Johnny Cueto

Giants Mailbag: What will starting lineup be vs. Dodgers on Opening Day?

Giants Mailbag: What will starting lineup be vs. Dodgers on Opening Day?

The Giants have had a quiet offseason, and they, unfortunately, chose the wrong day to finally make a bit of news.

On Thursday morning the team announced that left-hander Drew Smyly signed a one-year deal that essentially puts him in the rotation right now, and that two coaches had been added to complete the staff. The addition of Alyssa Nakken was a historic one and should have gotten a lot more attention around the game, but most of the baseball world spent yesterday digging through old videos and photos of Astros players looking for buzzers or wires. 

Here on this corner of the internet, we don't need to do that. The focus is on the Giants, so here's another version of the Friday mailbag, with plenty of good questions from my Instagram followers ... 

What systems are the Giants using to cheat and why isn't it successful? -- wolfmanzack

Thank you, sir, for getting into the good stuff right away. 

The Giants hit 48 homers at home in 2017, the year when most of this stuff allegedly happened. If they were cheating, they were even worse at it than they were at trying to score runs the old fashioned way. There's not much for Giants fans to be excited about these days, but at least you know your team was so bad at Oracle Park that there's no possible way they were cheating? 

Side note: I've spent a lot of time with video replay guys over the years and got to know the previous regime pretty well. It's insane how detailed their camera setup is and how much they're able to look at by clicking a few keys before and during games. MLB shouldn't be all that surprised that the Astros and possibly others started to weaponize the technology. 

Who will be our starting lineup on Opening Day? -- kitkat_kitty

First I'll ask who starts for the Dodgers that day, Walker Buehler or Clayton Kershaw? The outfield will look different against lefties and righties.

Assuming it's Kershaw, I'll go with Cueto, Posey, Belt, Dubon, Crawford, Longoria, Slater, Yastrzemski and An Outfielder To Be Named Later Who Probably Isn't Nicholas Castellanos. 

Will we get a good outfielder? -- conmantheman99

Well, Yaz will probably be in center. Other than that ... 

I know the Giants are still working on some things and they're cautiously optimistic, but short of a surprise strike for Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, they're going young. They really go want to give one of these internal guys 300 at-bats to see what he can do. The early favorite for that role seems to be Jaylin Davis. 

Why don't the Giants move Posey to first base? -- carlosroman4

Despite the dip in numbers, Posey is still pretty valuable with what he brings defensively and by calling a game. I've never really bought the idea that he would start hitting homers again if he was the first baseman -- it's more than a decade of wear and tear that's taken the power out of his body, and that's not coming back -- and I don't think the Giants do, either. There's not a lot of "Buster to first" talk from this new regime. 

(What's the) reason for adding Nakken to the big league coaching staff? -- j.t._.hollis

In the initial press release, Gabe Kapler said Alyssa Nakken and Mark Hallberg would help promote a winning culture in the clubhouse, but more than anything, this is a support role. There's a lot that goes into day-to-day operations, and the Giants are using some of their vast resources to make sure that there are plenty of helping hands in the clubhouse, the batting cage and on the field. 

Maybe that means Nakken and Hallberg will throw BP or help get the field set up for drills. Maybe they'll be doing advanced scouting one day, or talking to a struggling player. Maybe they'll be hitting grounders to Mauricio Dubon and Brandon Crawford. We'll see how it all shakes out, but it's clear that Kapler wants collaboration and a lot of diverse voices in the room, and he wants that room to be more energetic from the first hour of spring training. 

And honestly, it doesn't really matter what Nakken's ultimate role is. This is a big moment for baseball and should be celebrated. She's more than qualified to be working in a clubhouse and plenty of other women are, too. Someone needed to get the ball rolling. Good for Kapler and the Giants for recognizing that and giving a strong candidate her big break. 

What prospects will we see this year considering a projected 71 win season? -- davidhammondbrownphotography

Projections aside, you'll certainly see Davis early on and possibly Chris Shaw, if you still count them as prospects. I wouldn't be surprised to see Joey Bart by May or June, and I think Sean Hjelle will get a shot in the rotation in the second half. Heliot Ramos is young, but he's on path for a September call-up, at the very least. 

You might also see someone we haven't heard of yet if the Giants are right about Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly and manage to Pomeranz one of those guys elsewhere. 

What's happening with the closer role? -- jacksonirwin

If the season started today, I think Tony Watson would probably pitch the ninth. Shaun Anderson has good stuff and he really seems eager to embrace the ninth inning, so he's probably your best bet right now to lead this team in saves, but experience usually wins out in March.

When Bochy comes back to manage Boston, does he have to give the farewell gifts back? -- rkwagner15

Can we take a moment to acknowledge the unfortunate timing of this scandal? If all of this happened in January of 2021, Bochy would almost certainly be interested in the Astros, Mets and Red Sox and he likely would get one of those jobs. The Astros drafted him, and there isn't a better fit out there for a team that has a loaded roster but desperately needs some stability and leadership. 

But Bochy has always been committed to taking a year off, spending time with his family, recharging his batteries and then seeing how he feels about retirement. He won't come back for any of these jobs in 2020, which makes the timing a bit of a bummer because he really does deserve another shot to manage in the postseason. 

As for the gifts, most of that wine was guzzled on long flights back from losing road trips. In all seriousness, Bochy was well aware of what that farewell tour meant and I think that's part of the reason he didn't want to make a big deal of all this. He knew he might get the itch again and that could be awkward after six months of being showered with love, but opposing teams were eager to honor him, so there wasn't much to be done. 

Will their rotation be stronger this year than last? I think so. -- jesseaflora

Well, they have 207 2/3 Madison Bumgarner innings to fill, but I actually agree with you. A healthy Johnny Cueto should be able to fill that void, and Tyler Beede and Logan Webb should be better than they were as rookies. The bar (last season's work from Drew Pomeranz and Derek Holland) that Gausman, Smyly and Tyler Anderson need to clear isn't all that high. 

The Giants were 13th in the NL with a 4.77 starters' ERA last season. Even without Bumgarner, they should be better than that. 

Farhan said last year that they would act like contenders until they weren't. Same this year? -- abwrites

His main rallying cry last year was actually that the Giants would try to be competitive as deep into the season as possible and win as many games as possible, and he's said the same thing this offseason. 

The Giants are realistic about what they are right now. They know they're not contenders, but they still want to be on the fringes of the race as long as possible and I don't think you'll see many -- if any -- decisions made by Kapler that scream "these dudes are tanking." The roster isn't very good so the team won't be good, but this isn't a race to the No. 1 pick by any means. 

What do you think the Giants record will be next year? -- scottboy_707

They went 77-85 last year, but as mentioned in a previous mailbag, there's no way they're going 13-3 in extra innings again or 38-16 in one-run games. The win total will drop just by regression in those two areas, and the roster also lost Bumgarner, Kevin Pillar, Stephen Vogt and others. 

At the same time, Kapler isn't going to be nearly as committed to struggling veterans and the Giants are going to use more platoons and openers and other methods to try to find small edges. That will help, and I really do sense that the younger players on the roster are energized by the changes and have a lot to prove. Throw it all together and right now I'd probably put them around 75 wins. 

How can one change the Giants' culture while Posey, Craw, Belt and Longo are there? -- velowhiz

I've written a fair amount about culture and energy this offseason and will continue to do so, but I wouldn't really blame it on any of the core players. Collectively, it got stale in the clubhouse, but all of those individuals are good clubhouse guys who show up and do their work every day. 

The culture is going to change because there's a new manager, a new GM, 12 new coaches and a collection of new players and prospects. Will it be better? We'll see, but it certainly will be different, and the organization certainly needed a jolt. 

[RELATED: Joey Bart named second-best catching prospect]

Niners or Packers? -- kfitz023

Niners, and I don't think it's all that close.

From the 2010, 12 and 14 teams, who do you think will make the Hall of Fame? -- bensalvi23

Love this question, and it's one we'll be talking about a lot as more of these guys retire. Bochy is a lock, but it's going to be complicated for some of his players. 

Posey seems like an easy answer, but he actually only has 1,380 hits and 140 homers. He's won every award you could think of and his career WAR (he's currently at 42.1) should ultimately compare favorably with currently HOF catchers, but I think he needs to do some compiling of raw statistics to swing some voters. Tim Lincecum was a shooting star but falls well short of the current standard for starting pitchers. 

I think Bumgarner will have a shot, because a lot of Hall voters love to reward big-game pitchers, but he has some work to do, too. He only has 119 wins, and while the days of 300-game winners or even 200-game winners are probably gone, he could use another 40-50 on the resume and a couple more All-Star appearances. Those things matter when a lot of older voters fill out their ballots, and Bumgarner and Posey will need to add some late-career stats to those early accomplishments. As much as they mean to the Bay Area, most of the voters are from other regions and won't be swayed by nostalgia when they get their ballots and start digging into the final stats these guys put up. 

Does the Pillar move symbolize a full-time starting role for Duggar? -- jackson._.dann

I haven't sensed that Duggar is at the top of the chart in center field, in part because the Giants just aren't sure if he can stay healthy. He's their best defensive center fielder, but he has a lot of work to do at the plate and the Giants want to see him get much better on the bases. Duggar is only 26, so there's no reason why he can't break out this season, but right now he's not headed for a full-time role. 

[RELATED: Giants' Bart named baseball's second-best catching prospect]

Which stadium other than Oracle has the best food! -- matt_twenty1

We talking press box or full stadium? Most of any beat writer's meals during the season take place in the media dining room and Oracle probably falls somewhere near the middle of the pack (there are a lot of nights where the main course is a suspicious-looking kind of fish). 

I think Philadelphia has the best press box food in the NL and it's easy to find a cheesesteak if you wander into the concourse, so they're near the top for me. The Padres have some really good concession stands and the Diamondbacks are better than you'd expect (in the NL West, the Rockies food is boring and Dodger Stadium's selections suck). 

The team that stands out though is the Mets. There's Shake Shack, obviously, and that gives them a huge edge. There's also a Fuku chicken stand for good spicy chicken sandwiches, and the general concession stands have the best chicken tenders in the league. The Mets are perennially a mess, but at least they got their tenders right. 

Giants Mailbag: What is Joey Bart's ETA; Could Kevin Pillar return?

Giants Mailbag: What is Joey Bart's ETA; Could Kevin Pillar return?

While the Bay Area focuses on Jimmy Garoppolo, the Giants quietly are sneaking up on Gabe Kapler's first season. They're a month out from FanFest, and pitchers and catchers will report Feb. 11 with position players coming in five days later. 

Before you know it, we'll have video of Buster Posey playing catch with Joey Bart, or Brandon Crawford and Mauricio Dubon taking turns fielding grounders from new bench coach Kai Correa. We'll have a lot of answers to our questions, too, but for now, there still are mostly just question marks. I took a few from Instagram followers and tried to provide some direction in the latest installment of our Giants Mailbag.

"What are the possibilities the Giants will re-sign Kevin Pillar?" -- pollycharmsjewelry (and a few others)

That ship has sailed. The Giants are going to give their unproven outfielders a chance to break through, which could mean a lot of time for Mike Yastrzemski in center field as a Jaylin Davis or Chris Shaw or Austin Slater gets consistent time in the lineup. They've also told Mauricio Dubon to get ready for some outfield work. 

Pillar is still out there, though. It seems likely he'll come in well below the $9.7 million he was projected to earn in arbitration. 

"What big contract do you think would benefit the Giants to trade away?" -- rioscristian15

This isn't a knock on the player at all, because Evan Longoria was one of the more valuable Giants last year and figures to be so again this year. But his contract runs through 2022 and he turned 34 in October, so that's a deal Farhan Zaidi probably wouldn't mind getting out from under. 

"Is it likely the Giants will get Castellanos or Ozuna this offseason? Or a big name player?" -- bennybaldy 

Quite a few asked about Nicholas Castellanos, and there's been nothing new there for a couple of weeks. Ozuna reportedly is choosing between the Cardinals and Rangers, and if he returns to St. Louis there's probably a good chance that the Rangers -- who need a right-handed bat -- pivot to Castellanos. 

The only real significant player remaining is Josh Donaldson and the Giants aren't in on him. At this point, it's hard to bet on them adding a "big name." 

"Will Aramis Garcia get the backup catcher spot?" -- haileyllanez 

He probably enters camp as the favorite, although the Giants are intrigued by Tyler Heineman, who was added this week as a non-roster invitee. Right now, one of those guys is probably your backup catcher, with the caveat that the Giants are likely to add one more person to the competition before pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11. 

[RELATED: What you need to know about Giants' non-roster invitees]

"What are the bullpen roles up for grabs in Spring Training?" -- jacksonirwin_

Just about all of them, really. Tony Watson will be in the bullpen and Trevor Gott will be if healthy, but the Giants dealt Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson and Drew Pomeranz at the deadline and lost Will Smith in free agency, so they have a lot of relief innings to fill. 

Shaun Anderson might be the closer, but would it really shock you to see the Giants start him back in Triple-A? I don't think any young pitcher can feel like he's guaranteed a spot right now. Sam Coonrod and Tyler Rogers pitched well last year, but if you have options, that'll work against you. I actually think Andrew Suarez is in a pretty good spot as a lefty with the weapons to get past the three-batter minimum, but he also has options remaining. 

The Giants will throw a couple dozen relief pitchers out there in spring training and see what shakes out. It really is a pretty open competition. 

"Who do you think will be the opening day starter?" -- _kevinstone

I don't think Jeff Samardzija got the credit he deserved for his bounce-back year, and he's certainly a candidate, but my guess is Johnny Cueto. If he's back to 100 percent, he's the closest thing the Giants have to an ace, and it would serve them well to re-establish him as one. Might as well try to rebuild his trade value from Day 1. (That's one we haven't talked about much. There were some teams sniffing around even as Cueto rehabbed, so if he's back to his old form, there will be plenty of interest in July.) 

Plus, the Giants open at Dodger Stadium. Cueto is their best bet for going in there and beating Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler and getting the season off to a nice start. 

"How long until Bart gets the shot at starting catcher?" -- chids316

That's up to Buster Posey as much as it's up to Bart. The Giants are cautiously optimistic that Posey's numbers will rebound as he gets further from hip surgery, and if that's the case he's still an All-Star catcher. In a perfect world, Posey will bounce back and Bart will tear up Triple-A, and the Giants can figure out how to play them both together. I don't think you'll see much of Posey at first, but they've talked about Bart getting experience at another position at some point, and it really shouldn't be too hard to figure out a timeshare at catcher.  

In a general sense, I think fans should put less of an emphasis on "the starter" under Kapler. He wants versatility and wants to exploit every matchup, so you'll probably see some of the everyday players give way to pinch-hitters a bit more. 

"What coach on the Giants is a native Spanish speaker?" -- hellokittysf22

Nick Ortiz, hired earlier this week as Quality Assurance Coach, is the native Spanish speaker on staff. That was something that Kapler made a priority as he filled out the final two spots, and they were really excited to add Ortiz. 

The perception has been that a lot of these guys are inexperienced, but some of them just have different types of experience. Ortiz, for instance, has just four years as a coach, but he played 15 seasons of minor league ball and 16 years in Winter Ball. That's a lot of baseball. 

"Do you know why Ramos isn't a spring training invitee or part of the rookie program?" -- nuch0lasmarquez

I was a little surprised that Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop weren't on the non-roster invitee list, but ultimately I don't think it will matter for either in 2020. Most prospects are sent out to minor league camp within the first couple rounds of cuts, but guys go back and forth once the games start. Ramos got into three Cactus League games last year and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him come over for 15-20 scattered at-bats. 

"Does the renovation to the minor league facility include a taco bar?" -- erniepomin

This is important and I will volunteer myself to do the research. If you missed it yesterday, here's my story on the facility that the Giants are spending more than $50 million on. Quite frankly, their current facility is embarrassing compared to what teams like the Cubs, Rockies and Diamondbacks are working with, so this is going to be a huge deal.

"Could a package of a prospect and Samardzija for Kris Bryant and a bad Cubs contract work?" -- dukejr9413

Nah, not close, and the Giants aren't dealing any of their prospects, anyway. Even someone like Bryant is a free agent after 2021 (assuming he loses his grievance) and the Giants aren't going to give away their top prospects for someone who won't be around long-term. 

They really shouldn't do that, either. The plan is to build from within, and perhaps in 20 months we'll look up and see a lineup with Bart and Ramos and Dubon and Bishop and Luciano, and the Giants can then go out and use their money -- which they still have a ton of -- on someone like Bryant to accelerate the rebuild. Or maybe this season will include enough encouraging signs that Mookie Betts is handed the money that was supposed to go to Bryce Harper? Those options might sound unrealistic, but they're more likely than trading from an improved system. 

I do like the last part of that question, though. The Giants took advantage of the desperate Angels to get Will Wilson and Zaidi indicated at the time that another such move might be coming. It's been remarkably quiet since that deal, but the Cubs and Red Sox are still eager to shed salary. You can bet Zaidi and Scott Harris are still keeping a close eye on those two organizations. 

"Will this be the year you try a Dodger Dog?" -- willhan92

Nope! 

Examining Giants' current position battles with 2020 season approaching

Examining Giants' current position battles with 2020 season approaching

Major League Baseball announced official 2020 game times on Wednesday and there were no surprises. There are a bunch of games that start around 7 p.m. and a few that start around 1 p.m., and 162 of them in all. You know the drill. 

But we do officially officially know that the Giants will start Gabe Kapler's first season at 1:10 p.m. on March 26 at Dodger Stadium. They'll do so with a new wrinkle -- a 26th player on the roster -- and that'll slightly change the math as they try to put the Opening Day roster together all spring. 

In Farhan Zaidi's first year, a handful of veterans walked into the Scottsdale Stadium clubhouse after pitchers and catchers had already reported. Guys like Yangervis Solarte, Gerardo Parra and Nick Vincent stuck on the roster, along with many later additions like Connor Joe, Michael Reed and Erik Kratz. 

So, it's hard to predict an Opening Day roster on January 8, but let's take a look at the roster battles anyway ... 

CATCHER

On the 40-man roster: Buster Posey, Aramis Garcia
Non-roster invitees: Joey Bart, Tyler Heineman, Chad Tromp

A year ago, Kratz and Tom Murphy were acquired at the end of camp and Stephen Vogt ended up getting the backup job after starting the season in Triple-A, but the Giants really do seem committed to giving Garcia more of a shot this time around. 

"He's putting in a lot of work this offseason and he's a guy we would like to see get an opportunity as well," Zaidi said at the Winter Meetings. "I guess we're not closed off to (adding) but we have some good young catching depth and at some point we want to create opportunities for these guys."

There's a reason for the change. The Giants don't want to block Bart, and Garcia -- or perhaps Heineman or Tromp -- is more than capable of backing up Posey in the meantime. 

[RELATED: Minor league catcher Heineman signs with Giants]

INFIELD

On the 40-man: Abiatal Avelino, Brandon Belt, Zack Cozart, Brandon Crawford, Mauricio Dubon, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano, Kean Wong
Non-roster invitees: Cristhian Adames, Zach Green, Drew Robinson

The Giants are pretty well set here, although there will be a lot of pressure on the veterans -- particularly Crawford -- to perform early and keep Zaidi from making further changes. Belt, Dubon, Crawford and Longoria are the current starters, with Solano showing last year that he's a quality backup. 

There's some question about whether Cozart will be healthy in time, but if he is, the Giants paid a hefty sum to acquire him and they might as well see if he can find his 2017 form. Wong, a left-handed hitter who posted solid on-base numbers in the minors, is a wild card. The Giants claimed him early in the offseason and held on, and if the 24-year-old can play an adequate third base, he could get Pablo Sandoval's old job. 

OUTFIELD

On the 40-man: Jaylin Davis, Alex Dickerson, Steven Duggar, Joe McCarthy, Chris Shaw, Austin Slater, Mike Yastrzemski
Non-roster invitees: Joey Rickard, Jamie Westbrook

What's the over-under on dudes who play outfield for the Giants this season? 15? 20? They still could add a Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna and solidify a corner spot, but if they don't, most of this season will be about finding out what they have in the younger outfielders. 

Davis, Duggar, McCarthy, Shaw and Slater all have the physical tools to breakthrough, and the Giants have gone all-in on a developmental coaching staff. The hope is that they find a second Yaz. The original should start the season in center field and he knows he has to prove last year wasn't a fluke. Alex Dickerson might be the cleanup hitter when healthy, but the Giants want to put him in a platoon and protect his back by limiting playing time. Dubon could also be an option in the outfield. 

The Giants learned a lesson about optics last year when Joe and Reed joined late and started on Opening Day, so perhaps there will be a bit more stability this spring, but they're still going to give a look to any player who might be a solution, and there will again be plenty of churn in the outfield. 

ROTATION

On the 40-man: Tyler Anderson, Tyler Beede, Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman, Conner Menez, Trevor Oaks, Dereck Rodriguez, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Suarez, Logan Webb

There's no reason to even list the non-roster guys right now, because that's 10 names already without even getting to Tyson Ross, who will be with the Giants on a minor league deal and could leapfrog most of that group. 

Cueto, Samardzija and Gausman are locked in and Beede heads to camp with a firm hold on a job. Webb had a similar 2019 season -- showing flashes of dominance but also inconsistency -- but he's in a different boat than Beede because he'll be on an innings limit. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Webb start the season in Triple-A where the Giants can monitor his workload. 

Anderson is still rehabbing but he'll get his chance if he's healthy. Some of the younger guys have a much clearer path to a bullpen spot. 

BULLPEN

On the 40-man: Melvin Adon, Shaun Anderson, Sam Coonrod, Enderson Franco, Trevor Gott, Jandel Gustave, Dany Jimenez, Reyes Moronta (out until at least July), Wandy Peralta, Tyler Rogers, Sam Selman, Burch Smith, Tony Watson
Non-roster invitees: The Giants invited 10 pitchers to camp and most of them are relievers

If the season started today, Shaun Anderson would probably be the closer and Tony Watson would be his setup man, or perhaps the Giants would flip that. After that ... 

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...
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This is the group where it's truly impossible to predict what will happen.

Gott will be on the team if his UCL sprain is fully recovered and Jimenez has a leg up as a Rule 5 pick, but the rest of these guys truly will be fighting for jobs in February and March. When looking at the bullpen, perhaps it's best to remember what Zaidi said about young starters Rodriguez and Suarez in his first offseason. Both had solid rookie seasons, but Zaidi felt the team would be better off if there was enough depth that they started 2019 in Sacramento, and that's what happened.

[RELATED: Giants announce final two additions to Kapler's staff]

Guys like Coonrod and Rogers should feel good about what they did as rookies, but it wouldn't be a shock to see nearly all of the younger relievers (with options) start back in Triple-A as the Giants try to strike gold with veterans, some of whom haven't been signed yet. 

Relievers are the most volatile players in the game. Expect the Giants to take fliers on quite a few of them, hoping to stumble upon the next Pomeranz-for-Dubon trade.