Why Giants enter Bryce Harper sweepstakes with head start over suitors


Why Giants enter Bryce Harper sweepstakes with head start over suitors

SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants first started dreaming of Bryce Harper, they did so as contenders -- the three-time champs with a roster full of players who could realistically join the slugger in another run through the postseason. 

When they actually sat down with him this week, they did so with a new face in the room for a key reason. Farhan Zaidi was one of three team higher-ups to travel to Las Vegas. He is in this position, of course, because the previous regime lost 187 games over the past two seasons. 

Harper’s decision will come down to money, for the most part, but it’s also fair to assume he’ll want to join a good situation. When the news broke Wednesday, a lot of people on social media were quick to point out that Harper wouldn’t want to come to a rebuilding team. 

He probably doesn’t, but there’s also a reason the Giants were able to jump back into the mix in February. The Yankees? Dodgers? Cubs? Cardinals? They all have shied away this offseason, so the field the Giants have joined isn’t exactly brimming with potential contenders. 

PECOTA, a projection system from Baseball Prospectus, has the Giants at 71 wins in 2019.

Let’s take a look at how that compares to the other known suitors trying to get Harper away from the Nationals … 

Phillies (86-76 projected record) 

Alright, they’re in a much better situation than the Giants after adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and others to a team that got off to a hot start in 2018. But they’re also projected to finish just third in a loaded division, and PECOTA put them ahead of the Braves, which seems a stretch. If Harper is looking to get back to the postseason, the NL East is not an easy situation, with the Nationals and Mets loading up to match a young Braves team that has waves of more talent coming. The Phillies could be much, much better next season and still end up third or fourth in their division. 

White Sox (70-92) 

They’re loaded with prospects, but they’re not close to contending. That core is a year or two away, and both Harper and Manny Machado are viewed as signature pieces young enough to grow with the prospects. But prospects are not guaranteed, and the White Sox haven’t shown enough development to be considered a sure thing to turn this around at any point. 

Padres (75-87)

They’re a similar case, and they actually jumped the line a year ago, giving Eric Hosmer a massive deal to grow with their prospects. That’s what the White Sox are hoping to do. The farm system here is better than any in the game, but the younger players the Padres have actually graduated already have not turned into All-Stars, or anything close. People familiar with this team will tell you the Padres are built to surprise in 2020, and even that isn’t guaranteed.

The Giants have their own big-time issues, with a poor farm system, aging roster, and standouts like Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith entering contract years. There’s a reason they’re mostly rebuilding, after all. But there’s also likely a reason Harper hasn’t seem all that enamored with the field that’s been chasing him all offseason.

[RELATED: What would signing Harper do to Giants' payroll plans?]

The teams that have been publicly connected to him haven’t recently been contenders, and if the Giants, who fit that mold too, are actually serious about trying to sign Harper, that should help their cause. They still have Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Dereck Rodriguez and others locked in, after all, and financially they're in with the Yankees and Dodgers and Cubs, not the White Sox or Padres. When Zaidi sat down with Harper this week, that gave him a head start over some of the others. 

Giants sign Darin Ruf to minor-league deal after three seasons in Korea

Giants sign Darin Ruf to minor-league deal after three seasons in Korea

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 and 35 homers and 96 RBI from 2012-16.

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

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

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

Ruf's deal will also include an invite to major league spring training. 

Giants' Ron Wotus to honor high school coach at 'Coaching Corps' Awards


Giants' Ron Wotus to honor high school coach at 'Coaching Corps' Awards

When the Giants take the field next month at Scottsdale Stadium, Ron Wotus will begin his 23rd consecutive season on the big league coaching staff, a feat that is impressive for much more than simple longevity. 

Wotus was the only member of Bruce Bochy's staff to be brought back by Gabe Kapler. Before that he jumped from Felipe Alou to Bochy, and Dusty Baker to Alou. He is working with his fourth Giants manager because of a commitment to hard work, preparation, communication and competitiveness, traits that Wotus first started to hone as a star at Bacon Academy in Colchester, Conn.

Wotus has spent most of his life in professional baseball, but the skillset that he still leans on today first became a part of his life on a different patch of grass. He carries with him the lessons taught by John McKiernan, his high school soccer coach. 

"I have such great memories of playing soccer. It was by far my favorite sport, and it's because of John," Wotus said. "If he wasn't my coach, there's no way it would have been my favorite sport. He's special. He knows how to connect, he knows how to relate, he's got a great sense of humor, he's super-competitive, but he's got that great balance that all the good ones have. And he cares."

Wotus has spent his professional life helping to develop players like Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt, and on Thursday night he'll get a chance to honor the man who taught him so much of what he still passes on. Wotus will honor McKiernan at the sixth annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, which will air Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. 

When Wotus was called and asked to honor an instrumental coach in his life, he immediately turned to his wife, Laurie. He knew what he wanted to do.

"I got emotional and she immediately said, 'You have to honor John,'" Wotus said. "This is over 45 years ago that we met. All these years that have passed, you really realize how important he was to your life."

Wotus met McKiernan in middle school, and the latter immediately knew that there was something different about the young boy who would go on to play four years of varsity baseball, soccer and basketball at Bacon Academy, a small school with a graduating class of about 100 students. 

"You could see (in fifth grade) that he was very gifted," McKiernan said. "He lit up the room when he was in it ... He was always so happy to be on the field or the court or the diamond. He just loved athletics and he loved competing and he was always prepared and ready to go. Whatever we were doing he seemed to enjoy, except maybe he didn't like all the running we did in soccer. I think he could have done without that."

All that running still sticks with Wotus four-plus decades later. He remembers McKiernan's soccer team doing heavy conditioning work. It was necessary for the small-school team. 

"What he said to us was that we may not have the most skill on the field, but we'll be the best conditioned and we'll make up for any lack of skill that we have," Wotus said. "That stuck with me. Don't be out-conditioned, don't be outworked, don't be out-prepared. I think that's the foundation of my approach as a coach. You have to give it your all and you're going to prepare. It's the preparation that's important, and then you go out and compete."

The competing part was easy for Wotus, a three-sport star. McKiernan coached the junior varsity basketball team but never had Wotus there because he was put on varsity right away, eventually earning all-state honors. The Pirates selected Wotus in the 16th round of the 1979 draft and he ended up playing 32 games in the big leagues. It was on the soccer field, however, that Wotus made his biggest prep impact. He was an All-New England center forward for Bacon, scoring 89 career goals, which stood as a state record for more than two decades. 

McKiernan remembers Wotus for much more than the prolific numbers. He said Wotus constantly pushed to make sure his teammates were recognized and brought intensity no matter the score.

"He never thought that we were out of a game," McKiernan said.

Wotus matched his production with dependability. 

In four years, he never missed a practice in any of his three sports, and he sat out just one game in his high school career, the result of a sprained ankle. With a tournament coming up, McKiernan held his star out of the final game of the season so he could get back to 100 percent. 

"He tried to sneak into the game a few times," McKiernan said. "I had to pull him back."

The relationship that was built during soccer practices and hundreds of games of horse on the basketball court has lasted to this day. McKiernan has been out to San Francisco a couple of times to visit Wotus, who was the bench coach for all three title teams. Occasionally he'll plan a cross-country road trip that allows him to visit Wotus in a visiting city. 

Wotus is getting ready for his 33rd year in the Giants organization. Before he gets back to baseball, he'll take a moment to honor the man who made such an impact during his soccer career. It was an easy choice to give the award to McKiernan.

"John, he was the guy. The way I coach now, I think of him often," Wotus said. "I try to emulate him in a lot of ways."

You can donate to the "Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards," here

“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area