As Giants roster continues to churn, front office closes in on pivotal summer

Part II of our Giants' Monday Mailbag includes questions about Pablo Sandoval, Madison Bumgarner, and the outfield

SAN FRANCISCO CA – MAY 12: Pablo Sandoval celebrates at 2nd base after hitting a double during the San Francisco Giants’ big eighth inning rally against the Cincinnati Reds, Sunday, May 12, 2019, at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
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SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants parted ways with veteran catcher Erik Kratz Monday, announcing that they have designated the 38-year-old catcher for assignment.

Kratz was the latest veteran to be sent packing, joining Gerardo Parra and Yangervis Solarte, who both signed as minor league free agents this offseason. The club needed to clear a roster spot for recently acquired outfielder Aaron Altherr, and with Buster Posey potentially available to return from the concussion injured list on Wednesday, the Giants no longer had a need for Kratz.

The decision to cut ties with Kratz was the latest roster move for president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who has had a busy week and figures to have an even busier summer. The Giants have several players who have built up their trade value, a handful of inexperienced players worth evaluating over an extended period of time and big-picture questions looming over the franchise.

We addressed many of those concerns in part one of our Monday mailbag, but we wanted to make sure that every question was answered. Here’s part two.

With the way he’s hitting, how would you assess Pablo Sandoval’s trade value? (From Alan, Reno, NV)

Kerry Crowley: In the middle of spring training, it was difficult to imagine Sandoval earning a roster spot and sticking with the Giants for the duration of the season. He simply didn’t provide enough positional versatility and wasn’t expected to contribute in such a meaningful way.

Haven’t we learned our lesson? Never bet against Pablo Sandoval. All he’s done is provide the Giants with an impressive example of a player who accepts and thrives in whatever role is assigned to him and because of that, it now looks like Sandoval will have a tough time staying with the Giants all season. He has trade value, particularly for American League teams who could insert him into a DH role or would prefer a weak-fielding corner infielder to fill in as a DH. It’s sometimes easy to forget that Sandoval is still a strong defender who can play both first and third at a high level.

Will the Giants receive a solid package of prospects if they trade Sandoval? Probably not. But they might receive a player with major league potential and if they’re smart about who they acquire, they could bring in an under-the-radar prospect who develops into an everyday player.

What are they going to do with Aaron Altherr? Is Mac Williamson in Jeopardy of getting DFA’D in the next week if he doesn’t heat up? (Danny from the Bay Area)

Crowley: The Giants have made it known they’re going to evaluate several different outfielders throughout the season, but the timing of the Altherr acquisition was still a mild surprise given Altherr’s early-season struggles and the recent promotion of Williamson.

The Giants knew they would have no trouble clearing a 40-man roster spot for Altherr, but it’s not immediately clear how they’ll work Altherr into the lineup. The former Phillies outfielder can play all three positions, but the Giants will likely keep him in the corners because they’ve got Kevin Pillar and Steven Duggar capable of handling center field.

Will he split time with Williamson? Will they start Altherr in right field against lefties so the Giants can platoon him with Duggar? Those are the most likely options, especially considering how Zaidi wants to evaluate Williamson in a starting role for the time being. With that being said, if Williamson doesn’t pick up his play in the next two-to-three weeks, Alterr could become the next play to start in left field on a regular basis.

Will the Giants re-start their even year run next year? Call up Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos, similar to Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner in 2010? Plus new manager. (From Cody, Puerto Rico)

Crowley: It’s hard to envision any team matching or besting the run the Giants enjoyed at the beginning of the decade in the near future, and it’s even harder to see the Giants being the team to do it. There should certainly be more optimism about the team’s ability to compete in 2020, but the roster doesn’t have the depth necessary to challenge at the top of the division with the Dodgers.

Though the Diamondbacks and Rockies aren’t yet set up for future success, the Padres are a few pieces away from having one of the strongest teams in the National League and they have the farm system to continue churning out talented major league players. With the way the Dodgers and Padres are set up for the future, it will take exceptional work from Zaidi and his staff to position the Giants as contenders as soon as next season.

Tyler Austin looks like he could be an offensive weapon, but defensively seems limited to first base. With Buster soon transitioning from catcher to first base, should the Giants trade Brandon Belt and open up the position? (From Joe, San Francisco)

Crowley: Of all the players Zaidi has acquired in his first six months on the job, I think Tyler Austin has the most potential to turn into a Max Muncy-esque find. Austin has impressive power, a decent command of the strike zone and a knack for forcing pitchers to work deep into counts, and while he strikes out too often, the Giants will put up with that if he can provide consistent offense from the right side of the plate.

Austin would play more often, but he’s not experienced in left field and projects best as a designated hitter. He’s most comfortable at first base, but there’s not a clear path to regular at-bats at that position given the team’s current –and potentially future– roster construction.

I think it’s possible we’ll see the Giants move on from Belt this offseason even if he remains one of their top two-way players simply because they’ll eventually need spots in the lineup for both Buster Posey and Joey Bart. I could actually see Posey continuing to catch and the Giants eventually having Bart split time between first base and catcher, but they’ll have Bart focus on catching as he works his way through the minors.

Where does Austin fit in? It’s not entirely clear, but if he can become more sufficient in left field, that’s the best way for him to earn consistent at-bats.

If/when the Giants trade Bumgarner, could you see a scenario where they’d have a chance at re-signing him in the offseason ala Aroldis Chapman? (Brendan, Buffalo)

Crowley: Short answer? Absolutely.

Longer answer? No organization knows Bumgarner better than the Giants and even with Zaidi in place, there are likely few franchises that believe in Bumgarner’s ability to succeed in the future more than the one he currently plays for.

Is Bumgarner going to command a better deal than the six-year, $140 million deal Patrick Corbin received from the Nationals last offseason? That’s unlikely. But if any club were to offer him four years at $80-to-$100 million, the Giants would figure to be high on that list. Though the Dodgers didn’t hand out many long-term contracts when Zaidi served as their general manager, it’s possible no team will be willing to go beyond four years for a pitcher who is about to surpass 1,700 career regular season innings.

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