Giants

Why Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a non-tender candidate

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Why Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a non-tender candidate

The Giants are facing a series of difficult decisions this offseason. They must search for a new manager and general manager, and they also must decide whether to re-sign longtime ace Madison Bumgarner.

There also are a handful of players who are eligible for salary arbitration with San Francisco, including early season acquisition Kevin Pillar. The outfielder started 150 games for the Giants after being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays in April.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand recently included Pillar on a list of 12 MLB players who might not be tendered a contract offer before the Dec. 2 deadline.

Here is why:

Traded from the Blue Jays to the Giants one week into the season, the 30-year-old Pillar posted a 93 OPS+ -- his highest mark since 2015 -- with an underwhelming .293 on-base percentage. While Pillar remains a good outfielder, he’s no longer the elite defender he was earlier in his career. Pillar earned $5.8 million in '19, but heading into his third and final year of arbitration-eligibility, it remains to be seen whether the Giants will find his potential price tag too high for their liking. 

Pillar’s veteran presence was valuable for the Giants during a season when a litany of prospects came up to make significant contributions in the majors.

Despite the many defensive web gems Pillar has produced throughout his time in MLB, he never has won a Gold Glove, and he was just a hair above the league-average fielding percentage for a center fielder in 2019 (.986, league average .984).

Farhan Zaidi and the Giants' front office -- which has been increasingly reliant on advanced metrics compared other regimes -- has a difficult decision to make on Pillar.

Zaidi did mention during his end-of-season press conference that the team will be looking for players who can hit well at Oracle Park -- something the team struggled mightily with last season. Out of the 63 home runs hit by the Giants in their home ballpark in 2019, Pillar had 11 of them.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ramos close to making good on lofty goal]

Will comfort at home be enough to justify an increased salary?

We likely won’t know until closer to that Dec. 2 deadline.

Cubs' Theo Epstein explains why Scott Harris will succeed with Giants

Cubs' Theo Epstein explains why Scott Harris will succeed with Giants

The Giants took plenty of criticism last week for their decision to hire Gabe Kapler as manager, but the week's other big move was met with positive reviews. One of the people who complimented Farhan Zaidi's decision to hire Scott Harris as general manager was the executive who had hoped to keep him around. 

At the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters that he was thrilled for Harris and knew it "was an opportunity he couldn't turn down -- a No. 2 (job) of another storied franchise in his hometown." Harris served as assistant general manager of the Cubs before Zaidi hired him last Sunday. 

"We're thrilled for him, but it was bittersweet," Epstein told NBC Sports Chicago. "We loved working with him and he was a big part of our culture and guys around the major-league team love working with him. It will leave a pretty significant void that we'll have to fill. We'll distribute a lot of his responsibilities around to a few different people internally and re-evaluate as we continue to look outside, if there happens to be the right fit outside the organization, too."

Harris' decision was a loss for the Cubs, who have had other notable departures in the front office since winning the World Series in 2016. There has been speculation within the industry that Epstein will leave the Cubs when his contract expires, which could have led to Jed Hoyer taking over that job and Harris getting Hoyer's GM responsibilities. 

[RELATED: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?]

Harris loved his time in Chicago and called working for Epstein and Hoyer a dream situation for anybody looking to break into the game. He was hired as a 25-year-old in 2012, but seven years later Zaidi called with an offer that was too good to turn down.

"He's got incredible work ethic. He's got significant intellectual capacity, but he's very down to Earth, fun to be around," Epstein said of Harris. "He doesn't tell you how smart he is. He's one of the guys everyone loves going to to share things and pick their brain. He's got a good feel around managing up, managing down, managing laterally, (a) good feel with the players and uniformed personnel. He'll do a really good job over there."

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

MLB free agency: What are Giants' biggest needs as hot stove begins?

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler spent nearly an hour discussing the more controversial aspects of the Giants' manager hire, new general manager Scott Harris sat to Kapler's left and took it all in. Other than his own introductory remarks, Harris was mostly silent, but Zaidi smiled and looked at his GM when a reporter asked Zaidi how he planned to "attack free agency."

"Scott?" Zaidi said, laughing. 

Harris took the question, but he didn't give up much more than Zaidi would have. 

"We're excited to have the three of us in place and to start having those conversations that are full of debate, that are full of challenging each other," Harris said, "To make sure that we're targeting the right players and Gabe feels comfortable deploying those players in the right way to allow them to succeed."

More than anything, Kapler simply needs better players. Zaidi and Harris jumped right in to that process, flying to Scottsdale after the Kapler press conference despite the fact that they had already missed most of the first three days of the four-day GM Meetings. Zaidi and Harris have spent plenty of time over the last month discussing their future plans, but they planned to set up meetings in Scottsdale to start zeroing in on specific free agent targets. 

Who are those players? We know one who is off the list. Closer Will Smith signed with the Braves before Kapler could even move into his office, leaving a big hole in the bullpen. That's where we'll start in this early look at what the Giants need in free agency:

Bullpen

The closer right now is ... maybe Tony Watson? Maybe Shaun Anderson? Tyler Rogers and Sam Coonrod showed flashes as rookies, Trevor Gott is healing well, and guys like Jandel Gustave, Sam Selman and Andrew Suarez should be part of the mix. But that's not a good bullpen on paper. 

The Giants will need to add, although as we saw last year, they're more likely to do so with minor additions and trades -- like the Gott move. Don't expect them to spend big on what's left of the relief market. One of the best arms still out there, Drew Pomeranz, is already familiar to them. They're more likely to find the next reclamation project than sign a player looking for big money. 

Backup catcher

Stephen Vogt is wildly popular and had a very nice year as Buster Posey's partner, but he has talked of trying to win a World Series. He is smart enough to know San Francisco is not the place to do that in 2020. 

Vogt liked San Francisco and may return, but if he signs with a contender, the Giants will need a bridge to Joey Bart. Aramis Garcia is an option, but if Zaidi wanted to go with Erik Kratz last opening day over Garcia, it seems likely another veteran is brought in a year later. 

Lefty infielder

The Giants used more platoons last season and could use a left-handed hitter to take some at-bats away from Evan Longoria and Mauricio Dubon. Longoria had a .722 OPS against righties last season and Dubon is still unproven. Pablo Sandoval did some heavy lifting at third base last season, but he'll miss most of 2020 after Tommy John having surgery and is a free agent. The other backup infield option, Donovan Solano, also hits from the right side. 

Kean Wong, claimed off waivers earlier this month, hits left-handed, but he has just 18 big league at-bats. 

Righty outfielder

Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson (if he can stay healthy) should go into next season looking at meaty roles, but the Giants don't have much from the right side other than Kevin Pillar. Austin Slater's numbers took a nosedive in the second half and Jaylin Davis struggled in a September cameo. Joey Rickard is a candidate to be non-tendered. 

The Giants need outfield help in general, but they're especially lacking in right-handed pop. Zaidi tried plenty of fringe options in 2019. He has the financial wiggle room to take some bigger swings this offseason if he wants to. 

[RELATED: Giants continue Triples Alley work, move bullpens off field]

The Bumgarner situation

If it feels like we've hit on all corners of the roster here, it's because, well, yeah, the roster has a lot of holes. 

The biggest one is now at the top of the rotation, where the Giants very well may be looking for a way to replace their longtime ace. Bringing Bumgarner back would actually pretty much set the rotation. The Giants could feel pretty comfortable going into next spring with Bumgarner, a healthy Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, followed by the group of Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Tyler Anderson and any depth options Zaidi is able to scoop up. 

But pull Bumgarner out of that group and you have a big hole, especially because Beede is still mostly unproven and Webb will have an innings limit. Internally, Zaidi and Harris likely have already decided how hard they'll go after Bumgarner. If they're not intent on bringing him back, they'll need rotation help.