it seems like this will be another move that fits in with an offseason that is setting the Giants up for the future, but one that has disappointed much of the fan base. 

A Big Splash?

The Giants ended up in quite a few Bryce Harper-related headlines last offseason, but most of that occurred in February. They haven't yet been connected to Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or any of the other top-end free agents, but that doesn't mean the Giants aren't considering all options. 

It's unlikely they get seriously involved with a Cole or Strasburg type, but perhaps next week will be the one that brings real Marcell Ozuna rumors or more on their reported interest in Nicholas Castellanos. The Giants are rebuilding, but they do have plenty of money to spend if they feel a player still will be highly productive a couple of years from now. 

Rest of the West

The Giants have finished 87 1/2 games behind the Dodgers combined in the past three seasons.

Read that again, because that is the stat that is guiding much of this offseason. There's no sign of it slowing down, either, because the Dodgers -- partially built by Zaidi -- are the National League's juggernaut and have waves of talent on the way. You can make your "no rings" jokes, but the truth is the Giants ultimately are vying to catch this Dodgers team, and they're nowhere close. 

So, it's certainly worth watching the Dodgers over the next week. If they get a Cole or Strasburg, they're that much stronger next year and in the years when the Giants are ready to compete. The addition of Anthony Rendon, something they're considering, would be downright frightening. 

The Giants probably don't lose much sleep over the Rockies, but the Diamondbacks have a nice young nucleus and money to spend and the Padres -- who added Drew Pomeranz early and traded for Tommy Pham on Thursday -- are in win-now mode. The NL West might look a lot tougher a week from now. 

[RELATED: Zaidi gives update on status of Giants' talks with MadBum]

Coaching Carousel 

The Giants plan to announce Kapler's staff early next week, but we already know that Brian Bannister will join as Director of Pitching and Donnie Ecker will serve as hitting coach. Kapler is 44, Bannister is 38 and Ecker is 33, and all three are well-versed in analytics and fresh techniques that have infiltrated the game over the past half-decade. 

What will the rest of the staff look like? Will Kapler bring in an experienced bench coach to provide some balance, or will the Giants continue to add coaches that they feel are rising stars with a different perspective? 

Thus far, Ron Wotus is the only one to survive the managing change, and it's unclear where Curt Young, Rich Schu and Jose Alguacil will end up in 2020 (there's no indication any of them will be back), or if other longtime members of the organization's support staff will be replaced. A lot of those questions should be answered over the first 24 hours in San Diego.