Gerrit Cole

What to watch for as Giants head to MLB's Winter Meetings

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

What to watch for as Giants head to MLB's Winter Meetings

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are two things that we can guarantee will happen next week at Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings. 

On Sunday, all of the reporters from the East Coast and chillier portions of the Midwest will take a few seconds to tweet out their appreciation for San Diego. A few days later, Scott Boras will find a cozy spot -- likely in front of the Christmas tree at the Manchester Grand Hyatt -- and explain to everyone with a microphone why owners are being cheap when it comes to his difference-making players (he's not wrong).

The rest of the week is generally unpredictable. The last time the Meetings were held in San Diego, reporters and team executives scrambled through the lobby as midnight approached one night, with Matt Kemp having just been traded to the Padres. There surely will be another moment like that next week, but nobody can tell you right now which players will be involved. 

But, there is a third guarantee in the middle of all that uncertainty. NBC Sports Bay Area will be there the whole time, bringing you stories, videos, podcasts and live shows. I'll be doing a live stream on our My Teams app with Amy Gutierrez every day, with special guests lined up. You can also follow any rumors on Twitter or go behind the scenes on Instagram. 

It should be a fun and unpredictable week. Here's what you should know before the Giants get on that short flight to The Tin Fish San Diego. 

So, What's the Plan, Guys?

It's not hard to figure out the direction the Giants are headed. They're going young as often as they can and trying to open up playing time for prospects and inexperienced big leaguers who might be the next Mike Yastrzemski. With every decision, the Giants are trying to build towards a contender in 2021 or beyond. That's why Kevin Pillar is gone and Jaylin Davis and Steven Duggar might be getting plenty of time next year. 

The coaching staff thus far has been filled with guys who have a strong background in player development, and the Giants have quietly invested millions of dollars in their infrastructure in Scottsdale to help that push. 

All of that is great if you're trying to catch up to the Dodgers in a few years, but it means 2020 looks a bit frightening right now. When the Giants have sent out youth-filled lineups during stretches of the last couple of seasons, they've generally played like a 100-loss team. 

Farhan Zaidi hasn't had much time to explain his roster plans this offseason because he spent so much time looking for Scott Harris and Gabe Kapler, and then explaining the Kapler hire. He'll meet with beat reporters every afternoon in San Diego and will have an opportunity to further lay out his vision for the 2020 season. 

Harris and Kapler should also get their first opportunities to speak specifically about current Giants. Both were still getting up to speed last month, but the Winter Meetings generally provide a first opportunity to discuss the lineup or bullpen hierarchy, or what the rotation might look like. 

Bumgarner Watch

The Giants seemed to prefer being on the outside of this chase even when it looked like Bumgarner would have to settle somewhere around $80 million. If he truly does wind up with $100 million, or even tops Zack Wheeler's $118 million, as some have predicted in recent days, it's hard to see how Bumgarner's only previous employer is even part of the conversation at the end. 

Whatever happens, it will largely shape the Giants' offseason. If there's a surprise and Bumgarner is brought back, all will be forgiven. But it seems like this will be another move that fits in with an offseason that is setting the Giants up for the future but has disappointed much of the fan base. 

A Big Splash?

The Giants ended up in quite a few Bryce Harper-related headlines last offseason, but most of that occurred in February. They haven't yet been connected to Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or any of the other top-end free agents, but that doesn't mean the Giants aren't considering all options. 

It's unlikely that they get seriously involved with a Cole or Strasburg type, but perhaps next week will be the one that brings real Marcell Ozuna rumors or more on their reported interest in Nicholas Castellanos. The Giants are rebuilding, but they do have plenty of money to spend if they feel a player will still be highly productive a couple of years from now. 

Rest of the West

The Giants have finished 87 1/2 games behind the Dodgers the past three seasons.

Read that again, because that is the stat that is guiding much of this offseason. There's no sign of it slowing down, either, because the Dodgers -- partially built by Zaidi -- are the National League's juggernaut and have waves of talent on the way. You can make your "no rings" jokes, but the truth is the Giants ultimately are vying to catch this Dodgers team, and they're nowhere close. 

So, it's certainly worth watching the Dodgers over the next week. If they get a Cole or Strasburg, they're that much stronger next year and in the years when the Giants are ready to compete. The addition of Anthony Rendon, something they're considering, would be downright frightening. 

The Giants probably don't lose much sleep over the Rockies, but the Diamondbacks have a nice young nucleus and money to spend and the Padres -- who added Drew Pomeranz early and traded for Tommy Pham on Thursday -- are in win-now mode. The NL West might look a lot tougher a week from now. 

Coaching Carrousel 

The Giants plan to announce Kapler's staff early next week, but already we know that Brian Bannister will join as Director of Pitching and Donnie Ecker will serve as hitting coach. Kapler is 44, Bannister is 38 and Ecker is 33, and all three are well-versed in analytics and fresh techniques that have infiltrated the game over the past half-decade. 

What will the rest of the staff look like? Will Kapler bring in an experienced bench coach to provide some balance, or will the Giants continue to add coaches that they feel are rising stars with a different perspective? 

Thus far, Ron Wotus is the only one to survive the managing change, and it's unclear where Curt Young, Rich Schu and Jose Alguacil will end up in 2020 (there's no indication any of them will be back), or if other longtime members of the organization's support staff will be replaced. A lot of those questions should be answered over the first 24 hours in San Diego. 

MLB rumors: Gerrit Cole might not sign in free agency until January

MLB rumors: Gerrit Cole might not sign in free agency until January

With the final month of 2019 here, MLB's hot stove has started to stoke a fire. The room is getting hotter with the Winter Meetings less than a week away. 

Marquee free agents such as Will Smith, Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal all have new homes. But many star free agents still are in the open sea, and they could be for quite some time. 

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said shortly after the regular season that he expects another long and slow offseason for big-name free agents. No free agent is bigger than star pitcher Gerrit Cole this offseason, and he could still be available well past New Year's Eve. 

So, would this help or hurt the Giants' chances of adding the ace? 

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that Cole and fellow star pitcher Stephen Strasburg will be meeting with the Yankees over the next two days in California, though Rosenthal stated it's believed Cole might not sign until well into January. The Yankees aren't the only heavy-hitters going after Cole, too. Late last month, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported the Dodgers are looking at Cole, along with many other stars. 

This should come as no surprise. Both clubs have all the money in the world and want to end their championship droughts. Whatever team signs Cole better be ready to open up their wallets, and then some. 

Cole is expected to break David Price's record for the richest contract ever given to a pitcher. Many in the industry believe he will sign for well over $250 million, and it could be closer to $300 million. Location might be just as big of a factor -- well at least close to it -- as money for the AL Cy Young award runner-up, too. 

Astros teammates referred to Cole as a "West Coast guy" and predicted the UCLA product will sign with a team west of Nevada. The Southern California native has been linked to the Dodgers and Angels, but nobody can forget his family ties to the Giants. 

Cole is, after all, married to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford's sister. There's no doubt there were at least jokes around the Thanksgiving dinner table about Cole making San Francisco his new home. The longer he waits to make a decision, the better the Giants' chances might be. 

The Giants offered outfielder Bryce Harper a 12-year, $310 million contract on Feb. 28 last offseason. Zaidi's initial plans didn't have Harper at the front of his mind, but the longer it took to sign him, the more serious San Francisco's front office became. The same could happen with Cole. 

Zaidi and the rest of the Giants' front office want to go young, as shown in the decision to non-tender center fielder Kevin Pillar, who turns 31 years old in January. They have young, intriguing options for their rotation with Tyler Beede, Logan Webb and others as well. But talents like Cole don't come around often. 

[RELATED: Would Gerrit Cole be right fit for Giants this year?]

Despite being 29 and pitching at least 200 innings in the last three straight seasons, Cole doesn't have too many miles on his right arm and at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he looks built to last. When there's a chance to sign someone like this, smart front offices don't turn a cold shoulder. 

Even if you think Zaidi is punting on this offseason and looking to rebuild for beyond 2020, someone with his baseball mind and competitiveness won't let Cole slip away if the star pitcher is available and shows he's interested. 

MLB rumors: Dodgers looking at stars Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

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USATSI

MLB rumors: Dodgers looking at stars Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

The Giants will open up their 2020 season against the NL West rival Dodgers. The nationally televised event will have plenty of storylines to discuss, and the Dodgers likely will have a new, expensive face in the rotation.

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported the Dodgers are looking at three of the top names in free agency, including two headlining pitchers.

Gerrit Cole is the biggest name in free agency, so one would assume he and Scott Boras have been approached by the Dodgers -- a team that's known for having deep pockets.

But perhaps things are changing ...

It's no secret the 29-year-old ideally would like to end up on the west coast, and across the last two seasons alone he has made a strong case for every team to perk their ears.

His 2019 campaign alone was sensational, as he led the majors with 326 strikeouts and the AL with a 2.50 ERA and a 2.64 FIP. He was also right behind former Astros teammate Justin Verlander in AL Cy Young Award votes, earning his third All-Star selection and was some MVP considerations.

With that said ... the Dodgers are just one of many suitors interested in the righty. The Rangers, Phillies, Angels, Nationals and, of course, the Yankees, have been linked to Cole.

As far as Strasburg is concerned, Giants might face him -- but in a Nationals uniform. He reportedly could re-sign with his former team

For Rendon, that's an intriguing thought. He rejected the Nationals' qualifying offer earlier this month and young Carter Kieboom, who dominated in Triple-A Fresno in 2019, could take over at third base if Rendon were to go elsewhere. 

The Dodgers already have Justin Turner playing third base, but he has expressed willingness to change positions in order to land Rendon or even Josh Donaldson, who also has been linked to the Dodgers. 

Rendon had a stellar 2019, posting a .319/.412/.598 line with 34 homers and 126 RBI.

[RELATED: Would Cole be right fit for Giants?]

All three of the above are Boras clients, which means the Dodgers' intended frugality is not something Boras would like.

The Dodgers have a shot, but they'll have to stretch their wallets.