Giants

Rookie Matt Duffy wins 2015 Willie Mac Award

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Rookie Matt Duffy wins 2015 Willie Mac Award

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Duffy will surely be announced as a Rookie of the Year finalist next month. Award season started early for the young third baseman on Friday night.

Duffy is the 2015 winner of the Willie Mac Award, given annually to the most inspirational player on the team. The award, named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, is voted on by players, coaches, training staff and fans. Duffy is the first rookie to win in the 35-year history of the award.

"I couldn't be more honored to have my name alongside several of the past winners tonight," Duffy said during the ceremony. "I'd like to thank the Giants organization, the coaching staff, my teammates, my family and all the coaches who taught me how to play the game the right way. They taught me that if you put in the time and the preparation, good things will come."

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After giving a short speech and taking a picture with past winners, Duffy got a big hug from his dad, Tom, who recorded the ceremony with a camcorder and lovingly spent most of his night recording his son's every move. Duffy's mom and sister are traveling in Europe right now, but his sister texted him a "wish we could be there" message early Friday. That confused Matt, who didn't know he had won the Willie Mac Award and wondered why they would want to be at a late-season game against the Rockies.

Winning came as a shock to Duffy, who listed Javier Lopez, Brandon Crawford, Tim Hudson and Jeremy Affeldt among the many players who were deserving of the honor. Why did Duffy win?

"I'm going to turn it around and give the credit to the veterans," he said. "They've made my transition so much easier when they're as welcoming as they are. It really allows you to relax and play hard and play the game the way you were taught. I don't have a family but a lot of these guys do and they spend more time with us than their families sometimes. For them to recognize me is special."

Duffy, a surprise contributor down the stretch last season, wasn’t even expected to make the club out of spring training. But the Giants had little choice after Duffy dominated the Cactus League and worked hard every day to learn how to handle third (he came up as a shortstop), first and even the outfield. He made the opening day roster and hit so well in April and May that management again had no choice but to demote the struggling Casey McGehee and give Duffy a full-time job. 

He hasn’t looked back since and has barely even taken a day off. Duffy leads the National League with 116 consecutive starts, a streak that is expected to carry into next season. The longtime National League iron man, Hunter Pence, believes Duffy’s durability has been one of his best traits.

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“He’s definitely got that grit,” Pence said. “It’s tough to do. It’s very valuable to have the ability to do that. You don’t find everyday big leaguers in the middle of the lineup very often. That’s been one of the bright spots of this year, the emergence of Matt Duffy.”

Duffy has been much more than just an everyday player, however. He’s been an everyday force. He leads the National League with 89 hits since the All-Star break and his 46 extra base hits are the most by a Giants rookie since Chili Davis had 52 in 1982. Entering play Friday, the 24-year-old had a .298 average, 12 homers, 76 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .770 OPS. He is second among NL rookies and 11th in the National League with 4.9 wins above replacement.

Throughout, Duffy has shown the toughness that made him such a clubhouse favorite from the moment he was called up last August. He played through an ankle injury for several days when the Giants didn’t have a backup infielder and couldn’t afford another injury, and when Kenley Jansen buzzed him with a high fastball on Wednesday night, Duffy responded by smacking a single up the middle and then immediately stealing second base. 

"It's how he plays, every pitch, every at-bat, the way he runs the bases the way he plays defense," Bruce Bochy said, listing off Duffy's attributes. "He hasn't had a break in a while. He has all (his teammates') respect."

Duffy is the sixth current Giant to win the Willie Mac Award, joining Matt Cain (2009), Ryan Vogelsong (2011), Buster Posey (2012), Pence (2013) and Madison Bumgarner (2014). He watched former winners come in from an outfield gate and realize the magnitude of the award.

"As they were introducing everybody, I didn't realize the company I was in," he said. "I got to pause and think about that. It was pretty cool. I'm extremely honored."

MLB free agency debate: Where will Michael Brantley sign this offseason?

MLB free agency debate: Where will Michael Brantley sign this offseason?

Editor's note: Each day this week, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross will debate where one of the top five free agents might land this offseason. Tuesday's free agent to discuss is Michael Brantley, an three-time All-Star outfielder who has spent his entire career with the Cleveland Indians.

ALEX: Ben, yesterday we went right to the top of the market and discussed Bryce Harper. If you're looking for outfield help -- and a lot of teams are -- it gets kind of sketchy after Harper.

Andrew McCutchen still is a good player, but he's no longer an MVP candidate. A.J. Pollock has had a ton of injury issues. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and others are really getting up there in age. But I'm intrigued by Michael Brantley, who has never really lived up to the hype because of his own injuries. If you're looking for a guy who has a moderate amount of pop and gets on base at a high rate -- hellooooo, Giants -- he could be your guy.

BEN: He might be a great fit for the Giants, but the A’s already have enough outfielders, for a fraction of the cost. What have you heard about the Giants’ interest in Brantley? Where else do you think he could end up?

ALEX: I haven't heard anything concrete regarding their interest, but I think he's an interesting case. On one hand, they've been burned over and over again by giving money to position players -- particularly outfielders -- in their 30s. But they also have two corner outfield spots open and desperately need established hitters.

Brantley, who has always been a good OBP guy, would fit in that respect. Perhaps Farhan Zaidi can pull a Chris Taylor or Max Muncy out of another organization, but if Brantley's price drops, he could be a fill-in for a couple of seasons.

I wonder if he'll end up with a team that missed out on Harper and still has that need. The Phillies could fit there. The Braves have been a rumored destination. Maybe the White Sox? Who am I missing?

BEN: I think he makes a lot of sense in San Francisco. As you mentioned, he has a great career OBP with decent power and speed. It looks like he'll probably get around $15 million per year, which is reasonable for a back-to-back All-Star.

I think the Phillies and Braves both make a lot of sense, especially if Philadelphia doesn't land Bryce Harper. Maybe the Nationals if Harper leaves? He also could be a nice A.J. Pollock replacement in Arizona, although Pollock plays center. How about the Rockies? Both Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra are free agents.

ALEX: It sounds like the Diamondbacks are rebuilding, and I think the Rockies need to spend that money elsewhere. This feels like a #MysteryTeam situation, but in the end, I'll go with a safe prediction.

I think Brantley ends up with the Braves as a Nick Markakis replacement, but the twist will be that it'll be a shorter deal. I don't believe the talk that last year's free agency dip was a one-year thing. I think the second tier of veterans again will struggle to get those long-term deals, so I'll put Brantley down for a two-year, $32 million deal. What's your call?

BEN: It sounds like the Braves are pushing hard for Brantley, so they're my prediction, too. As you said, they need a Markakis replacement. Brantley played his college ball at Coastal Carolina University, which isn't too far from Atlanta. While he's been a bit injury-prone, he's still just 31 years old. I'll say he gets three years, $45 million.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Tuesday is dedicated to free agent outfielder Michael Brantley.
How Brantley could help solve one of the Giants' biggest issues
Why the outfielder-rich A's should pass on Brantley
Does Brantley really fit the White Sox's long-term plan?
Brantley should be far down on Red Sox's free agent list
Phillies should pursue Brantley if they whiff on Harper
Could signing Brantley soften blow of Nats losing Harper?

Why free agent Michael Brantley could solve one of Giants' big issues

Why free agent Michael Brantley could solve one of Giants' big issues

SAN FRANCISCO — The lack of power sucks up most of the oxygen in the room, but for the 2018 Giants, there was a bigger offensive issue. 

The Giants ranked 14th in the National League with a .300 on-base percentage, the eighth-lowest OBP in franchise history and lowest in 33 years. New president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi knows that’s one of the first issues he must address. The 10 playoff teams last season all finished in the top 13 in the majors in on-base percentage, and Zaidi’s Dodgers ranked third in the NL at .333. 

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi, who previously also worked for the OBP-obsessed A’s, talked about ways to improve a San Francisco lineup that had major issues simply getting on base last season. 

“Any team that walks at a high level, it’s a function of a couple of things,” he said. “One is, it is a function of personnel — there are guys that just have the skill of being able to work the strike zone and being able to take walks. Then there’s a mindset of, ‘What’s our goal?’ Is our goal to put the ball in play, or is our goal to get on base? I think both of those things are areas that we can look at philosophically. 

“How are we attacking the game from an offensive standpoint, and then, also, do we have the type of personnel that can play the type of offense that we want, which is a real grinding approach and getting guys on base and creating pressure for the opposing pitcher.” 

The mindset aspect can be addressed with coaches throughout the organization up to and through spring training. As for personnel, that’s a bit more pressing, and there are multiple ways to add OBP to the lineup in free agency.

You can go straight to the top of the market with Bryce Harper, who led MLB with 130 walks and ranked seventh with a .393 OBP, but there might be a much more cost-effective option. Michael Brantley, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, ranked 17th with a .364 OPB, which would have led the 2018 Giants. 

Throughout an injury-plagued career, Brantley has shown an ability to get on base. He has a .351 career OBP — only one current Giant, Buster Posey (.359), finished above that mark in 2018 — and has finished above .350 in four of the last five seasons.

There’s a reason Brantley, who hit 17 homers and had a .832 OPS last season, isn’t looking at a massive contract, of course. He has had trouble staying on the field, with shoulder, ankle and biceps injuries limiting him to just 101 total games in 2016 and 2017. That, plus the fact that he turns 32 in May, will limit his market, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he’ll receive a three-year, $45 million deal. That would be less than the Giants paid Hunter Pence annually.

Zaidi wants to get younger and more dynamic in the outfield, but if he’s looking for a short-term solution that won’t break the bank, Brantley might end up being a solid fit, and someone who could help solve one of the Giants lineup’s most glaring issues.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Tuesday is dedicated to free agent outfielder Michael Brantley.
Why the outfielder-rich A's should pass on Brantley
Does Brantley really fit the White Sox's long-term plan?
Brantley should be far down on Red Sox's free agent list
Phillies should pursue Brantley if they whiff on Harper
Could signing Brantley soften blow of Nats losing Harper?