Giants

Source: Bryce Harper praised Buster Posey during lengthy Giants meeting

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AP

Source: Bryce Harper praised Buster Posey during lengthy Giants meeting

SAN FRANCISCO — A few minutes before the start of FanFest on Saturday morning, Giants officials briefly were put into scramble mode. Social media buzzed with rumors that Bryce Harper soon would choose the Giants, which was news to the Giants themselves. 

It was an absurd notion that Harper, after months of speculation, simply would announce his intentions by showing up at Oracle Park on a cold, rainy day -- and team officials quickly shot down the possibility. The Giants do not expect Harper to make a decision this weekend, but as everyone prepared to head down to Scottsdale for the start of spring training, there certainly was an increase in optimism.

As players have talked over the past 24 hours, there has been an increased sense among some in the clubhouse that Harper prefers the Giants, a source told NBC Sports Bay Area. From a management perspective, it certainly was not lost on the team’s decision-makers that Buster Posey publicly lobbied for a Harper deal when he met with reporters Friday. 

That admiration is said to be mutual. Per a source, one of the things Harper talked about with the Giants contingent in a Monday meeting in Las Vegas was how much he likes Posey. That meeting was supposed to last about two hours, but CEO Larry Baer, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Bruce Bochy ended up spending four hours with Harper’s camp. 

They did not make an offer during the meeting, but if Zaidi had a concept in mind, he certainly had time to make it known to Scott Boras, Harper's agent. Zaidi, who has been transitioning from Los Angeles, flew back to the city with Boras at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting. 

Zaidi confirmed the team’s interest Friday, but he otherwise has preferred to keep this chase under wraps. Baer did not publicly speak about Harper during the week, but he did take the stage at FanFest on Saturday to answer a few questions. 

“Bryce Harper is an amazing player,” he said. “I can’t handicap it, I don’t know where we are, but we’re giving it a shot. That’s all we can do, I think.”

Baer pointed out that the Giants have had quick turnarounds before, noting the team won 103 games when Barry Bonds joined before the 1993 season. 

“One player can make a difference,” Baer said. “It’s obviously a different sport than basketball, but one player can make a difference.”

The Giants are chasing Harper because he can make a difference in more ways than one. The weather didn’t help, but by any standard, FanFest was stunningly quiet compared to past years. It’s one thing for fans to speak their minds on social media. It's another for them to speak with their wallets. 

[RELATED: Posey calls for every MLB team to be competitive]

If Saturday’s crowd was any indication, a lot of Giants fans aren't happy with the plan to take a step back and get younger. Perhaps it was no accident, then, when Baer threw in one last compliment of Harper as his time on stage came to an end.

“He’s 26 years old, too,” he said.

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

While the Bay Area focused on the 49ers this week, the Giants had their eyes on a different patch of grass. They're currently holding their developmental camp in Scottsdale, giving prospects an early chance to impress before the real fun starts next month:

We're two weeks from FanFest, and a few days after that, the players will actually take the field under new manager Gabe Kapler for the first time. Baseball season is coming fast, so let's run through another round of Giants questions (from my Instagram followers) as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report ... 

"In all seriousness Alex -- why should I watch/spend money on the Giants in 2020?" -- erniepomin

Well, first of all, we have a new state-of-the-art set that'll allow us to do a lot of cool things on the pre-game show next season, so that's a start. Plus, Kruk and Kuip! Come on, that's all you need. 

As for the team, I've long said that I'll never tell people how to spend their money when it comes to the Giants. It can get expensive, so if you'd prefer to sit out a couple years, you have every right to do so. But, I do think this season is going to be more interesting than the past couple. 

I happen to think "youth breaking through" is an intriguing storyline, so shortstop Mauricio Dubon and pitchers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb could provide plenty of reasons to watch early on. Catcher Joey Bart will be up at some point this year, and there's a chance that somebody like outfielder Jaylin Davis or infielder Chris Shaw finally puts it together.

Every Johnny Cueto start has the chance to provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the team's record.

Regardless of your feelings about Gabe Kapler, I do think it'll be interesting watching a different manager pull the levers for the first time in over a decade. If you're tuning in expecting to watch a win, you'll be disappointed more often than not. But if you try and view this as the start of something, I think you'll have a lot more fun in 2020. 

Are the Giants one of the rumored teams to have made a multi-year offer to Ozuna?" -- mgmatter17

I never once heard of any interest in Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and the fit wasn't really there. He's a good player, but not a game-changer, the type you re-arrange all your (rebuild) plans for. And if he was looking to re-establish his value as a power hitter, Oracle Park is a terrible place to play. 

"Is Sean Hjelle going to be one of the main focuses for at least early spring training?" -- aedinbratton18

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, is always going to be a focus purely because of his height. You can bet that early in camp someone will tweet out a photo of him dwarfing his fellow pitchers. 

But seriously, he will get plenty of attention for what he's capable of. He spent limited time in San Jose so we haven't really seen much of him, and it's going to be fascinating to see what his mechanics look like in early bullpen sessions. Hopefully, he's able to get into a game or two before getting sent to minor league camp. 

"Who will be the Giants' ace now that Bum is gone?" -- dianebertocchinoonan

Cueto has done it before, but he is coming back from Tommy John and there's a decent chance he gets traded before the end of his deal. Long term, this is a hell of a question.

Beede and Webb have the stuff to get there eventually and Hjelle is their top pitching prospect, but the organization is pretty thin on high-end starting pitching. I don't think you can look at anyone the Giants have right now and think, "He's going to start on Opening Day in 2022."

"If Beede or Webb don't make the rotation, do you think they'd let them pitch out of the bullpen?" -- _juanvillaseno_

This is a question we'll legitimately be asking in a couple weeks, because Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman have the inside track on four spots. Either one of these young guys could be a good bullpen piece, but the Giants aren't ready to go there. 

They really made a commitment last year to giving Beede a shot in the rotation, even when he had some brutal starts, and he showed what he's capable of at times. The Giants are going to give him every opportunity to make the rotation his long-term home. As for Webb, there's been enough "innings limit" talk this offseason that it seems likely he starts the year in the minors, but he's definitely still a starter. 

[RELATED: Giants sign veteran Drew Smyly]

The caveat here is that I do think the Giants will try some new things this year, using semi-regular openers and potentially "piggybacking" guys, allowing them to go 3-4 innings at a time. That might lead to some "relief" appearances for young starters. 

"Why will Logan Webb have an innings limit this season?" -- tyler.j.burton

Webb threw 104 2/3 innings in 2018 but was limited to 103 across all levels last season because of the suspension. Ideally, he would have gotten around 130-140 last year, but that wasn't possible, so the Giants will hold him back a bit this season so he's not jumping from 103 to 160-170. 

Remember, he just turned 23. His health is a priority right now, even if that costs him some time in the Majors. 

"Will ticket prices drop this season with the current state of the team?" -- rioscristian15

I'm not sure of exact rates -- the Giants usually talk about that side of the business at their media day in March. I will say, it's pretty easy to find a cheap ticket to a game on the secondary market during the season. A lot of fans told me they were getting in for like $6 the last couple of seasons. Take advantage of the lack of interest while you can. 

"Which core veteran player is most likely to have a good bounce-back year?" -- shockmaan

I know the staff is really excited about working with Brandon Belt and there's a belief that Buster Posey will be much more productive after a normal offseason. I don't know which veteran is most likely to bounce back, but I will say I'm most curious to see what kind of season Brandon Crawford turns in. 

He's 33 now, but he's athletic enough that the age shouldn't be an issue yet, and he's not far removed from All-Star caliber play. Crawford hit .292./.363/.462 in the first half of 2018 and basically carried the lineup for weeks at a time. There are newcomers to the organization who have looked back at that stretch to see what the difference was, because it really wasn't that long ago. 

"Any way to find out if they are adding anything crazy to the menu like a 25-inch corndog?" -- takem84

The Giants traditionally unveil new menu items and giveaways at their media day. Last year, I asked my bosses if a cameraman could follow me around as I ate every single thing at the stadium and they somehow said yes. That ultimately led to me standing in the heat at SunTrust Park eating a burger covered in chicken tenders, nacho cheese and tater tots. Life comes at you fast. 

"Favorite restaurant to hit up during spring training?" -- uscgabe

The lock of the spring is that every Giants beat writer and a dozen team employees will be at ChopShop after the first team workout on February 12. That's the go-to for lunch, and The Mission is the place you have to hit up for dinner. I also try to visit Rudy's BBQ a couple of times because it's a Texas treasure that has somehow found its way to Arizona.

(Full disclosure: There's a Chick-fil-A outside half the Cactus League ballparks and a Shake Shack in the Scottsdale mall, so spring training is peak "This place doesn't exist in San Francisco so I might as well go here 17 times while I'm in Scottsdale" season.)

MLB rumors: Giants sign Korean-leaguer Darin Ruf to minor-league deal

MLB rumors: Giants sign Korean-leaguer Darin Ruf to minor-league deal

The Giants reportedly have signed first baseman and outfielder Darin Ruf to a minor league contract.

The Athletic's Jayson Stark was the first with the news on Ruf who spent the last three seasons playing in Korea.

The 33-year-old batted .313/.404/.564 with 86 home runs, a .968 OPS and 350 RBI in 404 games across those seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. He certainly made an impression overseas.

Ruf was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft and played in the organization for five seasons. His numbers weren't anything to brag about when he hit .240/.314/.433 with 35 homers and 96 RBI from 2012-16.

He was part of a trade in 2016 with the Los Angeles Dodgers that sent him and Darnell Sweeney to LA for All-Star infielder Howie Kendrick.

[RELATED: Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive promoting top prospects]

Ruf was then released by the Dodgers in February of 2017. 

His contract reportedly will also include an invite to major league spring training.