MLB Free Agency

MLB rumors: Giants plan 'to be players' for Yasiel Puig when freeze lifted

MLB rumors: Giants plan 'to be players' for Yasiel Puig when freeze lifted

Ah, dear reader, the MLB news -- it never stops.

Shortly after the MLB Players Association officially approved a deal to play a 60-game season in 2020, the Giants were linked to a long-term thorn in their side. San Francisco expects "to be players for" free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig once the roster freeze is lifted, CBS Sports' Jim Bowden reported Tuesday, citing sources close to the Giants' front office.

The Giants have been linked to Puig all offseason, even before MLB delayed the start of its season due to the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler downplayed reports Puig was close to a deal with the team, but the Giants have been a rumored suitor for as long as Puig has been a free agent.

Puig slashed .267/.327/.458 in 149 games with the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland last season, finishing with 24 home runs and 84 RBI. The right-handed slugger has hit well at Oracle Park, too, slashing .299/.361/.477 in 191 career plate appearances in San Francisco. That was in the park's old dimensions, and the National League's reported implementation of the designated hitter bolsters Puig's case as a Giants target.

Of course, "thorn in the side" is probably an understatement. Puig, to many Giants fans, is Public Enemy No. 1. NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic ranked Puig No. 2 on the list of the Giants' most hated opponents in recent history. Madison Bumgarner will only man the Oracle Park mound as a visitor next season, but there is plenty of institutional memory of Puig's bad blood with the Giants. The former Los Angeles Dodger wouldn't have to worry about winning over icy Giants fans in person this season, considering the unlikelihood fans will attend games in San Francisco due to the pandemic.

[RELATED: Where Giants stand in MLB power rankings before shortened season]

Players are set to report to camps on July 1, so it surely won't be long before Puig joins a team. In an MLB season defined by strangeness, seeing Puig in a Giants uniform probably won't crack the top-10 weirdest things to happen.

That probably won't make it any easier for Giants fans who aren't chaos-inclined to root for Puig.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Why A's should sign Marcus Semien to long-term contract, break pattern

Why A's should sign Marcus Semien to long-term contract, break pattern

A's shortstop Marcus Semien avoided arbitration and agreed to play the 2020 season on a one-year, $13 million contract. Once that deal expires it’s off to the open market.

Free agency will be kind to a shortstop who does most everything well, even in a possibly depressed market, rewarding him with more than the A’s have ever guaranteed a player on one contract.

Eric Chavez’s six-year, $66 million deal, inked back in 2004, still holds that distinction. That last sentence seems surreal considering how salaries have risen and how much elite talent has coursed through the A’s organization. With rare exception, they’ve all gotten paid elsewhere.

The A’s have done just fine building rosters on the cheap. They have reinvented themselves time and again, including a recent run with five playoff appearances and four 94-plus win seasons in the last eight years. Who are we to second guess their preference to draft, develop and eventually deal?

They can counter such criticism in a single word: Scoreboard.

The time has come, however, to break protocol and lock Semien up before he hits the market.

Full freight won’t come cheap. Can’t imagine Semien hired top agent Joel Wolfe last summer to take hometown discounts. His premium position, awesome standard stats and advanced metrics suggest he’s getting a fat paycheck soon despite the fact he’ll enter the 2021 campaign at age 30.

Both player and team have expressed interest in a deal, per the San Francisco Chronicle, but it’s unknown whether the A’s would meet an asking price that could increase if he repeats or even approaches his 2019 performance.

I asked Semien about entering a contract year in February while covering A’s spring training, before baseball hit pause over the coronavirus pandemic, and the polished shortstop played it cool.

“Right now, all I know is that I have a contract I’m working under,” Semien said. “It is what it is. Until anything happens ... of course it’s human nature to think about what’s in your future but, for me, I don’t think it will impact the way I play.

"It just adds more excitement to what could happen next.”

Several stories project Semien’s worth on a long-term deal. Generally speaking, they compare players of similar performance and adjust those contracts for inflation. Mock contracts are about as accurate as NFL mock drafts, so let’s just estimate Semien could max out eight figures or hit the lower end of nine under normal circumstances. He might end up with a little less due to baseball's hiatus and uncertain 2020 prospects, but he should still be in line for a rich contract.

Will the A’s pay big for this particular player? They should, especially when evaluating Semien from all angles.

The move makes sense from a purely baseball perspective. Semien finished third in MVP voting last year, and while we won’t slog through every elite metric, his 8.9 WAR, per baseball-reference.com, should speak volumes. He played every game and led MLB with 747 plate appearances, which was no fluke.

Semien has missed three games in two seasons and has been productive over 1,450 times at bat in that span. He has played at least 155 games in four of the last five years, missing the mark just once with a wrist injury. We all know about his marked defensive improvement, which both enhances value and illustrates a tireless work ethic and devotion to his craft.

All that ironman stuff should inspire confidence in those writing checks, because they would be maximizing a considerable investment on a per-game basis. Semien doesn’t play every fifth day. He doesn’t take Sundays off after working hard Saturday night. His age shouldn’t cause particular panic that a moderate-length deal would lose value on the back end if he starts breaking down. To this point, there’s little to no evidence he will.

So, in a statement of the obvious, Semien is an excellent baseball player just now maximizing potential.

[RELATED: How Gregorius could fit A's in free agency if Semien leaves]

But this is about more than pure performance.

This also is about the slogan.

Rooted in Oakland.

The A’s latest rallying cry capitalizes on the Warriors moving to San Francisco and Raiders leaving for Las Vegas while the East Bay’s remaining professional team vows to stay and presses for a new ballpark.

Rooted in Oakland. The A’s shortstop is the perfect face of that marketing push.

Semien is East Bay born, East Bay raised and East Bay proud. He grew up in El Cerrito, went to Berkeley St. Mary’s High and then Cal. He has a permanent home in Alameda and uses Oakland Coliseum as his offseason batting cage.

He wants to live and work here. He wants to give a title to his home region and the team that helped him develop. He surely wants to open up a brand-new building.

Put Semien on a billboard off I-880, alongside to a Howard Terminal ballpark rendering. The man personifies what the A’s are trying to sell -- excellent play and a commitment to this area.

An argument could be made that superstars Matt Chapman or Matt Olson would have a similar effect, that fans care more about production than hometown sentiment, but why not have the best of both worlds? Why not use the contract to connect a homegrown star to the opening of a new venue with several hurdles left to clear before construction begins?

Signing Semien at some point before he becomes a free agent -- not now, obviously, with no games being played during a public health crisis -- would also signal a new way of conducting business once a ballpark’s built. If, of course, that is the A's intent.

And there’s surely a way to work a contract that leaves coin available as Olson and Chapman approach free agency in 2024. The A’s should also, in theory anyway, have completed or should be nearing completion of a new ballpark by then with new revenue streams allowing for a significant payroll increase.

Also, trust that it’s easier to spend other’s money and suggest altering a business model without having to account for its side effects. It’s still worthwhile to break protocol and make this statement signing.

Semien is a unique case, someone who would provide value to the baseball and business sides of the organization. It would be a mistake to trade a player like that for another round of prospects or, even worse, let him walk right out the front door.

Why George Springer should be Giants' Mookie Betts free-agency Plan B

Why George Springer should be Giants' Mookie Betts free-agency Plan B

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports Bay Area will theorize hypothetical front-office acquisitions for each of our teams. Today, we examine a potential move the Giants could make.

Giancarlo Stanton. Shohei Ohtani. Bryce Harper. Were these smokescreens in San Francisco or real pursuits by the Giants?

No, $310 million isn't a smokescreen. That's what the Giants offered Harper in February 2019 before the former NL MVP eventually signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper, at 26 years old, was the rare free agent who made sense for the rebuilding Giants to offer such a larger, and long (12 years), contract. So, who's next in line for the Giants to make a run at as early as next offseason?

The obvious answer is Mookie Betts, who turns 28 in October. Regardless of if a shortened season is played or not this year, teams will line up to hand Betts a blank check. The first in line will be the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they rightfully will be the frontrunners to sign the 2018 AL MVP. 

After jumping through all the hoops and clearing all the hurdles, Betts headlined a five-player trade where he went from the Boston Red Sox to the Dodgers in February. The fact that someone named "Jeter" joining the Red Sox isn't the most absurd part of this trade shows just how bonkers this blockbuster was. San Francisco surely will test the waters when it comes to signing Betts, but if you're a betting man (yeah, I know) put your money on Mookie making Hollywood his home. 

That doesn't mean the Giants can't find a star on the open market, though. There's a cheaper, slightly older, power-hitting outfielder they can get their hands on. Farhan Zaidi should be all-in on making George Springer a Giant.

Before we dive into Springer and how he would fit the Giants, let's compare him and Betts by the numbers last season. 

Betts (150 games): .295/.391/.525, 29 HR, 135 R, 80 RBI, 16 SB, .915 OPS, 135 OPS+
Springer (122 games): .292/.383/.591, 39 HR, 96 R, 96 RBI, 6 SB, .974 OPS, 150 OPS+

Despite missing a chunk of games after straining his hamstring in late May and then suffering a concussion when running into the outfield wall in early September, Springer had a career year at the plate. He finished seventh in AL MVP voting, Betts finished eighth. Springer was worth a career-high 6.4 bWAR, while Betts was worth slightly more at 6.9. 

Betts has won four straight Gold Glove awards, but both players were worth 1.2 dWAR last year. FanGraphs had Betts edging out Springer, who can play center or right field, in Defensive Runs Saved at 16-12.

Springer also is three years older than Betts and won't get paid nearly as much. The Astros star will enter free agency having just turned 31 years old. It will be a wild offseason, too, with the league coming off the financial ramifications of losing games to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Springer could be hoping to hear offers starting around six years and $180 million. With past injury concerns and contract constraints after such odd circumstances, that number will come down. It could come down a long way, too. 

Justin Upton signed a five-year, $106 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels in November 2017 after hitting 35 homers that season. He was 30 years old, turning 31 in August, at the time of the signing. In his age-24 through 29 seasons, Upton averaged 28 homers, an .817 OPS and 122 OPS+. Springer has averaged 27 homers (in 164 fewer games) with an .849 OPS and 131 OPS+ in his first six seasons, when he was 24 through 29 years old. 

The Astros will do what they can to keep Springer in Houston, and they already have expressed their interest in a long-term deal. Springer also was one of the most remorseful and outspoken players regarding the Astros' sign-stealing scandal. 

"I feel horrible for our sport, our game, you know, our fans, our city, our organization -- just fans in general," Springer said to reporters in spring training. "I regret everything."

For those concerned about Springer's production away from Houston, he is a .278 career hitter with 87 home runs on the road, compared .262 and 73 homers at Minute Maid Park.

In this hypothetical world, the Connecticut native wants to come West and signs a five-year, $118.5 million contract with the Giants this Winter. 

[RELATED: Why Giants would be at big disadvantage with DH change]

San Francisco has a lot of big contracts coming off the books in the near future. Jeff Samardzija will be a free agent this upcoming offseason. Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford's contracts both end after 2021. And Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto, who both have 2022 team options, could be out after '21.

The rebuild also will be ramping up by the time Springer would be on board. Joey Bart should be ingrained into the Giants' lineup by 2021, as should fellow top prospect Heliot Ramos. Hunter Bishop, and even Marco Luciano, could be playing at Oracle Park in 2022. 

Zaidi and the rest of the Giants' front office could use San Francisco's rising farm system as a selling tool to Springer. They also might make it clear they have their eyes on a handful of the 2021-22 free-agent class that includes the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa.

If the Giants want to get back to get back to wearing championship rings, adding a former World Series MVP won't hurt. Springer doesn't just smash in the regular season -- he already has 15 postseason homers and hit .379 in the 2017 World Series.

Mookie Betts will be baseball's biggest star when free agency starts this offseason. George Springer is a hell of a backup plan, and the Giants already should be plotting ways to get him in Gabe Kapler's lineup.