SAN FRANCISCO–After years of pushing for splashy free agents and high-profile acquisitions, the Giants took a different approach into this year’s offseason.
Yes, Farhan Zaidi met with star free agent Bryce Harper, but the new president of baseball operations doesn’t plan to overhaul the roster with one or two big moves. Instead, Zaidi is moving step-by-step and if he can leap toward Harper, he just may do it.
If not, Zaidi insists he’ll find other ways to move the franchise forward.
How much progress did he make in his first offseason? Zaidi is optimistic about the team’s direction, but the Giants must answer several questions before the season begins.
We highlighted five of the most pressing ones the club hopes to answer this spring.
1. What can the Giants expect out of Buster Posey?
The face of the franchise underwent hip surgery last August to repair a microfracture, a serious operation that raised questions about his long-term future as a catcher. After months of rehab, Posey is eager to take the field for the team’s first workout and optimistic he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
Manager Bruce Bochy said he hopes Posey can catch around 120 games this season, but Zaidi said the Giants may look to ease his workload and acquire additional depth at the position. During the spring, the Giants must determine a realistic plan for Posey that preserves his health and allows him to maximize his production at the plate.
Even after playing through pain last season, Posey owns the highest OPS of any catcher in baseball over the last two years and can still be a key contributor to a major league lineup. The challenge for the Giants is devising a plan that gets the most out of a player who is under contract for the next three seasons.
2. Who will play the outfield?
For much of the offseason, Zaidi has expressed a desire to add at least two experienced outfielders to the Giants’ roster.
He’s now short on time.
None of the five outfielders on the Giants’ roster have more than 350 career at-bats, leaving Bochy with a puzzle that’s still lacking key pieces.
The Giants expect Steven Duggar to man center field, but they’ve also discussed the possibility of finding the left-handed swinger a platoon partner. Mac Williamson is out of options and Drew Ferguson is a Rule 5 draft choice, so both will enter spring training with strong chances of making the club. Austin Slater and Chris Shaw will encounter more difficult paths to the 25-man roster, but both are poised to earn plenty of playing time in the Cactus League.
As the clock continues to tick, free agents like Adam Jones and Carlos Gonzalez are awaiting contracts. Time is running out, and so too are the Giants’ options.
3. How will Bruce Bochy and Farhan Zaidi structure the rotation?
As long as Madison Bumgarner is on the roster, the Giants expect the left-hander to start on Opening Day. All signs point to Bumgarner remaining with the club through the spring, but beyond their ace, the Giants don’t have much set in stone.
Zaidi signed Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz with the goal of having both pitch in the rotation while Dereck Rodríguez and Andrew Suárez are both eager to build off of solid rookie seasons. Jeff Samardzija, who dealt with a shoulder injury all of last season, is determined to prove he’s pain-free while Chris Stratton and Ty Blach both desire to earn starting roles.
The Giants have discussed the possibility of limiting the innings of younger pitchers –like Rodríguez and Suárez– and even using openers to make life more difficult for opponents.
What does all of this mean for the standard five-man rotation Bochy likes to employ? We’ll figure that out in Scottsdale.
4. Who forces their way onto the roster?
With uncertainty comes opportunity and for a number of younger or more inexperienced players, the current construction of the Giants’ roster has presented favorable situations.
Two Rule 5 draft picks, Ferguson and pitcher Travis Bergen, will have plenty of chances to showcase their potential this spring, but they aren’t alone. As the Giants monitor Posey’s health, rookie Aramis Garcia could lock down a backup catching job if he holds off non-roster invitees Stephen Vogt, Cameron Rupp and Rene Rivera.
As the Giants look to maximize their bench, multi-positional talents like Ryder Jones, Abiatal Avelino and Alen Hanson could be given opportunities to contribute in multiple ways. And even though the Giants boast a deep bullpen, pitchers without major league experience like Shaun Anderson, Logan Webb and Melvin Adon could prove to in-house evaluators that they’re close to contributing to the big league club.
Every spring, one or two players come out of nowhere to seize jobs and lay claim to roster spots. With the Giants prioritizing ways to add and develop cheap talent, it’s possible two, three or even four roster spots will go to players most fans have never heard of before.
5. Can the Giants threaten in the National League West?
For much of the past decade, the Giants have entered spring training with different forms of this question. Is their starting rotation deep enough to contend in the West? Does their lineup have enough quality hitters to compete for a playoff berth? Will an aging team stay healthy enough to battle for a spot in the postseason?
As the Giants prepare to report to spring training, it’s clear Zaidi must add to the talent pool if the club hopes to contend. Even Posey –who is at times overly reserved– took time during the team’s media day to express hope that the Giants continue acquiring players.
If the Giants don’t seek outfield help, fortify their lineup or add meaningful depth to their pitching staff, threatening in the West will remain unlikely. The Dodgers are far deeper and the Rockies, Diamondbacks and even Padres could make claims they have superior rosters.
This is a franchise that’s accustomed to entering the season with the expectation of winning. From now through Opening Day, the Giants have a lot to do to convince their fans that’s possible this year.