Scott Harris

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. 

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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."

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: Giants take right-handed reliever Dany Jimenez

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: Giants take right-handed reliever Dany Jimenez

SAN DIEGO -- It'll be easy to tell when the Giants once again are elite on the field, but when it comes to the health of the minor league system and back end of the 40-man roster, the indicators aren't as clear to the public. One good measure of success will be the yearly Rule 5 draft, which provides an opportunity for struggling clubs to add talent to their big league roster by raiding loaded systems. 

The Astros lost three prospects in the first 10 selections Thursday morning. The Yankees, Nationals and Rays also lost players during the first four picks. That's a sign of health for those organizations, of depth the Giants hope to build. They've made strides but they're still far behind, so on Thursday they once again were on the selecting end. 

A year after they took two players in the Rule 5, the Giants used their lone open roster spot on Dany Jimenez, a 25-year-old right-hander who pitched in the Blue Jays' system last year. Jimenez has a live arm and better command than you usually see from Rule 5 picks. The Giants will throw him in the bullpen mix but must return him to the Blue Jays if Jimenez is not on their big league roster.

"We were happy he fell to us," general manager Scott Harris said. "As we talked about all week, we're trying to find talent. We're trying to find new creative ways. This isn't the most creative way but we got an arm we like."

The Giants selected Drew Ferguson and Travis Bergen last December and later acquired Connor Joe, who was their opening day left fielder. Ferguson was sent back to the Astros during the spring and Joe ended up back with the Dodgers after a few games. Bergen lasted a few months but eventually was sent back to the Blue Jays. 

Jimenez has a strong shot at making the opening day roster and has a better shot than most Rule 5 picks of surviving. It's easier to hide a pitcher in your bullpen all year, particularly with the rosters expanding and the Giants able to carry 13 arms throughout the season. Jimenez also has more experience than Bergen did. He reached Double-A last season and dominated, posting a 1.87 ERA and striking out 46 in 33 2/3 innings. 

Harris said Jimenez has a fastball in the upper 90s. He has averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors and has kept his walk rate on the high end of what's acceptable. That might play in the big leagues, giving the Giants a free reliever at a time when their bullpen is undergoing massive changes. 

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The Giants did not lose a player in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. In the Triple-A phase, they added Brewers catching prospect Bryan Torres to the River Cats' roster.

There was one other pick of note. Starting pitcher Stephen Woods was the fourth overall pick of the draft, going from the Rays to the Royals. Two years ago, the Giants sent Woods to Tampa Bay in the Evan Longoria deal. 

Giants poised to take advantage with teams desperately shedding salary

Giants poised to take advantage with teams desperately shedding salary

SAN DIEGO -- There isn't actually a salary cap in baseball, but with teams acting like there is, Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have found an opportunity. 

The Giants traded for the remaining $12 million or so on Zack Cozart's contract on Tuesday afternoon and got rewarded with a prospect they thought about taking 10th overall in June. It was an interesting deal, the type you would normally see in the NBA, and Zaidi hinted that he could go back to that well. Asked if he had the financial flexibility to make another such deal, Zaidi nodded.

"Yeah, I don't think we're done," he said. "We're kind of weighing all kinds of different deals. We'll continue to evaluate those opportunities."

The Giants find themselves with this opportunity because, while there's no salary cap, teams will make poor baseball decisions to avoid the Competitive Balance Tax, which is at $208 million for the 2020 season. 

The Red Sox are eager to get under that line and have made big-money players available, potentially with a prospect or good young player being attached. There has been some industry speculation that they could pair 25-year-old outfielder Andrew Benintendi with a high-salaried starter, possibly David Price, who was Gabe Kapler's teammate in Tampa Bay.

The Cubs, Harris' old organization, are looking to cut back and reportedly have made former MVP Kris Bryant available. The Athletic reported Tuesday night that the Astros, looking to shed payroll, could trade Carlos Correa. The Yankees could attach prospects to some of their own veterans if they sign Gerrit Cole and want to clear payroll space.

This is still a relatively new concept for baseball, but it's not new to the Giants. They're just on the other side this time. Just 17 months ago, the Giants attached a prospect to Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin in a deal with the Rangers that was made in order to dip under the CBT line, which they went over the previous three seasons. 

There no longer are payroll concerns, and Zaidi entered the Winter Meetings with somewhere in the range of $70 million in space before hitting the line. Even after dishing out nearly $22 million Tuesday to take on Cozart and sign Kevin Gausman, the Giants still have plenty of flexibility, and they're doing exactly what they should with it.

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There aren't many teams, period, that have an ownership group willing to take on big deals. The Giants are one of them, and they also are in a position where they desperately need prospects and younger players. That has created a perfect storm. 

"There are clearly teams out there that are looking to create financial flexibility -- it's been a very active market -- and I think for us we're trying to balance our competitive aspirations in 2020 with some of our long-term goals," Zaidi said. "The fact that there are teams searching for financial flexibility, obviously we've created some of that, it gives us different options like we've been talking about. I think today is an example of the types of moves we can make with that."