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November mailbag, Part 2

Some more non-answers to offseason questions.

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Shohei Ohtani smiling in the dugout. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

On Friday, I fielded a first round of questions for a San Francisco Giants mailbag. There were enough questions to split the ‘bag in half, and I imagined the second act could wait until Monday. ‘Tis the season for rumors and excitement, but not really for moves.

So let’s see how that worked out for me and get started...

Oh. Ahh. I see the problem here.

In a fairly surprising (to me) turn of events, Aaron Nola became the first big-name free agent to sign, inking a seven-year, $172 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, the only team he’s ever played for.

It’s very rare for a free agent of Nola’s stature to sign before the Winter Meetings, which likely speaks to the fact that Nola didn’t want to leave the franchise, and the Phillies were willing to pay him market value. Everyone wins ... except the other teams that might have wanted to sign the righty.

Even though the Giants won’t be signing Nola, we can still discuss the topic of Nola vs. this year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, lefty Blake Snell. And for me, this is a classic case of “two things can be true.” Those two things are,

  1. On equal contracts, I would easily prefer Nola to Snell.
  2. I am very glad the Giants did not give that contract to Nola and I hope they don’t give that contract to Snell.

Snell would be a fun pitcher, but probably a much worse investment. He’s the kind of pitcher I’d be so excited to have on the Giants because of how fun he is: he’s a mesmerizing lefty who hasn’t had a season with fewer than 11 strikeouts per nine innings since 2017 ... for perspective, Tim Lincecum’s career high was 10.5 strikeouts per nine. Remember how fun it was watching him trick hitters into helplessly swinging at pitches nowhere near the zone? You get a lot of that with Snell.

Unfortunately, as Lincecum sadly reminded us, those pitchers don’t always age gracefully, and Snell has already shown many signs of cracking. He had the lowest ERA and hits per nine innings in the Majors last year, but he also issued more walks than any other pitcher in baseball ... he walked more batters last year than Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, and Camilo Doval combined. Between his high walk and strikeout totals (both of which run up pitch counts) and his injury history, Snell has only eclipsed the 130 inning mark twice in his career.

Nola might get his results in a less exciting way, but he’s been a certifiable innings eater his whole career, with a skillset that figures to age quite gracefully. He’s less likely to make you put his starts on the calendar, but a lot less likely to force 2028 you into explaining to your new-to-baseball friend what the Giants were thinking when they gave him him $24.5 million a year.

One final note on these two: Nola signing gives us our first glimpse at the market. Recently I wrote an article looking at the projected contracts for top free agents from ESPN, Fangraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, and The Athletic. They projected Nola’s contract to be, in order: five years, $120 million; five years, $140 million; six years, $150 million, and six years, $180 million. One the one hand, you could claim that Nola’s contract is lower than what the market will be since he didn’t really test free agency much. On the other hand, Philly clearly offered him a deal he didn’t find offensive.

Well that’s an interesting question, since all three would be traded for very different reasons. The Giants have no desire to trade Casey Schmitt, but would do so as part of a package for the right player. They have no desire to trade J.D. Davis, but might pivot in that direction if they sign Matt Chapman. And I don’t think they have a desire to trade Michael Conforto as the roster stands, but his contract and position mean they’ll probably look into it at some point.

I’ll say Davis is most likely, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see any of them traded.

I don’t think there’s any one path, but I think there are lots of avenues. Signing right-handed pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto would be far and away the best start to a second plan. Not only is Yamamoto the clear-cut second-best free agent on the market in my eyes, but he would make the rest of the offseason work so much smoother.

Remember how I said I was uncomfortable with the Giants giving seven years and $172 million to Nola or Snell? Well, if they gave that contract to Yamamoto I would do cartwheels all the way to my backflip tutor’s house, learn to do backflips, and then do backflips all the way home.

In other words, signing Yamamoto would not only give the Giants an instant Cy Young candidate who is two years younger than Webb, but would keep them from having to spend scary money on a pitcher in his 30s just to shore up the front of the rotation.

The Giants can still have a successful offseason without Yamamoto, but they need help at the top of the rotation. Perhaps they go after Snell or Jordan Montgomery, or maybe they go for a shorter contract for Sonny Gray, which would be my preference.

Then they need a position player with a trusty bat. Chapman and Cody Bellinger are the biggest names and obvious candidates. They need help in center field, which could come from Bellinger, a trade, or my preference: Jung-hoo Lee.

Star talent would be preferable, though I’d only classify Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani as clearly fitting in that box. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants get in on sweepstakes for Juan Soto, Mike Trout, Pete Alonso, and any other star should they become available.

So you can see a lot of potential options, and the challenge for the Giants is making sure that they’re landing at least two, and preferably three or four of those options, in ways that still allow the puzzle pieces to fit.

Personally, an offseason of Yamamoto, Chapman, and Lee would be highly successful in my eyes, especially if it came with trading a few prospects for a proven position player, and maybe signing Tim Anderson to be the backup across the infield.

There are many paths to success. It’s always a challenge trying to ride one path without giving up on the others, which is something the team struggled with last offseason.

At the start of the offseason, I wrote a “bold” predictions article in which I guessed that the Giants would be one of the finalists for Ohtani, even though they wouldn’t sign him. Now I’m not sure that we’ll ever know. It was recently reported that Ohtani will hold it against teams if they leak that he met with them. Which means we may never know who is close to signing him.

But I still think the Giants have a chance of landing him. Just ... not a great chance.

Kind of depends on your definition of a star. Given that you’re listing Gray as a non-star, I’m guessing you don’t think there are many stars in this market, as Gray rocked a 2.79 ERA last year and was the Cy Young runner-up.

So if Ohtani and Yamamoto are the only stars in your eyes, then the odds aren’t great. If you’re including Chapman, Bellinger, Snell, and a few others, then I like the team’s chances.

I’ve copped out of this answer a few times in the past months, and I’ll cop out of it again. It’s really hard to find trade targets for the Giants, because I don’t think they really target specific players. Instead, they target players whose teams undervalue them enough — or overvalue certain Giants players enough — that there’s a chance for a sneaky but clear upgrade.

Three examples come to mind. The Giants flipped Darin Ruf for a younger, better, less-platooned version of Ruf (Davis), who had more years of team control, and got three exciting prospects in return. They acquired Mauricio Dubón in a deal where everyone assumed Madison Bumgarner was the outgoing piece ... but instead it was Ray Black and Drew Pomeranz. And they dropped Mark Melancon’s contract on Atlanta’s doorstep and received Tristan Beck as a thank you gift.

Those are the trades that Zaidi likes to make, though this year I do think that he’ll poke around any trade where a star is available (unless they land Ohtani in free agency ... but maybe still then).

As for Manuel Margot, I don’t think the Giants would be super interested. They’re hoping to land a higher-quality center fielder than Margot, and while he’d make a compelling fourth or fifth outfielder, I think they’d prefer to sign a Lee/Bellinger everyday center fielder, and give youngsters like Luis Matos, Heliot Ramos, Tyler Fitzgerald, and Wade Meckler a chance to be the depth.

To be honest, I don’t think Bob Melvin having a staff full of constants is exciting or concerning ... I think it’s inaccurate! Melvin certainly brought a few of his own people around, but I think he actually has a staff with far fewer of “his” people than is the norm in the Majors.

Melvin certainly brought some of his favorite colleagues with him, with Matt Williams and Ryan Christenson heading up the coast after working with Melvin on the San Diego Padres, and Bryan Price being coaxed out of retirement. Those three certainly will play big roles, as third base coach, bench coach, and pitching coach, respectively.

But the staff is also full of holdovers (assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, first base coach Mark Hallberg, assistant pitching coach J.P. Martinez, director of video coaching Fernando Perez, hitting coach Justin Viele, and assistant coaches Alyssa Nakken and Taira Uematsu). And the new coaches aren’t just ones attached to Melvin, as the Giants also promoted bullpen coach Garvin Alston and hitting coach Pat Burrell from their Minor League coaching tree.

So yeah, a new manager only bringing in three coaches on a large staff is actually very rare and a very small number, and it’s worth noting that the three he did bring are all very well-respected coaches. So I feel pretty good about the cast of different voices; I think there’s a lot of diversity and dissenting opinions. And I think that’s on display when you look at the pitching coaches: the Giants are retaining the assistant pitching coach from the Gabe Kapler era, while Melvin is bringing along a head pitching coach who just told The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly that, “My basic philosophy: Let starters pitch the innings.”

I think the Giants will get in on any star player who is available for a trade. That includes Alonso, Soto, and Trout, and it would include other players who could potentially be dangled.

I’m expecting Soto and Alonso to be made available in a trade. I’m not betting on it with Trout, but it wouldn’t be surprising, either.

This might sound backwards given his age and injury history, but of those three I would most want the Giants to pursue Trout. Why? Better value, I think.

The New York Mets will likely need a huge package to part with Alonso, who is only under contract for one more year. As much as I would love to see his bat in the middle of the Giants lineup, he’s coming off the worst year of his career, and I’m not convinced a bat that’s solely reliant on homers will age beautifully.

Soto would also cost an arm and a leg for his rental year which, in a vacuum, I’d be all for the Giants chasing. If they could do the Mookie Betts special with Soto — trade for his final year and immediately extend him for the next decade — I’d say throw the kitchen sink down to San Diego. But Soto is represented by Scott Boras, who rarely ever lets his clients sign a deal without tasting the sweet market boost of free agency. And it would be foolish to trade for just one year of Soto.

Trout isn’t the most natural fit, given his age and injury history. But he’s still probably a top five player when healthy, his skillset should age well (and the Giants can help him age gracefully by giving him more time at DH, unless they sign Ohtani), and he’ll bring a tremendous mentality, leadership, and seriousness to the team. But above all else, if Anaheim opts to trade him, they’ll probably be looking for someone to eat Trout’s contract, rather than looking for someone to give up a huge prospect haul.

I’m going to abstain from answering the worst roommates question. For reasons. But I’ll answer the best.

For most people, I think the team’s leaders — Webb, Thairo Estrada, Mike Yastrzemski, and Wilmer Flores — would be the right answer. They’re respectful but fun and social. They wouldn’t leave their dirty dishes in the sink, they wouldn’t be too loud when you’re sleeping, they’d make you extras when they’re cooking, and they’d invite you to their Friday night hangouts with friends. They’re 80-grade roommates.

But I hate having roommates. So I need a different skillset.

I want a roommate who is nice, respectful, clean, and fairly calm. Someone who has good taste in food. Someone who I could hang out with, but who I could also sit in the living room with while reading and know I wouldn’t be disturbed.

For me, it’s Camilo Doval.