Tampa Bay Rays

Why Giants, new manager Gabe Kapler think so highly of Rays organization

Why Giants, new manager Gabe Kapler think so highly of Rays organization

SAN FRANCISCO -- If Farhan Zaidi wouldn't have accepted the job last November, the Giants very likely would have turned to Chaim Bloom, then the vice president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays. A year later, Gabe Kapler was chosen over two other finalists for the manager job, including Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro. 

It's no accident that the front office keeps looking to Tampa Bay in a quest to find a new and better approach, and their new leadership team has Rays connections, too. Zaidi was hired in Los Angeles by Andrew Friedman, who came over from the Rays. Kapler played his final two big league seasons in Tampa Bay. 

Asked earlier this month if there are specific strategies he wants to implement with a younger Giants team in 2020, Kapler brought up his former team. 

"Farhan has a tendency to be experimental. I know the guys in Los Angeles have a tendency to be experimental, as well," Kapler said. "I think an organization that we all think pretty highly of that's doing great things in the industry is the Tampa Bay Rays. I think Tampa is a really good model for being creative around strategic decisions. Things like you mentioned, like the opener, how to use relievers maybe in more high-leverage situations relative to having very set, specific roles."

The Rays are not the only organization on the frontline of innovation, but they get the most credit because they've gone furthest in big league games, and they continue to win despite one of the lower payrolls in the league. Tampa Bay went 96-66 last season, finishing 15 games better than the Phillies and 19 ahead of the Giants, who want to embrace new strategies while also having the payroll to dominate in more traditional methods of player acquisition. 

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With Zaidi in charge, the Giants did try some new things last season. They used an opener once and tried a four-man outfield with Joe Panik standing in right. At the minor league level, they used openers, piggybacked starters at times, and experimented with four-man outfields and different shifts. 

A big part of that was to get future Giants on board with new methods, and Kapler said communication will be key as he tries new things.

"All those conversations have to happen before those kind of experiments are put into motion," Kapler said. "Because, if they're all for it and the strategic decision makes sense, sure I think that's a really cool strategy to deploy. But if a guy is like, oh man, I don't feel like I can get ready for a game to come in in the second or third inning, it might take a little bit more work before you're ready to use that guy in that situation."

For more from Kapler on his early thoughts on the Giants, you can listen to him on The Giants Insider podcast. 

Looking back at Giants-Rays Matt Duffy trade that shocked fans, team

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Looking back at Giants-Rays Matt Duffy trade that shocked fans, team

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the spring of 2017, a former Giants prospect sat in the visiting dugout at Scottsdale Stadium and marveled at how the big league team had fallen apart a year earlier.

"Everything changed when we traded Duffy," he said. 

Matt Duffy was just as popular in the clubhouse as he was with the fan base, and he was a bridge from the veterans who had won in 2014 to the newer Giants trying to repeat two years later. There's no doubt that trading Duffy to Tampa Bay at the deadline was a big blow for the clubhouse, but over time -- and three straight losing seasons -- it has became clear that the issues were much deeper. 

The Duffy trade, one of the most scrutinized in recent Giants history, came full circle Wednesday when the Rays DFA'd Duffy as part of an effort to clear 40-man roster spots for prospects. Like Matt Moore, Duffy no longer is with the team that dealt for him, although a good prospect the Giants included is still with the Rays. 

The deal was Moore, a talented left-handed starter, for Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. Fox, a 22-year-old shortstop, actually was added to Tampa Bay's 40-man roster on Wednesday to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and perhaps that'll ultimately be the part of this deal that really burns the Giants.

But while he ends up on prospect lists occasionally, Fox has yet to break out and he had a .657 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A last season. Santos is now with the Angels organization and has made just six appearances above A-ball. 

The principals were Duffy and Moore, with the Giants, the best team in the majors throughout that first half of 2016, dealing from their infield depth to get a lefty they felt would put them over the top in the postseason. In retrospect, Moore's time with the Giants is absolutely fascinating. He had a 5.12 ERA in 44 appearances and was traded to the Rangers after his only full season in San Francisco. 

But ... Moore's stint in San Francisco was so close to being remembered as somewhat legendary. 

In his fifth start with the Giants, Moore came one out away from no-hitting the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, which would have given him #ForeverGiant status on the spot. His lone postseason start for the Giants was memorable, but not because he gave up two runs and struck out 10 Cubs over eight innings in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Imagine how Moore would have been remembered had the bullpen held the three-run lead he handed over?

Moore was close to fulfilling all the dreams the Giants had for him when they swung the blockbuster. Across the country, Duffy never even got a chance. 

An Achilles injury limited Duffy to 21 games the rest of 2016 and kept him out all of 2017. Duffy looked more like his old self in 2018, posting a .361 OBP in 132 games, but this past season was again ruined by injuries. Duffy played just 46 games for a team that surprisingly reached the postseason. 

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In three-and-a-half years in Tampa, Duffy had just 726 at-bats, but he's still only 28. Perhaps getting back on natural grass full-time will help keep him healthy. Maybe there's a reunion in his future (Duffy isn't really a fit for the current Giants roster but bringing him back sure wouldn't hurt an organization facing a PR nightmare right now). 

Regardless of where he ends up, Duffy won't be in Tampa Bay four seasons after a trade that shook up his previous organization and didn't work out as either side had hoped. 

Rays designate popular ex-Giants infielder Matt Duffy for assignment

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Rays designate popular ex-Giants infielder Matt Duffy for assignment

A Giants fan favorite needs a new home. 

The Tampa Bay Rays designated infielder Matt Duffy for assignment Wednesday, and they now have a week to trade or release him. Injuries limited Duffy, who played for San Francisco for parts of three seasons, to just 199 games with the Rays after being traded to Tampa Bay during the 2016 season.

“Wish that his health and his time with us would have gone different in that regard and we could have had him on the field more,’’ Rays general manager Erik Neander said (via the Tampa Bay Times). “He really is a special player and there’s the obvious stuff you can measure in how he impacts a game. His intangibles, his leadership, his influence on a younger impressionable clubhouse like we have is worth a lot. And that especially made this a very difficult decision and we’ll certainly miss him in that regard.’’

Duffy played in only 46 games, slashing just .252/.343/.327 and posting a career-low .670 OPS. Despite those struggles, Duffy's Rays career ended with eerily similar statistics to that of his Giants tenure. Duffy played 54 more games in orange and black than he did with Tampa Bay, but his .281/.326/.399 slash line with the Giants was not far off from his overall .284/.351/.357 line with the Rays. 

The pitcher Duffy was traded for, Matt Moore, is long gone from San Francisco. Could Duffy make his way back to Oracle Park, either through trade or free agency? It's difficult to imagine, given the construction of the Giants' infield depth chart. 

Duffy has played the vast majority of his career games at third base, and Giants third baseman Evan Longoria is under contract through 2022 and owed $53 million until then, making a trade unlikely. Behind Longoria is arbitration-eligible veteran Donovan Solano, who posted a career-best .815 OPS last season. Right-handed shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who the Giants acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers, will at least back up Brandon Crawford next season, and Dubon's status as one of San Francisco's most promising young players will give him the priority in terms of playing time. 

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Plus, Duffy's connections to the Giants are largely gone. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler were not in San Francisco when Duffy was. The Giants are no strangers to bringing back one of their own, but it remains to be seen if San Francisco's newly formed brain trust values that in the same way. 

The Giants opted not to make any changes to their 40-man roster Wednesday, and they would've had a chance to acquire Duffy via trade. Neander said the Rays were unable to find a taker, but perhaps a team circles back now that Duffy has been DFA'd. It just might not be San Francisco.