Bryce Harper

Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff

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USATSI

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."

Can Giants match reported Red Sox asking price in Mookie Betts trade?

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AP

Can Giants match reported Red Sox asking price in Mookie Betts trade?

In each of the last two offseasons, the Giants pursued a star outfielder. Could the third time be the charm?

Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts could be the crown jewel this offseason, with the AL East power publicly saying it will be "difficult" to keep Betts and outfielder J.D. Martinez. The 2018 AL MVP's teammates are preparing for a season without him, and Boston reportedly has set its asking price.

SNY's Matthew Cerrone reported Tuesday that the Red Sox would "need to replace [Betts] in the lineup, add an affordable, team-controlled, mid-rotation starter and bring in at least two top 100 prospects" if they traded him. Unsurprisingly, there would be no shortage of suitors.

Citing "league insiders," Cerrone wrote that the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers could be "capable of putting together an appealing package for Betts." If the Los Angeles Dodgers were interested, the Red Sox "would likely ask for" outfielder Joc Pederson and right-handed pitcher Kenta Maeda, in addition to the pair of prospects. 

So, how could the Giants fit in this mix? According to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, San Francisco has four top 100 prospects in its system: Catcher Joey Bart, outfielder Heliot Ramos, shortstop Marco Luciano and outfielder Hunter Bishop. The Giants have begun to re-stock their bare prospect cupboard over the last two years, and Bart and Ramos could continue their climb through the team's minor-league system and move to Triple-A as soon as next season. Luciano just turned 18 last month, while Bishop just completed his first season in pro baseball.

Those four are the Giants' brightest sources of hope, but it's fair to wonder if they -- or, frankly, any prospect -- can ever reach the level Betts has. Even in a down 2019, Betts rebounded down the stretch and ultimately still was worth 6.6 Wins Above Replacement by Fangraphs' measure. He has been far more productive up to this point in his career than top 2019 free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were. Trading prospects always is a gamble, but Betts is likely to live up to his price tag. 

The Giants could pay one portion of it, but they probably don't have the major league talent to match the Red Sox's reported asking price. While Kevin Pillar could entice Boston, big-money starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto would seem to be bad fits for a team looking to shed payroll. 

Of course, the Red Sox don't have a lot of leverage. They've made it known they want to get below the competitive balance tax, and teams aren't going to want to give one of baseball's richest any kind of help. Even though Boston would have a 28-team bidding war on its hands if it decided to trade Betts, the Red Sox wouldn't be in an advantageous position with their desperation to shed salary so widely known.

[RELATED: Which team should Giants fans adopt in MLB playoffs?]

Boston might make it all moot and trade Martinez instead, but it goes without saying that pursuing a trade for Betts is worth the Giants' time. The same can be said for the rest of baseball. 

It certainly would make missing out on Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper in back-to-back offseasons much easier for the Giants to swallow. 

Watch Bryce Harper smash another homer off ex-Giant Hunter Strickland

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USATSI

Watch Bryce Harper smash another homer off ex-Giant Hunter Strickland

Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland have plenty of history. On Tuesday night, they added another chapter, and it was more of the same.

You might recall that Harper took Strickland deep not once, but twice in the 2014 NLDS, when Harper was still with the Nationals and Strickland was still pitching in relief for the Giants.

You might also recall that years later, the two nemeses traded blows when Harper charged the mound after Strickland drilled him with a pitch.

Harper, obviously, now is with the Phillies. Strickland, ironically, now is with the Nationals. The two teams played a doubleheader Tuesday, and once again, there were some fireworks.

Harper hadn't played in the second game of the doubleheader until he was called upon to pinch-hit in the seventh inning. The opposing pitcher, naturally, was none other than Strickland.

You can guess what happened next.

Indeed, the one-sided rivalry became more one-sided.

[RELATED: Ex-Giant Pence shares hilarious story about shirtless Bochy]

Safe to say, the Washington fans didn't enjoy that blast as much as the previous ones.