Giants

Where Buster Posey, Giants' core players stand as Winter Meetings near

Where Buster Posey, Giants' core players stand as Winter Meetings near

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants fans have watched Will Smith and Stephen Vogt find new homes. With Kevin Pillar getting sent out to the open market and Madison Bumgarner potentially the next to say goodbye to orange and black, it understandably feels like a changing of the guard, but the reality is that there are still plenty of familiar faces in that clubhouse.

Mauricio Dubon may start at second base, but the rest of the infield still includes three homegrown Giants and a veteran who has been here two years. The rotation, even without Bumgarner, is led by two veterans who signed for a combined $220 million after the 2015 season. 

Times have changed, yes, but the real heavy lifting with the roster has not begun. Joe Panik is the only member of the so-called "core" to have been sent off so far, and as much as Pillar and Vogt resonated with the fan base, neither was on the opening day roster in 2019.

The bigger changes are still to come, and that work may kick into a higher gear at the Winter Meetings next week in San Diego. Here's a look at where the veteran Giants, including that core of #ForeverGiants, stand after the first month of the offseason

Buster Posey

For all the talk of Posey's decline, he still provides plenty of value every night with his work defensively and leading a pitching staff. Posey remains the face of the franchise, and while his offensive numbers hit career lows in 2019, the Giants are somewhat bullish on his future. 

A few of Posey's teammates and coaches expressed regret near the end of the season that he didn't get more time to rehab from major hip surgery. Posey sailed through the rehab process and was ready by the end of the spring, but perhaps the strength wasn't all the way back. Did he push to return on time because it was Bruce Bochy's last season? Was it just the competitor in him? Only Posey could tell you, but the Giants are hopeful that a healthy offseason will bring back some of his old form. 

"One of the things I said to him is, 'I know you're disappointed with the season that you had, but I think we all need to take a step back and realize how far you came over the course of the season,'" Farhan Zaidi said earlier this offseason. "Sitting here a year ago, I didn't know when he was going to be ready to play, if he was going to be ready to play, and certainly Opening Day seemed like a stretch coming off the surgery he did.

"I just feel like in cases like that, players of that stature coming back from major surgeries, we move quickly from 'If he is going to be ready, is he going to play?' to having the same incredibly high expectations that we have of that player."

Joey Bart is coming fast, but 2021 is a more realistic timeframe for a major role. Posey will be behind the dish on Opening Day and should be in line for another 100 starts or so behind the plate, just with a different backup this time. 

Brandon Belt

The Belt Wars figure to pick back up in the coming months. Belt is coming off a disappointing season, but Gabe Kapler already has paid him compliments and Zaidi said on the Giants Insider Podcast that he felt Belt had an unlucky season.

"Hitting balls hard right at guys, hitting balls in this ballpark that might have been extra-base hits or home runs elsewhere, and that's reflected in the data," Zaidi said. "As we went through his season, one of the things that he really managed this year was locking in on the strike zone even more. One of the things that's been talked about with him is some vulnerability to velocity up in the zone and he actually cut back on his chase (percentage) significantly."

Belt's slugging percentage was 54 points below his expected slugging percentage based on quality of contact, and he should benefit more than any Giant from the fences coming in as the bullpens are moved. Even in a down year, Belt reached base at a .339 clip, something that's important to an organization preaching patience at the plate throughout every level. 

The Giants don't have many spots where they realistically can add more power, and perhaps they'll view first base as the best option. But Belt still has $32 million left on his deal and the Giants would be selling low and possibly chipping in money. Throw in his 10-team no-trade clause and Belt isn't nearly as likely to be dealt as most think.

Brandon Crawford

While the Giants acquired Dubon to play second base last season, team officials repeatedly pointed out that he's a natural shortstop. Crawford, to his credit, has taken Dubon under his wing, and the two could form one of the better defensive tandems in the National League. 

But, this also could turn into a platoon of sorts. Crawford had a .277 on-base percentage and .321 slugging percentage against lefties last season and the Giants already brought back Donovan Solano, a middle infielder who hits from the right side. They appear poised to go with Dubon and Solano quite a bit against left-handed pitchers, and they continue to look for even more infield depth. 

Crawford will go down as one of the most popular Giants ever and one of the best defensive shortstops of his generation, but right now he's the core Giant who might be under the most pressure to get off to a good start next season. 

Evan Longoria

In his second full season with the Giants, Longoria was quietly pretty productive. He was one of the better defensive third basemen in the NL and hit 20 homers despite missing significant time with a foot injury. 

This is one area where the Giants expect to add, though. Longoria had a .852 OPS against lefties last year but it was just .722 against righties, and Pablo Sandoval siphoned away a lot of those starts when he was healthy. Sandoval is a free agent and recovering from elbow surgery, but expect the Giants to try and find a left-handed backup for Longoria, who has been extremely durable in his career but turned 34 in October. 

Longoria is signed through 2022 and the contract will be extremely difficult to move, even for the executive who got out from under Mark Melancon's deal, so there won't be much drama at third base this offseason or next spring. 

[RELATED: Report: MadBum wants to stay, but Giants not interested]

Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto

You can bet some eyes widened in the Giants' front office when 35-year-old Cole Hamels signed for $18 million Wednesday morning. Not because that's a crazy price, but because it could set the Giants up to shop one of their own veterans. 

Samardzija had a 3.52 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 181 1/3 innings last year. Hamels was at 3.81 and 1.39 in 142 2/3 innings. The lefty had an edge in FIP and strikeout rate, but still, it's not crazy for the Giants to sell Samardzija as a stopgap option for a contender in need of reliable pitching. Samardzija, coincidentally, is due $18 million next season.

Cueto still has $47 million left on his deal (assuming his 2022 option doesn't get picked up) and is coming off Tommy John surgery. The Giants are excited about his rehab process and believe a big year could be coming, but others might feel the same way. At least one American League club sniffed around before the deadline while Cueto still was rehabbing, and Zaidi might get some calls on him as big-name starters sign elsewhere. 

The odds are good that Samardzija and Cueto will both be at Scottsdale Stadium next spring, but when looking at the veterans who remain with the Giants, these two might be the most likely to get moved. Samardzija can block trades to eight teams of his choosing but Cueto does not have a no-trade clause. 

Brandon Belt sidelined by heel pain as Giants' MLB opener approaches

Brandon Belt sidelined by heel pain as Giants' MLB opener approaches

On the first day of intrasquad games the Giants were without two key players, and another was slightly limited. 

Gabe Kapler said Brandon Belt is out at least five to seven days with right heel pain. Hunter Pence took his swings Wednesday but did not play the outfield because he has minor foot pain, though the Giants expect him to be a full go soon. Buster Posey missed the day with the same personal issue that caused him to miss Friday's workout. 

Belt's pain, which he has had in the past, is by far the most concerning. The Giants have just 15 days until their opener at Dodger Stadium and their starting first baseman is in a walking boot. Kapler said it was “premature to make an assessment" for the opening series. He said he spoke with Belt and the first baseman was confident he would be okay. 

If Belt is not ready by opening day, the Giants do have some first base depth. Wilmer Flores, Pablo Sandoval and Darin Ruf all could handle starts there. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Belt had been working out with Group 2, which includes Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Posey and Donovan Solano. The Giants played a simulated game in the afternoon at Oracle Park, but they did not have players stationed at every position. Because they generally had infielders set up for every inning, coaches took turns fielding at first base. 

[RELATED: Watch Luciano hit monster home run in live BP]

Belt spoke with the media on Sunday and expressed optimism about the upcoming season. He said he feels good about safety protocols put in place and has talked to several doctors about whether this plan is a good idea. Belt also said he was excited about the short season.

"It could be a year that maybe a team that wouldn't get in otherwise gets in and they go on a hot streak and maybe win the World Series," Belt said. "Our goal is the same no matter if we're playing 162 or 60 -- we're playing to win ballgames and get in the playoffs and ultimately win a World Series."

Watch Giants prospect Marco Luciano hit monster home run in live BP

Watch Giants prospect Marco Luciano hit monster home run in live BP

The Giants held an intrasquad game featuring many of their regulars on Wednesday afternoon, but it seems the real action was seen in the morning. 

Marco Luciano, the organization's top prospect, has shown in workouts over the past week why he's one of the top 20 prospects in baseball, and on Wednesday the Giants gave fans a taste of Luciano's power:

Reminder: That's the swing and physique of a shortstop who won't turn 19 until September. Luciano signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago and made an impact in his pro debut last year, batting .302/.417/.564 in 47 games with 10 homers and 13 doubles. 

"Kind of taller -- little lanky, still -- not fully mature in the lower half, but incredibly twitchy," manager Gabe Kapler said on KNBR earlier this week. "Incredibly athletic and rangy to both his left and his right. In the batter's box, (he has) a high level of comfort and confidence."

Luciano likely would have spent much of this season with High-A San Jose, but now he'll get two months of extra work with more experienced players in Sacramento, along with this early time in big league camp. The Giants will reevaluate their prospects in the offseason, but Luciano has the look of someone who will move extremely quickly. There are plenty of scouts who believe he'll be a top-five prospect in all of baseball by next spring. 

[RELATED: Three interesting observations about Giants' 60-game slate]

Kapler has talked a couple of times this week of how impressive the younger Giants have been. Luciano is part of a group that includes Joey Bart, Patrick Bailey, Heliot Ramos, Alexander Canario and Wilson. Kapler said that group is often making Oracle Park "look small."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]