Gerrit Cole

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."

MLB rumors: Dodgers shifting focus to Madison Bumgarner in free agency

MLB rumors: Dodgers shifting focus to Madison Bumgarner in free agency

Heading into free agency, the Giants made it clear that Madison Bumgarner had earned the right to go anywhere he wanted. A couple days into the Winter Meetings, that sentiment likely remains the same, but they'd be lying if they said they didn't have a preference where he ended up.

Now that Gerrit Cole reportedly has agreed to a record-breaking nine-year contract with the New York Yankees, San Francisco apparently inched closer to its greatest nightmare.

The rival Dodgers were considered to be a finalist for Cole, and apparently they didn't waste any time pivoting once the news broke. Giants fans really, really, really won't want to hear the direction in which Los Angeles reportedly is pivoting, though, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

If you need to go rinse the vomit taste out of your mouth, go for it. You're certainly not the only Giants fan doing so.

After everything Bumgarner achieved in San Francisco, it's unbearable to think of him exchanging his orange and black for Dodger blue. I mean, think of all the run-ins Bumgarner has had with LA over the years. Yaisel Puig. Max Muncy. Go get it out of the ocean? How about we just get this rumor out of here.

Yuck.

[RELATED: New Giants prospect Wilson already hates rival Dodgers]

Bumgarner is expected to receive a contract in excess of $100 million, and the Dodgers certainly have the ability to afford him. So do the Giants, though, and as NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic notes, they might be forced to revisit the situation due to their rival's reported interest.

And guess which two teams face each other on Opening Day?

The Giants are used to seeing MadBum take the mound on the first day of the season. For the sake of all that is good and holy, let's hope they don't have to learn what it's like to go against him in that situation.

MLB rumors: Gerrit Cole, Yankees agree to nine-year, $324M contract

MLB rumors: Gerrit Cole, Yankees agree to nine-year, $324M contract

Well, so much for being the mystery team.

Whatever slim hopes the Giants had of signing free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole reportedly evaporated Tuesday night, as he and the Yankees have agreed to a nine-year contract according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman.

New York has long been seen as the favorites to land the highly-sought-after ace, and the reported $324 million given to Cole blows away the record for the largest average annual value of a pitcher's contract in MLB history, previously set Monday when Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals agreed to a seven-year, $245 million contract.

The Giants expected to add at least one starting pitcher at the Winter Meetings, and while that was accomplished by Tuesday's signing of right-hander Kevin Gausman to a one-year contract, it doesn't rule out another.

Clearly, though, it won't be Cole.

[RELATED: How Giants can take advantage of penny-pinching teams]

Considering the Dodgers were thought to be a legitimate contender for Cole's services, though, this definitely isn't the worst possible outcome for San Francisco.