Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect fit for Giants in MLB free agency


Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect fit for Giants in MLB free agency

Zack Wheeler finally stood on the mound in San Francisco on July 10, 2013, four years after the Giants selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. There was one problem, though: Wheeler was wearing a Mets jersey instead of having "Giants" across his chest. 

It has been over six years since Wheeler first pitched in San Francisco, and he now finds himself in an interesting and ironically comical place. The man the Giants traded him for, Carlos Beltran, recently was named manager of none other than the Mets right as Wheeler becomes a free agent for the first time. And you know who could use Wheeler right now? 

The Giants. 

As The Athletic's Grant Brisbee put it on Monday, "about a tenth of one percent of this has to do with the scenario being funny." Let's face it -- the scenario's hilarious. The reality, however, is Wheeler truly might be the perfect fit for the Giants this offseason. 

Wheeler now is 29 years old and will turn 30 in May. The right-hander is ranked as Jim Bowden's No. 6 free agent, and the former general manager predicts Wheeler will sign a four-year, $74 million contract, which is $10 million less than Bowden has Bumgarner making on the open market. MLB Trade Rumors placed a more expensive price tag on Wheeler at five years and $100 million. 

There's no perfect formula to predict contracts, but it's easy to see Wheeler fall in that gap between $70-100 million. Those figures also would fit much more in line with what Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is likely to spend, as opposed to, say, Gerrit Cole-type money

For his past and future trajectory, Wheeler is one of the most interesting and talented free agents this offseason. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and wound up spending two-and-a-half years away from a major league mound. The past two seasons, he has proven to be fully healthy and one of the best arms in baseball. 

Wheeler has a 3.65 ERA over 60 starts the last two years, while averaging 189 innings pitched per season. He has a 1.19 WHIP over that span and 3.37 FIP. Now that he's healthy, he looks like a prime candidate to be the next Cole at a tick of the price tag. 

Cole and Wheeler both are listed at 6-foot-4 and throw absolute gas. Wheeler averaged nearly 97 miles per hour on his fastball in 2019. According to data from Baseball Savant, Wheeler's fastball velocity is in the 94th percentile, his opponent exit velocity is in the 90th percentile and his hard-hit percentage is in 82nd percentile. 

The most similar pitcher to Wheeler last season based on velocity and movement, was Cole, per Baseball Savant.

His past injury history could scare teams, but the last two seasons should be a clear indication of who Wheeler is and can become. This is an ace in the making who looks like he can get better and better. The one downfall is the Mets gave him the qualifying offer. San Francisco likely would lose a second-round draft pick if they signed Wheeler.

Numbers don't lie, though. It's clear he's well worth that. 

[RELATED: Why MadBum was called 'most fascinating' MLB free agent]

What Wheeler does best is exactly what everyone is looking for. He's a pitcher with high velocity, the ability to rack up strikeouts and keeps the ball in the park. He won't break the bank and should be at the front of the rotation when the Giants are ready to contend again. 

Timmy already came home. Now it's time for Zack Wheeler to do the same and become a Giant, once and for all.

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.