Crystal Ball Gazing, Week 2: Position Players

by DrLefty

So the ball has dropped (but didn’t break) and the calendar has turned, and it’s January and a new year. We’re not worrying about it being an odd-numbered year because that even-year thing ended about the time Bochy pulled Matt Moore before the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2016 NLDS, and it certainly ended right when Madison Bumgarner got hit by a line drive in his final tune-up start of 2018 spring training. It’s also worth remembering that the Giants did win a pennant in 1989, an odd year, exactly 30 years ago.

I like new years and fresh starts. So let’s continue to be open-minded about our Giants.

 

This week in baseball

This won’t take long to recap.

  1. Yusei Kikuchi signed a complicated four-year(?) deal with the Mariners.
  2. David Robertson got himself a $23 million guaranteed from the Phillies–without the services of an agent.
  3. Well-regarded baseball writer Jeff Passan moved from Yahoo Sports to ESPN. His first ESPN article provided a nice roundup of the current free agent market, including some pretty good lists of who’s still out there.
  4. Henry Schulman interviewed Giants head honcho Farhan Zaidi and published a “lower-your-expectations” article. Among other things, this piece explained why the Giants didn’t sign Kikuchi, despite his expressed interest in them. Schulman also ripped Giants fans a new one on Twitter for being spoiled.

 

OK, back to the crystal ball

Last week I published a “crystal ball” post about the Giants’ pitching staff, trying to assess what we know right now and what we might guess about at this point. It will be much harder to do this for the position players, but just for kicks (and because it’s Jan. 5 and what else am I going to write about), let’s see what we can come up with, discuss, and revisit in a couple of months.

I’ll subdivide it into a possible Opening Day starting lineup and then the possible bench.

 

Opening Day starting lineup

Where we are right now: Posey (C), Belt (1B), Panik (2B), Crawford (SS), Longoria (3B), Williamson (RF), Duggar (CF), Shaw (LF)

So many questions:

  1. Will Posey be good to go on Opening Day, or will he start the season on the DL? If he is the Opening Day starter, that will make his ninth-straight opener, dating back to 2011. If he’s not the Opening Day starter, who will be? (See “bench” section, below.)
  2. If Belt is the Opening Day first baseman, it would also be his ninth-straight opener. Will he be traded?
  3. Will Panik retain his starting 2B job, or will he be replaced by Alen Hanson, Abiatal Avelino, or a new guy TBD?
  4. Will Zaidi figure out a way to extricate the Giants from Longoria? (If Pablo Sandoval is the Opening Day 3B, that would be a little trippy. It would be his seventh Opening Day start there for the Giants, but the last one was in 2014. However, his first one was in 2009, ten years ago, so there’s a little symmetry there.)
  5. Seriously, does anyone really think the Opening Day outfield is going to be Mac-Duggar-Shaw?

Crystal ball guesses:

  • Posey is a tough hombre. He’ll be behind the plate catching Bumgarner on Opening Day. (Last week’s crystal ball saw Bumgarner as the Opening Day starter for the Giants.) This could very well be the last hurrah for the Posey-Bumgarner battery that’s brought us so many thrills over the years, a partnership that goes back to A ball in 2009. We should savor that moment if it happens.
  • We know that Belt was “available” for trade as of the Winter Meetings in December. However, his partial no-trade clause (he can name ten teams to which he cannot be traded without his permission) and his expressed desire to stay with the Giants complicates the possibility of trading him. My guess is that he will not be traded. If he is, though, who’s the Opening Day first baseman? Internal options would be Ryder Jones or even Pablo Sandoval.
  • The Giants worked out a one-year deal with Joe Panik, avoiding arbitration. While this suggests they still value him, per Passan’s article, there are a lot of interesting 2B options on the free agent market. It would not be terribly surprising if the Giants brought in someone new and either traded Panik or kept him as a bench player. If the latter, look for him to get some reps at shortstop this spring so that he can also back up Crawford. (Panik was drafted as a SS and played there exclusively until he got to AA. He was defensive player of the year at SS for the San Jose Giants in 2012.)
  • The Giants are in a long-term relationship with Longoria (thanks, Bobby!), and he’ll be the Opening Day 3B. They’ll hope that his excellent defense from the second half of 2018 (after he returned from his injury) and his right-handed power is still valuable for the 2019 Giants.
  • The outfield: sheeeesh, who the heck knows? Right now there are six outfielders on the Giants’ 40-man roster: Duggar, Ferguson, Gerber, Shaw, Slater, and Williamson. More on Ferguson and Gerber below. Williamson is out of options, and if he doesn’t have a great spring, I think he’ll go the way of Jarrett Parker last year. Pretty much the only thing I’m willing to predict at this point is that Steven Duggar will be the Opening Day centerfielder because that’s what Bumgarner wants.

 

Opening Day bench

Where we are right now: Backup C (the only one on the roster at the moment is Aramis Garcia); Pablo Sandoval (cheap, versatile veteran depth, so he fits Zaidi’s profile), Alen Hanson (versatile, young, athletic), Austin Slater (can play all three OF positions), and…? I wouldn’t consider any of those names sure things at this point, with Hanson and Sandoval (and some backup C) the most likely to be on the Opening Day roster.

The leftovers (other position players on the 40-man roster): Abiatal Avelino, Ryder Jones

The newbies: Drew Ferguson, Mike Gerber

The newbie wannabes (not on the 40-man): Henry Ramos, Cameron Rupp, Anthony Garcia

Just to refresh memories: Jones was the Giants’ second-round pick in 2013. He made his major league debut in 2017 and played briefly for the Giants in 2018 before suffering a season-ending injury. Avelino was obtained in late August in the trade that sent Andrew McCutchen to the Yankees. He played a bit for the Giants in September. Ferguson was selected in last month’s Rule 5 draft out of the Astros organization. Gerber was claimed off waivers from the Tigers in December. Ramos, Rupp, and Garcia were signed as minor league free agents; Rupp was guaranteed a spring training invite (not sure about the other two). Rupp is a 30-year-old backup catcher who most recently played for the Phillies in 2017 and hit 14 homers in 295 ABs. Ramos is 26, had a nice year for AAA Oklahoma City (Dodgers) in 2018, and is the older brother of Giants top prospect Heliot Ramos. Ramos has played all three outfield positions and is a switch-hitter. Garcia turned 27 yesterday and hit 25 homers for AAA Nashville (A’s) last season. He’s played all three outfield positions in the minors and a bit of 1B and catcher.  Like the Ramos brothers, he is from Puerto Rico.

So many questions:

  1. Who will the backup catcher be on Opening Day?
  2. Will Zaidi stick with Sandoval on the roster, or will he go with someone younger?
  3. Of the leftovers, newbies, and wannabes, who will make the team?

Crystal ball guesses:

  • The backup catcher will not be Garcia, who will start the season in AAA. (Though Garcia opened some eyes with his play in September, he’d only been promoted to AAA in August. He can use more upper-minors seasoning.) It might be Rupp, and it could still be Nick Hundley, but I’m going with TBD (none of the above) as my prediction.
  • Sandoval will stick. Even though he’s 32, he’s still cheap and can play several positions. (I erred in not including him in my bullpen roundup last week!)
  • Hanson will stick. He’s out of options and he’s young and cheap and versatile.
  • Ferguson is likely to stick because he’s a Rule 5 selection and has to make the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Astros.
  • That leaves one spot for Jones, Avelino, Gerber, Slater, Ramos, Rupp, and Garcia. Avelino may have the inside track unless the Giants feel that Hanson can adequately back up Crawford. If not Avelino, I’d say either Garcia or Ramos grab the last outfield spot away from Slater. However, if Mac Williamson has a good spring but does not crack the starting lineup (because the Giants have obtained new outfielders), he could take that last bench spot (out of options).

I know some of these guesses are pretty wishy-washy, but there are a lot of unknowns here. The pitchers were a bit easier.

So those are my late December/early January crystal ball predictions. We’ll see how I did come March!

Have a good week. Lefty out.