Kevin Pillar

MLB Free Agency: What to watch for with Giants at Winter Meetings

MLB Free Agency: What to watch for with Giants at 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 also can 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 quietly have 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 the last couple of seasons, they've generally played like a 100-loss team. 

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hasn't had much time to explain his roster plans this offseason because he spent so much time looking for new general manager Scott Harris and new manager 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 also should get their first opportunities to speak specifically about current Giants. Both still were getting up to speed last month, but the Winter Meetings generally provide the 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 largely will 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 one that 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 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 still will be highly productive a couple of years from now. 

Rest of the West

The Giants have finished 87 1/2 games behind the Dodgers combined in 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. 

[RELATED: Zaidi gives update on status of Giants' talks with MadBum]

Coaching Carousel 

The Giants plan to announce Kapler's staff early next week, but we already 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. 

What are Giants' plans in center field after Kevin Pillar non-tender?

What are Giants' plans in center field after Kevin Pillar non-tender?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The decision to non-tender Kevin Pillar, like several others made over the past year, was not a popular one with Giants fans.

Pillar was a Willie Mac Award winner who did two things that fans could easily cheer: Hit home runs and make diving catches.

Go on Twitter and you'll find fans who say they won't attend a game next season and a weird contingent that believes Farhan Zaidi is a secret agent still working for the Dodgers. But all that anger ignores one key fact. The man who decided to move on from Pillar is the same one who acquired him a week into the season for two players who are no longer with the Blue Jays and one who had an 8.11 ERA in the minors. 

The Giants hired Zaidi to make good decisions, and there's no doubt that the trade for Pillar was a brilliant one. Zaidi believes moving on after one season is the right move, too, and time will tell if he's correct. 

What we know for now is that there's no going back, and there will be a new look in center field. In a conversation on Monday afternoon, Zaidi said the emphasis will be on adding production to the corner outfield spots. It's hard to find a good center fielder in free agency anyway, so the Giants will go young and go in-house.

Here's what that might look like in 2020:

The Favorite

Mike Yastrzemski got just 30 innings in center field last season because Pillar was an everyday player, but he generally looked comfortable out there, and he should. Yastrzemski actually has more minor league starts in center field (224) than any other position, and he has over 2,000 professional innings of experience in the middle of the outfield. 

Yastrzemski probably won't be climbing many walls or diving nearly as often as Pillar did, but he did a nice job in the corners last year and was worth seven Defensive Runs Saved in right field and eight overall. 

The Giants are fully confident that Yastrzemski can handle center field at Oracle Park -- the dimensions are shrinking a bit, too -- and if the season started today he would be their center fielder. 

The Young Guys

A year ago at this time, Steven Duggar was the Center Fielder of the Future. Duggar is still just 26 years old and is expected to be 100 percent for spring training after another season-ending shoulder injury. 

The Giants can't go into 2020 counting on much from Duggar, but they certainly are hoping for a breakthrough. If he improves his plate discipline and taps into his natural speed, Duggar could be the everyday center fielder. He's the organization's best defensive center fielder and would have been even if Pillar was brought back.

Jaylin Davis is another player the Giants want to take a long look at, although he has just 30 minor league starts in center field. Davis may see time out there in the big leagues, but he's more likely to benefit from the Pillar decision in a different way. With Yastrzemski set for lots of time in center, Davis -- a 25-year-old who hit 35 homers in the minors last year -- will have an opportunity to win at-bats in one of the corner spots. The same holds true for Austin Slater and potentially Chris Shaw. 

The Wild Card

When Zaidi traded a week of strong Drew Pomeranz relief appearances for Mauricio Dubon, he mentioned that one thing the Giants loved about Dubon was his potential as a super-utility player. On deadline day, Zaidi compared Dubon to Chris Taylor, but another Dodger could be a better fit. Kiké Hernandez mostly started at second base for the Dodgers last year but also made 43 appearances in the outfield, and Dubon is expected to shag plenty of fly balls next spring. 

Given where the roster is right now, Dubon is also the starting second baseman and a strong option to split time with Brandon Crawford at shortstop. But if he can handle center field, the Giants would have more of the flexibility they're seeking. They plan to be active in the infield market this offseason. If they add another middle infielder who hits right-handed, could you see that player at shortstop against left-handers with Donovan Solano at second and Dubon in center? 

The Future

When the Giants drafted Heliot Ramos in 2017, some scouts predicted he would move to right field. But the Giants have kept Ramos in center and there's no indication that he'll need to be moved next season. There were fears that Ramos would outgrow the position as he hit his early 20s, but he appeared slimmed down in the Arizona Fall League and the Giants will keep him in the middle of the diamond for now. 

[RELATED: Dickerson returns to Giants on one-year deal]

Now, Ramos is only 20 and doesn't even have 100 at-bats above A-ball, but the new regime wants to be aggressive with top prospects and Ramos will come to Scottsdale in February with a strong chance to earn a promotion to Triple-A. The plan is for Ramos to spend all, or most, of the season in Sacramento, but a September call-up seems likely and the Giants won't hold their No. 2 prospect back if the bat proves ready earlier than that. 

If you're looking way down the line, Hunter Bishop, last year's top pick, is also a center fielder. Bishop is likely at least a couple of years away, but he should start next season in San Jose. 

Kevin Pillar thanks Giants, fans one day after being non-tendered

Kevin Pillar thanks Giants, fans one day after being non-tendered

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants knew Kevin Pillar was popular in Toronto, but a few of his teammates were surprised by just how much love was shown when Pillar returned with the Giants a few weeks after a trade to the West Coast. Pillar was cheered thunderously throughout the series and received a long standing ovation when the Blue Jays showed a tribute video.

Giants fans soon fell in love with Superman, too, and Pillar's teammates selected him as the Willie Mac Award winner. Pillar's run in San Francisco lasted just one season, with the team deciding to non-tender him on Monday. The next morning, Pillar posted a message to the organization and fans:

One of the points Pillar made there is a fascinating one. He is from a generation of players that did look forward to free agency, but the market has been unkind to veterans the past couple of years.

It was telling that the Giants weren't able to find a trade partner before the 5 p.m. deadline on Monday, and Pillar may have trouble matching the $10 million salary he was due in arbitration.

[RELATED: Would Giants wait all the way until January to sign Cole?]

But, he shouldn't have trouble finding a new home. It's hard to fill a hole in center field, and Pillar still is fully capable of getting plenty of time out there for a contender. The Mets, in particular, look like an early match, and Pillar should find other teams that value his glove, leadership, and ability to mash lefties.