SAN FRANCISCO — Over time, the Giants expect Farhan Zaidi to rebuild their farm system and get a pipeline of international talent headed towards AT&T Park. At some point, perhaps as soon as next winter, he’ll go out and spend much more on the free agent market. The first step of this "rebuild that’s not called a rebuild" has been much more modest.
Zaidi has added two Rule 5 picks and three players who spent most of last season in the minor leagues.
With this group, the Giants are hopeful that Zaidi can partially replicate his success in Los Angeles by finding the next Max Muncy or Chris Taylor. Muncy, 28, came out of nowhere to hit 35 homers for the Dodgers last season, more than doubling the Giants’ leader. Taylor, also 28, was the breakthrough star of 2017 and has been worth 8.9 WAR over the past two seasons.
Zaidi said there are two main lessons that stand out from the discoveries of Muncy and Taylor, who are big parts of the Dodgers’ plans for 2019 and have plenty of team control remaining. A key one for the Giants in 2019 will be that you have to give guys a look.
“We have to, as an organization, have a mindset of giving guys opportunities,” Zaidi said at the Winter Meetings last month. “The Chris Taylor and Max Muncy success stories weren’t just about their acquisition, but it was also about giving them the chance at the big league level and giving them some runway.”
Muncy had a .195 average in 96 previous big league games with the A’s when he was called up last April because of injuries to third basemen Justin Turner and Logan Forsythe.
“That wasn’t his natural position," Zaidi said. "It was a position that was a little bit of a stretch for him, at least initially, and we as an organization were committed to just giving him at-bats."
Muncy was batting just .200 with two homers through his first 18 games, but the Dodgers kept running him out there, and in June he broke through with 10 homers in 76 at-bats. Zaidi remembers Taylor coming up in a platoon role and quickly earning more at-bats. It’s no secret that the Giants have been hesitant to give young players a long leash in recent years.
“As we acquire players like this, it’s going to be important that we not only make those acquisitions but that we give them an opportunity when they arise,” Zaidi said.
Perhaps this means the Giants will let waiver claim Mike Gerber or Rule 5 pick Drew Ferguson sink or swim in the outfield. Or maybe they’ll let holdovers like Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw or Austin Slater try to prove that they’re everyday players. Williamson, in particular, could fit this mold. Like Taylor and Muncy, he’s 28, and he looked headed for a breakout before a concussion ruined his 2018 season.
There are well over 1,000 plate appearances still available in the outfield, and the Giants look poised to let young players handle many of them. Zaidi brought up Gerber, an outfielder picked up from the Tigers, while discussing a second lesson learned from Muncy and Taylor. The new president of baseball operations said it’s important to look at the complete track record.
“By track records, you’re just not talking about what have you done for me lately,” Zaidi said. “When we got Max Muncy, he was coming off probably his worst season as a professional in 2016. Same with Chris Taylor. He had gotten to a point in his career where he had plateaued and was sort of up and down between Triple-A and the big leagues a little bit.
You try to look at the totality of work and not just what they’ve done recently, and that was certainly the case with Michael Gerber, who had a really good professional career and had his worst season in 2018. There are some things we are encouraged by in his track record.”
Gerber had a .688 OPS in Triple-A last season and struck out 21 times in 42 big league at-bats. But if you throw out 2018, you find a more intriguing 26-year-old prospect.
He posted a .304/.373/.496 slash line across three levels in 2017, continuing a trend where he hit at every minor league level. Breyvic Valera fits here, too. His numbers were down in 2018, but a year earlier he hit .314 for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate with more walks than strikeouts.
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Players in this bin are all long shots. If they weren’t, they would already be holding down a job elsewhere. But Zaidi is happy with the crop he has brought in thus far, and if he can hit on one — perhaps finding the next Muncy or Taylor — it would go a long way toward getting the Giants back in contention.