clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

November mailbag, Part 1

Some simple questions. Some confusing answers.

Matt Chapman in an A’s jersey tagging Shohei Ohtani as he stumbles on the basepaths. Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

It’s the time of the year where life is both incredibly quiet and wildly hectic for the San Francisco Giants, and all of baseball, really. There are rumors, ideas, speculation, and momentum flying around, but nothing is really happening.

That’s when the questions start to pop up, so it seemed like a good time for a mailbag (or two!).

Thanks everyone for the questions. Hopefully they lead to good transactions.

I’m fairly certain that this is illegal in all 50 states but you know.....

..... it never hurts to ask.

The parenthetical in your question makes this one especially hard, because Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger have two of the least consistent contract projections I’ve ever seen. The other day I compared the projected contracts for free agent targets from four of the best projections publications: MLB Trade Rumors, Fangraphs, ESPN, and The Athletic. Chapman’s four projections ranged from five years and $95 million to six years and $150 million. Bellinger’s were even wilder, with the low end being seven years and $147 million, and the high end being 12 years and $264 million.

I do think that both players would represent a massive upgrade for the Giants. Bellinger’s inconsistency may be scary, but he has a star ceiling that the Giants are sorely lacking. His athleticism and base-stealing would be massive for San Francisco, and his ability to play a Gold Glove caliber center field or first base help the Giants roster-building flexibility. And he’s only 28!

Chapman is perhaps less of an upgrade, since he has a lower ceiling than Bellinger, and since J.D. Davis was better at third base last year than any Giant was in center field. But Chapman has been an above-average hitter every year of his career, and a very above-average defensive third baseman every year, too. He’s a wildly durable player, so he can be plugged into the lineup 150 games a year. And his elite third base defense — he won his fourth Gold Glove this year — would really help ease the burden for Marco Luciano’s rookie year, especially since the Giants have such a ground ball-heavy pitching staff.

So yeah, I think both players would be huge upgrades, and the Giants would be stoked to land either player. What I’m curious about is whether they’ll be willing to win the bidding war for either.

Truthfully, I think the Giants are going to pursue Plans B and C concurrently with Plan A. And I think there are three reasons for this.

  1. As you note, the Giants got burned last year by putting all their eggs in the Aaron Judge basket. By the time that fiasco was over, three of the four other top position players were off the market, they agreed to give Carlos Correa an amount of money that I’m not positive they were super comfortable giving him and, when that fell through, they were left with Michael Conforto. Truthfully, I have no problem with that process last year. But they cannot replicate it this year.
  2. Judge and Shohei Ohtani represent very different situations. The general consensus last year was that it was a two-horse race between the Giants and New York Yankees for Judge. Many New York media members predicted that Judge would sign with San Francisco. The Giants, justifiably, felt like they had something of a coin flip chance at landing Judge, and put all of their eggs in that basket, then went to every supermarket in the greater Bay Area to buy more eggs, and put them in that basket, too. This year is different. I remain of the belief that Ohtani to the Giants is a possibility, but the front office understands it’s a slim possibility. There are far more teams in this race, and the Giants don’t have the compelling selling point that they had for Judge. So in that sense, I think the Giants are not even approaching Ohtani as Plan A ... they’re approaching him as the dream scenario that they’ll aggressively pursue while trying to execute the actual plan(s).
  3. Fans are understandably dubious, but I think the Giants are more than willing to sign multiple big contracts this year. No, they’re not going to sign Ohtani, Bellinger, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto for the largest predicted contracts, but they can fairly easily sign Ohtani and another big-name player without even spending more money than they did last year. So I don’t think the Giants would have any hesitancy to sign, say, Chapman — who, as our Bryan Murphy notes, is starting to feel inevitable — before Ohtani signs. I don’t think the dream plan is to merely sign Ohtani and call it a day.

Ultimately it probably doesn’t matter much, because the reports are that Ohtani is likely to sign quickly. And even if he didn’t, I think most agents would make their players wait to sign until after the Ohtani drama unfolded, because it will open up a lot more money thanks to both desperation and teams who were unwilling to commit money while they still harbored dreams of Shohei (which, again, is exactly what happened with the Giants last year with Judge/Correa).

So yeah, in summation, I think the Giants will pursue all of their plans at once. Except the “sign Conforto and Sean Manaea because we missed out on everyone else” plan, which hopefully will never be pursued.

Well, there are kind of two questions embedded in this single question. There’s the matter of whether or not Oracle Park will impact his stats, and there’s the matter of whether any impact would factor into his decision-making.

I do not think Oracle’s Park dimensions will impact his stats too terribly much. There’s no denying that San Francisco will at least mildly tarnish the batting line of any left-handed power hitter, but it’s not as bad as people think. Ohtani hit 44 homers this season, and Statcast says that he would have hit only 34 if he played all of his games at Oracle Park. But that number changes from year to year ... his career best 46 homers in 2021 would have been 45 in San Francisco. For his career, Ohtani’s 171 homers would be 141 if he played 100% of his games at Oracle Park, which is the lowest total of any ballpark that he might sign with. But it’s worth remembering that those stats are for if all of Ohtani’s games were at Oracle Park, not just his home games ... and the Giants play in the same division as the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, who play in parks that would behoove his swing. In reality, Ohtani being a Giant probably only suppresses his home run total by four or five a year ... but those missed homers are probably still doubles, and Oracle Park turns a lot of singles into doubles and doubles into triples.

But if we’re going to bring up Oracle Park damaging his offensive stats, we have to bring up the other side of the coin: it helps his pitching stats! Especially as a right-handed pitcher, Ohtani stands to benefit quite a bit from pitching half of his games in the Bay. For his career, Ohtani has ceded 53 homers ... but only would have allowed 44 if he played all his games in San Francisco. That’s a stark comparison to if he played all his games at Dodger Stadium (55) or Wrigley Field (65).

So that brings us to the second question: would it make him less likely to sign? I don’t think so. Largely because I think Oracle Park helps Ohtani as a pitcher more than it hurts him as a hitter, but also because I don’t think stats are a big factor for a player signing a massive contract. The main reason players like good stats is because it drives up their price in free agency. If Ohtani is signing a deal to drive him to the doorstep of his retirement, I doubt the stats become much of a factor.

For context, I asked for clarity on this question to figure out exactly which players were being referenced. Gentleman Bugg was asking about the players who debuted in 2023 who are still rookies, and what their roles are for 2024.

The Giants had 12 players make their MLB debut this year, with five of them retaining rookie eligibility: starters Kyle Harrison and Keaton Winn, shortstop Luciano, outfielder Wade Meckler, and utility player Tyler Fitzgerald. It’s worth noting that there are players on the roster who debuted before 2023 who still have rookie eligibility, such as Heliot Ramos and Cole Waites, but we’re not here to talk about those guys.

Let’s start with the pitchers. While recognizing that Harrison and Winn could be part of a big offseason trade to land a young bat, I expect both to play a huge role in the rotation in 2024. Harrison is pretty much a given at this point; barring an awful Spring Training, I would be shocked if he doesn’t start the season as a part of the rotation. He’ll get a fairly long leash, which hopefully he won’t need. Health permitting, I expect him to make 30ish starts at the big league level next year, some of which will fall into the “hey, you gotta play your best prospects and give them time to develop” bucket and some of which will fall into the “this is our best chance of winning baseball games” bucket.

Winn will probably have to earn it more, but I certainly think the Giants are a lot higher on him than nine games, five starts, and multiple times being optioned suggests. I’d like to see him be the fifth starter out of the gates, and Alex Cobb’s injury opens that door a little, but it’s probably still most likely that the Giants begin the year with a rotation of Harrison, Logan Webb, Ross Stripling, Anthony DeSclafani, and whatever pitcher they sign in free agency (assuming they only sign one). I think Winn, not Tristan Beck, would be next in line when someone invariably is injured, Stripling or DeSclafani struggle, or Farhan Zaidi finds someone to take on one of those contracts. I think the Giants are planning on Winn filling the role that he had last year, with hopes that he’ll take a spot and run with it. My expectation — based on my evaluation of Winn, not on any insider info — is that he’ll spend the second half of the year as a staple in a very good rotation.

Luciano is simultaneously the biggest and smallest question mark of the bunch. Zaidi has already publicly stated that the plan is for the team’s top position player prospect to be the everyday shortstop out of the gates, which is really the only option. It’s time for his chance, and there really aren’t any other options barring a shocking trade (Ha-seong Kim, anyone?). So while Luciano is a sure thing in that sense, he’s a question mark in terms of what we can expect from him. He has historically struggled a bit when starting a new level, and that could be doubly true this year, since he almost skipped AAA entirely: he had just 78 plate appearances with Sacramento, spread out around options and injuries. He is going to have moments where he flashes power we haven’t seen from a Giants prospect in a long time, and moments where he goes 0-14 with 10 strikeouts in a series. The Giants simply have to sit through the latter to maximize the former, and I believe they will. As long as he can hold his own defensively, I suspect his power and athleticism will play enough to give him a playable floor as he works towards an All-Star ceiling.

Fitzgerald is an intriguing one. On September 20 I thought the Giants were very low on him and wouldn’t protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. On September 21 he was called up and I was confused as to whether they were now high on him, or were giving him the Bryce Johnson late-season cup of coffee preceding an offseason DFA. And then he played everyday while Zaidi publicly said he might be the team’s Chris Taylor, and now it’s clear the Giants love the guy, and it’s not hard to see why.

That said, I have no idea what his outlook is. On the one hand, I think the Giants want to avoid betting too much on young, unproven players, especially ones that aren’t elite prospects. On the other hand, they love positional versatility and are desperate for athleticism and power, and Fitzgerald checks all of those boxes. I’d be surprised if the plan right now is to build a roster that relies on Fitzgerald being part of it, but I think he’ll be given a chance to make the Opening Day roster. I think he’ll enter the season in a Brett Wisely role of occupying a middle ground between roster staple and emergency depth, and if he plays like he did in his short stint this season, he’ll quickly turn that role into a much, much bigger one.

And finally, Meckler. I think it’s fairly obvious that the Giants erred in bringing him up, and they’ll probably be biting their fingernails during the Rule 5 Draft hoping it doesn’t come back to haunt them (Meckler would not have needed to be protected this year ... or next year, for that matter). Still and all, he’s a hitter who needed virtually no time to dominate each level of the Minor Leagues. For as lost as he looked in his MLB call up, don’t forget that he posted a .965 OPS and a 144 wRC+ in AAA, in his first full season of professional baseball.

Unless the Giants fail to land a center fielder this offseason, I don’t really see a path for Meckler breaking camp on the roster. But I’m sure he’s working tirelessly this offseason to better attack breaking balls and learn how to put his speed to use on the base paths. I think he’ll get a cautious look in the Majors early in the year, and if he runs with it the Giants will act accordingly.

This mailbag once again got way longer than I expected, and I’m only halfway through the questions. So let’s just take one more, and then we’ll field the rest tomorrow.

Yes. Ohtani. Exactly.

See, you get it.