Alex Pavlovic

MLB free agency: What we learned about Giants at Winter Meetings

MLB free agency: What we learned about Giants at Winter Meetings

SAN FRANCISCO -- "We were jealous."

Those were the words of a rival executive after the Giants took on Zack Cozart's contract in order to get shortstop prospect Will Wilson, the No. 15 pick in this year's draft. The Giants made just two moves this week, but that one certainly caught the attention of many around the game, and it was one team officials couldn't stop talking about over the last couple of days of the Winter Meetings.

It was a creative move, one straight out of an NBA offseason, with the Giants using their financial flexibility to pry away a good prospect from an Angels organization that soon would give Anthony Rendon $245 million. This isn't the type of move that will sell season tickets, but I think it's the most instructive one so far when trying to determine how Farhan Zaidi and now Scott Harris will turn this around.

Ownership hired smart people to run the baseball operations department. Zaidi, Harris and the rest are trying to make the kinds of creative decisions that have been seen in places like Oakland and Tampa Bay for years, while flexing the financial power of a big market.

Eventually, that money will be spent on free agents. For now, it allows the Giants to add players in other ways. The ownership group was thrilled with the Cozart/Wilson move (the Giants completed the deal Thursday by sending lefty Garrett Williams to the Angels) and has granted permission to seek similar, and possibly bigger, deals.

In Wilson, the Giants get a player who was one of three or four in the mix when they took Hunter Bishop at No. 10 overall in June. They would have been happy to end up with Wilson, and now they have both young hitters. Cozart has a "ways to go," before being ready after shoulder surgery, Zaidi said. He added that there's "uncertainty there." But that doesn't matter.

A few front office folks surveyed this week said a big-market team would spend $20-30 million to get a mid-first-round pick like Wilson if that was an open market (draft picks are kind of getting screwed, eh?) and the 21-year-old enters the Giants organization as one of their top 10 prospects, according to multiple outlets.

"We're really excited about him," a team executive said. "We're not going to need three or four guys like that to turn this around, we're going to need eight or 10."

The Giants got a bit closer to that goal by being creative. Here are four more things we learned over four days in Scottsdale.

Positional Versatility

Where were you when the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft went to a fifth-round?! What a time to be alive.

In the first round of Triple-A drafting, the Giants added Brewers minor leaguer Bryan Torres to the River Cats' roster. It potentially was significant because it fits with the theme of the meetings. The Giants announced Torres as a catcher even though he played first base, third base and a bit of outfield last season.

Zaidi has talked in the past of how appealing it is to have players who can catch but also play other positions -- like Austin Barnes or Kyle Farmer did in Los Angeles -- and it seems the Giants will give Torres, a catcher earlier in his minor league career, that shot. Get ready to hear a lot of this.

Gabe Kapler repeatedly said this week that the ability to play different positions will be huge for prospects, even noting that it could help Joey Bart's value down the line. The Giants are planning this at the big league level, too, with Mauricio Dubon set for time in center. Kapler compared Dubon to the Phillies’ do-everything hitter Scott Kingery.

"From the perspective of looking at Dubon, the more capable he is at moving around the diamond, the more valuable he becomes to the San Francisco Giants," Kapler said.

The Giants want to mimic what the Dodgers do with guys like Kiké Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Max Muncy. Get ready to see box scores where a guy moves back and forth, potentially two or three times a game.

A Hint With a Core Giant?

On the same day, the Giants acquired Cozart, it was reported they were a runner-up for shortstop Didi Gregorius. Now, Cozart may not be ready by Opening Day -- Zaidi said it's possible he's out until deep into the first half -- and he may not end up on the team at all. The Giants added him just to buy a prospect.

But, Gregorius is a starting shortstop.

Signing Gregorius -- assuming that rumor is true -- would have installed a new starting shortstop right then and there. It's also interesting to note what Kapler said about Brandon Crawford during his media availability.

"Brandon Crawford at times has been a plus defender up the middle," Kapler said. "I think he still has that capability to be a plus defender at shortstop."

"At times" is not the most ringing endorsement of a three-time Gold Glove Award winner. Crawford surely is motivated to come back strong next season, but it's clear the front office is contemplating some major changes.

The Next Yaz?

The Giants are looking for a right-handed bat in the outfield, but some team officials believe they might already have the solution in-house. There's a lot of excitement about Jaylin Davis, who hit 35 homers in the minors last year but went just 7-for-42 in a September cameo.

The goal with the coaching hires was to unlock the potential that's inside a lot of these prospects, and the 25-year-old Davis certainly is going to be one of the top projects for Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele, Dustin Lind and the rest. The new regime believes there are some changes he can make to carry that minor league success over to his big league at-bats.

Zaidi said the Giants continue to look at other options in free agency and through trades. The Giants have been connected to Nicholas Castellanos, perhaps the best remaining fit, but the reports that they're the leading contender for his services are overstating it, per sources.

[RELATED: Winners, losers of MLB Winter Meetings]

Who Is Left Out?

The Giants added Kevin Gausman to their rotation, giving them a group that currently is led by five right-handers.

"I think we want to have balance," Zaidi said. "Obviously we've got Tyler Anderson, who we're hoping can be ready on Opening Day or at least early in the season. He factors in from the left side and (Andrew) Suarez and (Conner) Menez and some of our younger guys as well. But that's going to be an area we're going to keep an eye on in free agency as well."

This is where the fans will stop and note that, uhh, a man named Madison Bumgarner still is available. The Giants still are involved, but are expecting to lose him, possibly in a painful way. No matter what happens with Bumgarner, expect more changes to the rotation group.

Given the money that's flying around, $18 million is a very palatable salary for Jeff Samardzija, who had a nice season. He might be traded, and Johnny Cueto could have suitors, too. The Giants are excited about Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, but keep in mind that a year ago at this time Zaidi was saying he wanted Dereck Rodriguez and Suarez -- coming off solid rookie years -- to start the season in Triple-A as depth. Neither ended up as a rotation regular. Webb, the organization's top pitching prospect, will be on an innings limit next year, too.

So, here on Dec. 13, do not at all lock in a rotation of Cueto, Samardzija, Beede, Webb and Gausman, or even four of those guys and Anderson as the fifth. The Giants have more rotation changes on the way.

Giants announce changes to Oracle Park, move bullpens to outfield

Giants announce changes to Oracle Park, move bullpens to outfield

On the first day of the Winter Meetings, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi joked that Brandon Belt might often be checking his phone these days for updates on exactly how much the Giants would be chopping out of Triples Alley. On Thursday the Giants finally made their new dimensions official, with changes that aren't all that drastic and still will keep Oracle Park as a pitchers' park with a deep alley in right-center.

It still will be difficult for left-handed hitters to yank the ball out in Triples Alley, but the Giants did change enough that offense should get a slight boost. 

With the bullpens moving from foul territory to the outfield, Triples Alley will be cut from 421 feet to 415. The wall will be five feet closer in left-center and eight feet closer in straightaway center. The bullpens will be situated in center field on either side of the garden that already exists out there. 

"Obviously it's something that started off really as a safety issue with some of what we've seen over the last couple of years, but there's going to be a fun baseball element," Zaidi said earlier this week. "We've done a lot of studies on how we think it's going to impact things but until you actually start playing games and the ball starts flying, you're never quite sure how it's going to go. It'll be a fun and exciting time."

It'll also be a much different look for relievers and fans who sit out in the bleachers. The Giants announced that several bleacher seats will directly overlook the bullpens and they will have two new standing-room terraces out there for fans. The garden in center field will also provide a direct view into the Giants' bullpen. 

[RELATED: Giants announce eight additions to coaching staff]

For the players, the bullpens will have padded chain link openings in the wall so they can watch the game. The centerfield wall will also be one foot shorter, going from eight to seven feet, which could aid a hitter or two every year but may also make it easier for the centerfielder to rob an opposing batter. 

The Giants expect a touch more offense from the new look, but as they ran studies in recent months, they discovered that the weather was actually the main factor in knocking down potential home runs. The heavy air will still be there at night, protecting pitchers and frustrating hitters. 

That'll be good news for Giants relievers. The press release continued one more bit of important news for that group. Both bullpens will have their own bathroom for players. 

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: Giants take right-handed reliever Dany Jimenez

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: Giants take right-handed reliever Dany Jimenez

SAN DIEGO -- It'll be easy to tell when the Giants once again are elite on the field, but when it comes to the health of the minor league system and back end of the 40-man roster, the indicators aren't as clear to the public. One good measure of success will be the yearly Rule 5 draft, which provides an opportunity for struggling clubs to add talent to their big league roster by raiding loaded systems. 

The Astros lost three prospects in the first 10 selections Thursday morning. The Yankees, Nationals and Rays also lost players during the first four picks. That's a sign of health for those organizations, of depth the Giants hope to build. They've made strides but they're still far behind, so on Thursday they once again were on the selecting end. 

A year after they took two players in the Rule 5, the Giants used their lone open roster spot on Dany Jimenez, a 25-year-old right-hander who pitched in the Blue Jays' system last year. Jimenez has a live arm and better command than you usually see from Rule 5 picks. The Giants will throw him in the bullpen mix but must return him to the Blue Jays if Jimenez is not on their big league roster.

"We were happy he fell to us," general manager Scott Harris said. "As we talked about all week, we're trying to find talent. We're trying to find new creative ways. This isn't the most creative way but we got an arm we like."

The Giants selected Drew Ferguson and Travis Bergen last December and later acquired Connor Joe, who was their opening day left fielder. Ferguson was sent back to the Astros during the spring and Joe ended up back with the Dodgers after a few games. Bergen lasted a few months but eventually was sent back to the Blue Jays. 

Jimenez has a strong shot at making the opening day roster and has a better shot than most Rule 5 picks of surviving. It's easier to hide a pitcher in your bullpen all year, particularly with the rosters expanding and the Giants able to carry 13 arms throughout the season. Jimenez also has more experience than Bergen did. He reached Double-A last season and dominated, posting a 1.87 ERA and striking out 46 in 33 2/3 innings. 

Harris said Jimenez has a fastball in the upper 90s. He has averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors and has kept his walk rate on the high end of what's acceptable. That might play in the big leagues, giving the Giants a free reliever at a time when their bullpen is undergoing massive changes. 

[RELATED: Three winners, three losers from the MLB Winter Meetings]

The Giants did not lose a player in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. In the Triple-A phase, they added Brewers catching prospect Bryan Torres to the River Cats' roster.

There was one other pick of note. Starting pitcher Stephen Woods was the fourth overall pick of the draft, going from the Rays to the Royals. Two years ago, the Giants sent Woods to Tampa Bay in the Evan Longoria deal.