Will Smith has clear priority hitting MLB free agency for first time


Will Smith has clear priority hitting MLB free agency for first time

SAN FRANCISCO -- Will Smith tried not to worry about what August might bring as the trade deadline approached this summer, and as he prepared for his final few games as a Giant, he took the same approach with free agency. Smith said he was happy to let his agents at CAA handle all the details until it was time for a final decision to be made. 

"That's their ninth inning, is them figuring that stuff out," Smith told NBC Sports Bay Area. "I'll take care of the ninth inning here. That's kind of how we view it."

Smith took care of the ninth better than just about anyone in the National League, which surely pleased those agents who now will try and potentially find him a new home. The 30-year-old lefty should be the most coveted reliever on the market, and he fits just about any situation. 

Need a closer? Smith had 34 saves in 38 opportunities for a bad team and rarely even had a stressful ninth. He struck out a career-high 13.2 batters per nine innings. 

Need a dominant lefty for your seventh or eighth? Smith can face either lefties or righties, but he wiped out same-side hitters, allowing just a .395 OPS to lefty hitters and striking out 42 of the 72 he faced. 

Need a good clubhouse guy? A leader for your bullpen? Someone who has proven durable and willing to pitch multiple innings? Smith, a Willie Mac Award winner, checks all the boxes. 

In short, Smith could pitch anywhere next season. The Nationals, Twins, Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Phillies and other potential contenders will be looking for late-inning help. Smith's hometown Braves loom as an intriguing option. Smith spends his offseasons attending Falcons games and the Braves, who had Mark Melancon closing postseason games, could use a steadier hand in the ninth. 

The Giants will need a closer, too, and they'll be happy to have Smith back if he accepts the $17.8 million qualifying offer. But given their situation, it's hard to picture them winning a bidding war. Smith is expected to get at least a three-year deal and should be looking at upwards of $40 million overall. 

Smith said he enjoyed his time in San Francisco, calling it an "awesome group" with a "bullpen that's really close." He wanted to see who would take over for Bruce Bochy, but that should be settled soon. Smith's preference is to close, and the Giants could offer him that gig for the foreseeable future, unlike some teams that may view him as just another cog in a dominant bullpen. 

But there's a major drawback to staying in San Francisco. For as much improvement as the Giants showed in some areas, they still are not close to being a true contender. As Smith talked about what's important, he mentioned how much 2016 meant to him. He got a taste of the postseason and would do anything to get back. 

[RELATED: Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect Giants fit in free agency]

"I've said this from Day 1: I don't care how much I make -- I'll play for free, I really will -- I just want to win," Smith said. "You play to be the best, you play for the ring, you play for the trophy, you play for a World Series. After going in 2016 and getting that little bit of a taste, you never want to go home early. It's kind of sad when you leave and other teams get to keep playing. You want to be one of those final teams that have a shot at it."

The Giants went home early in three of Smith's four seasons in San Francisco. He should have no shortage of options if he wants to join a contender right away, although it's possible the qualifying offer will depress his market enough that a reunion makes sense. That's something Smith's agents will figure out in the coming weeks. The lefty did his part to put himself in a good situation, and soon he'll get rewarded for it. 

Giants' Heliot Ramos could make MLB debut in 2020, Gabe Kapler says

Giants' Heliot Ramos could make MLB debut in 2020, Gabe Kapler says

The start to MLB's ramp-up to the season certainly hasn't gone smooth. Four Giants already have tested positive for the coronavirus, and workouts at Oracle Park were suspended Tuesday pending the results of tests conducted this past weekend. 

If there actually is a season this year, Giants fans could get a glimpse of their exciting future. Manager Gabe Kapler already has raved about 18-year-old Marco Luciano, catcher Joey Bart is set to learn another position to help his major-league chances in the near future and a 20-year-old outfielder could make his MLB debut this season. It certainly didn't take long for Heliot Ramos to impress Kapler.

"I'm never one to rule anything out, and Ramos has shown especially well in these first couple of days," Kapler said Monday on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks" show. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Ramos, the Giants' first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, might have been their most impressive prospect last year. He spent the entire season as a 19-year-old and made it all the way to Double-A Richmond. Through 77 games in Class A San Jose, Ramos hit .306 with 13 homers and 18 doubles before playing his final 25 games in Richmond. 

He only played two games with the big league club in spring training, but he did crush a two-run homer against the Colorado Rockies. On Monday, he opened eyes yet again with his approach at the plate. 

"He had another couple of good at-bats (Monday), just missed a hanging slider ... the whole camp kind of opened their mouths like, 'He really just missed putting that ball in the seats,' " Kapler said. "His engine is really incredible. Excellent bat speed, good throwing arm, smart kid, really great to have around." 

[RELATED: Giants could have some tough decisions with outfielders]

Ramos likely would have started the season in Triple-A Sacramento this year, or even played a few more games in Richmond. Now as he's part of the Giants' 60-man roster, he'll be in Sacramento at the Giants' sister site when the MLB season begins.

But at only 20 years old, Ramos could be in San Francisco playing for the Giants as soon as this season. 

"Wouldn't rule anything out," Kapler said. "Likelihood is there's probably a little more development there."

Why Gabe Kapler isn't worried about Giants suspending camp Tuesday

Why Gabe Kapler isn't worried about Giants suspending camp Tuesday

The Giants have spent weeks preparing for every possibility that might pop up during a spring training held at Oracle Park amid a continued coronavirus outbreak.

But there's one thing they could not have planned for, a hurdle nobody quite saw coming across the league. 

A missing FedEx truck. 

On Tuesday the Giants announced that their afternoon workout had been canceled because they are awaiting test results from Saturday. Manager Gabe Kapler said the Giants, like at least a half-dozen other teams, had issues relating to their courier who was supposed to take a round of COVID-19 tests to MLB's facility in Utah. Because the Giants did not have Saturday's results back, they were unable to take the field Tuesday.

A few players, mostly pitchers, were able to take part in a light workout in the morning before the staff made the decision to call off the day's activities. Kapler said he's confident Saturday's test results will come back Tuesday at some point, allowing the Giants to take the field as planned Wednesday. 

While some executives around the league have blasted MLB's handling of all this, Kapler was diplomatic, saying he has a "level of empathy for everybody" working hard to keep camps running across the league.

"Nobody expected this to be easy," Kapler said, "And everybody is doing the best that they can."

It will have to be better, though. Players already have a high level of distrust with the league and trepidation about playing this season, as Buster Posey made clear Saturday. Continued issues could lead to a wave of players opting out before the season even starts, and people across the game have said publicly the last couple of days that they need to see MLB clean up the process. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The issues started over the weekend when the A's were unable to hold a workout because their test results had been delayed by a lack of pickups over the holiday weekend. On Monday, the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros had to cancel workouts because of delays for Friday's testing. The Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels also have had to push back workouts. 

Players are supposed to be tested every other day, and Kapler was hopeful that the process would get back on track quickly. The Giants had another round of testing Monday and hope to get that back Wednesday. Kapler was confident the protocols would be better figured out in the coming days. 

"I feel as confident today as I did yesterday," he said. "I understand that there's going to be hiccups along the way. I think our club does, as well. Our players and staff are included in that. I still have confidence for sure."

[RELATED: Three observations about Giants' schedule]

The Giants were supposed to hold their first intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday. They had moved it up a few days because camp had been going well over the weekend, and there is some urgency to all of this. The Giants will open at Dodger Stadium on July 23, and while they have not had any known big leaguers test positive for COVID-19 -- four members of the organization have, overall -- there is very little time to get the healthy players ready. 

Kapler, though, focused on the positive. He said this would not be a significant setback, noting that it could be a needed break for players, coaches and support staff, most of whom rushed to San Francisco in the last two weeks and jumped right into a modified camp with extreme safety protocols. Kapler said the Giants would use this as a "mental recovery day."

"There's some benefit to that," he said.