Catching My Breath & Catching Up

by Dr Lefty

Wow. After weeks and months of basically nothing happening and having to dig deep for these weekend posts, now I can hardly keep up with all the Giants news. Pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale this week, and so did the beat writers, so there are now multiple daily updates, tidbits, and insights about the players and the team. During all of the offseason, you could count on one hand the three (3) major league transactions made by new head honcho Farhan Zaidi. This week there have been nonstop announcements of new signings and other roster moves. Oh, and happy 33th birthday to Johnny Cueto and RIP to his horse, Popeye, who apparently came to an untimely end by eating poisoned grasshoppers(?).

 

This Week’s Additions (& Subtractions)

Here’s what I have, and I may even have missed something.

  1. The Giants signed outfielder Gerardo Parra to a minor league deal.
  2. The Giants signed infielder Yangervis Solarte to a minor league deal.
  3. The Giants signed catcher Stephen Vogt to a minor league deal.
  4. The Giants signed catcher Rene Rivera to a minor league deal.
  5. The Giants signed relief pitcher Jandel Gustave to a minor league deal.
  6. The Giants signed outfield Craig Gentry to a minor league deal.
  7. The Giants claimed starting pitcher Jose Lopez off waivers from the Reds, designating relief pitcher Josh Osich for assignment to make 40-man room for him.
  8. The Giants traded for right-handed reliever Trevor Gott, sending the ever-popular Cash Considerations to the Nationals. Johnny Cueto was moved to the 60-day DL to make roster room for him.

With the possible exception of Gentry, all of the above players will be in big league camp, regardless of contract status. (Alex Pavlovic specifically said that Gentry would not be in the major league camp, but two other outlets said his deal included a spring training invitation. He’s not on the NRI list for the Giants at the moment, but that’s not always up-to-the-minute.) Parra’s and Solarte’s deals are both for $1.75 mil if they make the team plus $250K in incentives. From what the beat writers say, in both cases, they’re on minor league deals so that the Giants didn’t have to make an immediate 40-man move, but it’s understood that both will very likely make the team.  These seem like excellent low-risk depth moves for the Giants, but it’s pretty amazing that two 31-year-olds with solid major league resumes have to settle for modest minor-league deals the week camp opens.

 

What it all means

The additions of Parra and Solarte are the most significant. Parra will surely stick as either a starting outfielder or a versatile fourth outfielder. Solarte, a switch-hitter with power, can play all infield positions and even a bit of outfield if needed. These additions are not great news to younger guys on the bubble (like Alen Hanson, for example), and they may push others to AAA (Slater, Shaw, Jones, Avelino, to name a few). Andrew Baggarly described the Giants’ spring clubhouse this week as a place of “tension and palpable uncertainty.” That’s another domino effect of this slow free agent market: players coming to camp thinking they have a chance to make the team but then everything suddenly changes–and now they may be looking for jobs (or housing in Sacramento) in March rather than in December or January as in previous years. You have to feel for them and their families.

The Giants obviously need backup catcher options, especially with Buster Posey returning from major surgery. The additions of Rene Rivera and Stephen Vogt definitely provide more choices if they decide to send Aramis Garcia down for more seasoning in AAA to start the year. Meanwhile, Zaidi is building depth at the major and minor league levels.

 

What hasn’t happened (OK, here’s where we talk about Bryce)

So depth is good; the additions of Parra and Solarte in particular are solid, low-cost pickups. However, the team hasn’t been even incrementally improved from the squad that started or finished last year’s 73-win season. Last year at this time the Giants were supposed to be led by a rotation of Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija. Now Cueto’s out of the picture until August or September, who knows about Samardzija, and the front of the rotation apparently consists of Bumgarner, Derek Holland, and Drew Pomeranz. We don’t even know if there will be a spot for Dereck Rodriguez, the promising rookie bright spot of 2018. Last year’s big outfielder addition was Andrew McCutchen, and even though he had a down year for him, he was better than Gerardo Parra.

We still don’t know what Bryce Harper is going to decide, though there’s been plenty of breathless speculation. Most national writers seem to have dismissed the Giants out-of-hand as a serious contender for Harper, based on the assumption that they only offered him a short-term deal and Harper’s not interested in that. However, Henry Schulman had a pretty thoughtful Twitter thread about this last night. His main point: Why would the Giants have wasted their time and Harper’s having a lengthy meeting last week in Vegas if they were trying to lowball him or offer him a deal there was no chance of him accepting? It’s not like Harper’s and Boras’s desire for a long, lucrative contract is a secret. Related: If the Phillies are really Harper’s inevitable destination, why isn’t he signed yet?  We may never know the answers, but I thought Schulman’s questions made sense.

EDIT: Just saw this tweet.

Meanwhile, Zaidi made it clear that if the Harper thing doesn’t work out, Plan B is not necessarily Gerardo Parra, Cameron Maybin (rumored to be talking with the Giants), and a bunch of no-names from the system and the waiver wire. He has the groundwork laid for trades or other free agent signings that he can quickly jump back to if that moment comes. From Alex Pavlovic’s article:

“We’ve had trade conversations with teams about certain players that started in 2018 that kind of are continuing now,” Zaidi said. “It’s a little bit of a function of the slow market. I think with anything that’s a hypothetical, it’s a good idea to have alternatives and not put all your eggs in any one basket.”

 

The Giants won’t reach into any other basket until Harper has made a decision. There’s no available player that would match that production, but this offseason started with more humble goals and there are plenty of options on the trade market. If the Giants don’t get Harper, they seem well positioned to quickly pivot.

 

Thus the continued “tension and palpable uncertainty” that Baggarly described. We won’t know, maybe not for awhile, what the 2019 Giants will really look like. It may be disconcerting for the players gathered in Scottsdale, but as a fan, I find myself intrigued and frequently refreshing Twitter for news. (We also finally committed both to a San Diego getaway for the opening series–it’s spring break and our daughter’s birthday, so it seemed meant to be–and to the home opener at Oracle. Whether or not we’re cheering new Giant Bryce Harper, I look forward to standing for Bumgarner and Posey in what could be their last Opening Day start together and to the tributes to Willie McCovey, Peter Magowan, and others at the home opener.)

 

Other camp news

  • Johnny Cueto arrived a couple days late (again). He’s lost 20 pounds by eating fish and salad, and he shared that his elbow has been killing him for three years(!). He will play catch for the first time since his surgery this week.
  • Bumgarner shoulder-tapped top prospect Joey Bart to catch his first bullpen. That was cool until Baggarly made us all sad that this could be the only time these past/present and possibly future Giants icons ever cross paths.
  • Buster Posey is really bummed that the Giants didn’t sign Nick Hundley back. It is interesting that they didn’t, considering how well regarded Hundley was in the Giants clubhouse. As much as anything, it gives a little window into how things may be different in the Zaidi regime.
  • Jeff Samardzija, Mark Melancon, and Steven Duggar are all feeling really good after their injury-marred 2018 seasons. Bochy is strongly considering a top-of-the-order spot in the lineup for Duggar.

 

Coming up this week

Position players report Monday. The first Cactus League game for the Giants is a week from today against the Angels, on the road. I’ll be sure to pop back in and edit this post if…well, you know, if anything happens. Lefty out.