What will Giants do with Kevin Pillar, other arbitration-eligible players?


What will Giants do with Kevin Pillar, other arbitration-eligible players?

SAN FRANCISCO -- When he took the Giants' job last November, Farhan Zaidi's first opportunity to shape the roster came with his arbitration-eligible veterans. He decided to keep Joe Panik, Will Smith and Sam Dyson, while non-tendering Hunter Strickland and Gorkys Hernandez. 

The Giants had no regrets there. Strickland got hurt in Seattle and traded to the Nationals, and he was easily replaced by the much cheaper Trevor Gott. Hernandez spent five months in Triple-A with the Red Sox and the Giants went out and eventually filled that hole with Kevin Pillar.

Pillar is one of six arbitration-eligible veterans this offseason, and he's the most fascinating case. The 30-year-old hit 21 homers, proved to be a rare Giant who can flash power at Oracle Park and made plenty of eye-popping plays in center. But there's still a little doubt about his immediate future. 

MLB Trade Rumors projects arbitration salaries every year and tends to be extremely accurate. Here are the players the Giants need to make decisions on, starting with Pillar, a Willie Mac Award winner who is starting to get expensive:

Kevin Pillar -- projected to earn $9.7 million 

During the last week of the season, Pillar was asked about the young players Zaidi had added to the roster.

"Obviously I'd love to comment on that because I'd like to think I'm back here, but until I get tendered a contract, my future is kind of up in the air," he said. 

On one hand, this seems like a no-brainer. With Steven Duggar coming off another shoulder injury and Heliot Ramos just settling in at Double-A, the Giants don't have another answer in center. Pillar hit 11 homers at Oracle Park, was extremely popular in the clubhouse, and took the field every single day regardless of the team's situation or his own bumps and bruises. Bruce Bochy gushed about Pillar's endurance, and a new manager will appreciate that, too. 

So why is there any doubt? Pillar drove in runs and scored them, but he had a .287 on-base percentage and was 15 points below league average by wRC+. 

"I do get how important the on-base percentage is and it's an area I need to improve on," he said. "But for as long as this game has been played, scoring runs and driving in runs, the last time I checked, is how you win games."

This will be a fascinating test for the new front office, which is more analytically-inclined than the previous one. Which set of stats do they trust? Do they believe in the eye test in center field, or the defensive metrics that put Pillar more around the league average? 

The guess here is that a deal gets done, although likely at a figure below $9.7 million. The Giants also could try to lock Pillar into a cheaper two-year deal which would allow him to avoid a market that has been cruel to veteran hitters in recent years. 

Kyle Barraclough -- $2.1 million 

The right-hander was happy to be back home and the Giants put him in some high-leverage situations to see if his old form would return. Barraclough was charged with two earned runs in eight innings and still has good stuff, but he walked nine batters and put Bochy in some tough spots. Barraclough is the kind of pitcher Zaidi will want in camp, but it's hard to see it at that price. 

Donovan Solano -- $1.2 million

Did you know he had a 117 OPS+ as a Giant and hit .402 on the road? The veteran, who was with the Dodgers when Zaidi was there, had a sneaky-good season. Solano lost playing time to Mauricio Dubon down the stretch, but this should be an easy decision. With Brandon Crawford coming off a down year and some concern about Dubon's ability to hold up over a full season, Solano should be back. 

Alex Dickerson -- $1.2 million

The man who briefly saved the season and inspired "Dick!" chants couldn't stay healthy in the second half. Dickerson ended up with a .880 OPS with the Giants but it was just .724 after the All-Star break, with two homers in 108 at-bats. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about his health, but Dickerson was a game-changer when he was right, and the Giants don't have a lot of options for the heart of their order. He should be back. Even 300 at-bats would be well worth it at that price. 

[RELATED: Gabe Kapler as Giants manager?

Joey Rickard -- $1.1 million 

He did a relatively nice job against lefties and Bochy liked the way he defended and played the game, but that's kind of a pricey projection for a backup outfielder who isn't in the Opening Day plans. The Giants brought in guys like Henry Ramos and Anthony Garcia last spring and they're likely to go that path again in search of outfield depth at Triple-A. 

Wandy Peralta -- $800,000

He flashed good stuff in eight appearances with the Giants and they don't have a lot of bullpen options. You won't be limited elsewhere by giving a veteran reliever $800,000, although Zaidi may prefer to keep that roster spot open. 

Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff


Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff

SAN DIEGO -- When you hear the words "player development," you think of 19-year-olds learning on back fields at the minor league facility in Scottsdale, or a roving hitting instructor spending time making swing changes with prospects Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos, or a coach teaching a Logan Webb or Sean Hjelle a new pitch. 

But when Giants manager Gabe Kapler talks about player development -- and he does so often -- he's also thinking about guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Kapler said this week that there's "not much I feel more strongly about" than players continuing to develop at the big league level, and that played a huge role as he hired a young staff that will ideally bring an innovative approach.

"There's evidence all over the place in Major League Baseball about players who reinvent themselves or take major steps forward and reestablish their value at the Major League level," Kapler said this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

The Giants are building for the future, but they also believe they can squeeze much more out of the existing core. And when Bart and Ramos are veterans one day, they want those guys to continue to find new levels, too. As he talked about player development at the big league level, Kapler pivoted and told a story about Bryce Harper, who already had more than 900 games under his belt when he joined Kapler's Phillies last season. 

"Bryce Harper, I think, was influenced heavily by Paco Figueroa, our first base and outfield coach, mostly just because Paco was not concerned about approaching Bryce," Kapler said. "He recognized that Bryce Harper wanted to be coached and wanted to develop, and he was willing to approach. Bryce recognized that so much so that at the end of the year when we were doing our exit meetings, Bryce recognized that Paco had been influential in his career and helped him become a better outfielder and baserunner."

Harper was worth negative-26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 according to Fangraphs -- just about the only blemish on his résumé as a free agent -- but was plus-9 in his first season in Philadelphia, a massive improvement. The Giants were actually intent on going that path long before Kapler arrived. When they offered Harper $310 million last year, their existing analytics and coaching staffs had ideas about how they could get more out of Harper defensively with positioning changes. 

Harper's not the only example the Giants will use to sell their vision to veteran players. General manager Scott Harris mentioned Gerrit Cole as another who found new ways to add to his game. 

"Look at the strides he made the last two seasons and now he signed the largest free-agent contract (for a pitcher) in the history of the game," Harris said. "You look at the strides he made when he first burst onto the scene for the Pirates and what he did in Houston. Their coaching staff was largely responsible for the development he saw at the Major League level."

The Astros' staff has gotten a lot of credit for turning Cole into the pitcher the Pirates were expecting when they took him first overall in 2011. Cole had a 3.50 ERA in Pittsburgh and a 2.68 ERA in Houston, where his strikeout rate jumped from 8.4 per nine innings to 13.1. He was worth 15.4 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates and then skyrocketed to 13.4 in two seasons in Houston. 

[RELATED: Kershaw believes Dodgers signing MadBum would be 'great']

Kapler and Harris are not walking into an organization that has a Harper or Cole, but they believe their new coaching staff and player-development methods can get the most out of existing talent. That'll be a focus in spring training, and the conversations have already begun with some veterans. Kapler, who mentioned J.D. Martinez as another example of late-career adjustments, said he has spoken to Posey multiple times since getting hired. 

"I think that a lot of established successful Major Leaguers want to get better and sometimes they don't know how," Kapler said. "In some cases, it's because coaches haven't approached them because they don't want to break something that's working well, but I think those days are gone and I think players crave having coaches approach them and ask them to make changes."

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Despite what Giants fans want to believe, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw are friends.

Before many Giants-Dodgers games over the years, they could be seen talking on the field, in plain sight of everyone.

So it should come as any surprise that Kershaw would love to have Bumgarner on the Dodgers.

"I love Bum," Kershaw said Friday at a Dodgers holiday event according to Dodgers Nation. "If we signed him, that’d be great."

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Dodgers and Bumgarner have a mutual interest in a deal.

Bumgarner in Dodger blue is the worst nightmare for Giants fans. But it's a real possibility with Los Angeles missing out on top free agent Gerrit Cole.

[RELATED: Padres reportedly looking at Bumgarner]

Kershaw hasn't been able to bring a World Series to Los Angeles on his own, so of course, he would love for a postseason hero to come help him end the Dodgers' title drought.