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Massive quick-hitting, sneak-in-before-the-news mailbag

Many questions! Many non-answers!

Shohei Ohtani looking upwards and smiling. Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The baseball world was quiet on Thursday, but San Francisco Giants fans were loud. Amid manufactured momentum, Giants fans rallied together for an enormous (giant, you might say) online potluck, sharing stories, hope, pessimism, theories, and everything else.

It seemed like a good time to put out questions for a mailbag, and the momentum of the Giants Faithful’s onlineness resulted in roughly 109 questions.

I planned on “answering” those questions at commercial breaks while covering tonight’s Golden State Warriors game. But then I woke up to “news” that Shohei Ohtani might sign today, and suddenly I was faced with potentially having a sports writer’s worst nightmare: irrelevant content. To the mailbag machine I ran, faster than Mermaid Man but perhaps not as fast as Barnacle Boy (I have bad knees and it was early).

Usually my mailbags result in mini-articles for each question, such that I have to cut off after eight questions because I’ve already written some 3,000 words. There’s no time for that today. We must get this content out while it’s still relevant, and not repeat September’s happenings, when my clicker was hovering over the “publish” button for an article on why the Giants don’t need to fire Gabe Kapler when I received a Twitter alert that the Giants had fired Gabe Kapler (of note: halfway through this article it was reported that Ohtani was signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, and then reported that he had not made a decision).

My only wish is that if this article is spoiled before it’s finished, it’s due to news that Ohtani has signed with the Giants, and not with someone else. Still, we’ll try to be concise to get through all this.

Try.

It’s got to be Heliot Ramos. He has that fun boxer’s frame, with a strong base and a low center of gravity. He packs a ton of power, but is quick and agile enough to avoid being on the receiving end of some. He has pent up anger from the Giants not giving him real opportunities.

How would he do? Well he’d best the boxers from the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels, that’s for sure. The Los Angeles Dodgers would present a problem in the form of Mookie Betts — sure, Betts isn’t physically intimidating, but I am never going to doubt the physical abilities of an MLB MVP who has also bowled a perfect game. Still, I trust Ramos to beat Betts, even if he has to use a bit of trickery, such as lying and saying that Trevor Bauer is calling Betts to distract his foe.

So it’s Ramos vs. the Blue Jays representative. Which brings us to the real question: does free agent Brandon Belt get to represent Toronto?

Yes. I would be shocked if the Giants get Ohtani and don’t turn around and sign at least one more big name. As I wrote the other day, it’s surprisingly easy to find a way for the Giants to afford not just Ohtani and another big-name player, but three of them.

If San Francisco wins the Shohei sweepstakes, they’ll immediately enter win-now mode, which will make it easier for them to justify those signings ... and they’ll be a more favorable destination for free agents.

I don’t. I think Eduardo Rodriguez’s contract, which starts at four years and $80 million, is a great move for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I don’t think it would have been a good move for the Giants.

Rodriguez is the definition of a quality No. 3 starter. He had an excellent 2023, but was awful in 2022. His 2021 was either horrific or excellent, depending on whether you prefer ERA or FIP. Fangraphs projects him for a 3.99 ERA in 2024, which is a rounding error away from Keaton Winn’s projection. The Giants have the money to play at the top of the market, and the depth to avoid the middle of it. They’re much better served making serious offers to Blake Snell and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or trading for Corbin Burnes, than they are giving $20 million annually to someone who you hope is your No. 3 guy.

Honestly, he’s not really taking all that long. It feels longer because the entire market is held up waiting for him. Aaron Judge signed on December 7. Bryce Harper signed at the end of February. So this isn’t really out of the ordinary.

The largest free agents taking time makes sense. There’s so much at play: you’re not just picking the paycheck, you’re picking where you want to live for the next decade or more. You’re picking what facilities you want to train in, and what doctors you want to work with.

Ohtani is extremely detail-oriented. He was always going to take time to find the spot that feels best, but he’s not even taking too much.

San Francisco is definitely trying to move to more stability. But I think the “multiple positions” and “rotating players” thing is a touch overblown at this point.

Good teams value versatility, which often means players who can play multiple positions. That’s not particular to the Giants; it’s just the industry standard. Let’s look at the Dodgers, since that’s the bench the Giants are trying to reach, and their fans are (justifiably) holding them against.

The Dodgers had Betts, an MVP and Gold Glove-winning outfielder, spend nearly half the season at second base, with 16 games at shortstop thrown in. They only had Kiké Hernandez for two months, yet managed to play him significant innings at every single position except pitcher and catcher. Jason Heyward played all three outfield spots and first base. Catcher Austin Barnes somehow ended up at second base. Michael Busch played first, second, third, and left field.

As for the rotating cast of players thing: the Giants used 52 players in 2023. The Dodgers used 58.

I’m not sure it impacts things too much, but I think it should. Talking strictly from a business standpoint (I think it’s heartbreaking and inexcusable what’s happening with the Oakland A’s), it’s a huge opportunity for the Giants. Regardless of what happens with the territorial rights, there is currently a massive portion of Bay Area baseball fans that have been shown the middle finger by their team.

The average A’s fan has no interest in rooting for the Giants, and understandably. But if the Giants screwed me over and promptly skipped town, and then the A’s signed Ohtani ... I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t start watching those games.

The short and important answer is this: way, way, way too much.

We’re talking something along the lines of Logan Webb, Kyle Harrison, and Marco Luciano. Or Harrison, Luciano, Patrick Bailey, Carson Whisenhunt, and then some.

In July, Fangraphs ranked the most valuable trade assets in baseball. Luis Robert Jr. was ranked No. 14. Webb was ranked No. 16. You could certainly argue that Webb has more trade value than Robert simply due to the fact that the Giants are trying to be competitive and he’s the face of the franchise in a special way. But even so, Webb and Robert have very similar trade value.

So think about what you’d have to get in return to trade Webb, and then find the Giants equivalent. That’s about what it would take.

The answer that nobody wants to hear: the Giants have mediocre guys. Lots of them!

I’m assuming that by “mediocre guy” you don’t mean Eduardo Rodriguez or Jordan Montgomery, but are instead talking about the likes of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson. Three pitchers who had ERAs of, respectively, 4.88, 5.73, and 4.73 in 2023.

DeSclafani had an ERA of 3.48 when May ended and his injuries started to act up. Even after pitching through injuries, he ended up with the same ERA as Giolito (and significantly ahead of Lynn). Ross Stripling, for all his struggles, had an ERA well above Lynn, and within throwing distance of Giolito and Gibson. Winn had a better ERA than all three.

The Giants will move away from bullpen games a little bit this year, half out of simply having better players and half out of seeing how things broke down at the end of last year. They’re hell bent on adding a frontline starter. And in their eyes, Webb, a big free agent, Harrison, Winn, DeSclafani, Stripling, Tristan Beck, half a season of Alex Cobb, and potential debuts for Whisenhunt, Mason Black, Kai-Wei Teng, and Trevor McDonald negate the need to spend eight figures on someone whose ERA will almost surely start with a four.

Well, I would advise against ruling out Ohtani and Yamamoto while the Giants are still in the running for each player.

An overpay for Snell or Cody Bellinger would, indeed, be scary long term ... but scared money don’t make money, or something along those lines.

Those types of risky deals for potential superstars but potential busts need to be accompanied by other smart moves. A Bellinger contract is terrifying if it’s the only move of the offseason. It’s pretty cool if it comes with reasonable deals for Matt Chapman and Jung-hoo Lee and a trade for Burnes.

Yes, but only if they’re not a Dodgers fan. Then again, if your therapist is a Dodgers fan, you have bigger issues.

It sounds like the Cincinnati Reds are planning to move Jonathan India to the outfield rather than trade him. Which is fine by me because I don’t think the Giants should be interested in him.

Even with the confusing addition of Jeimer Candelario, it’s hard to find a trade that works for the Giants. India doesn’t really make any sense (he’s worse than Thairo Estrada and bad enough defensively that I don’t see him moving to shortstop or third), and while Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, and especially Elly De La Cruz would look fantastic in black and orange, it’s hard to imagine the Giants being willing to pay the prospect cost, which I think would have to start with Harrison for the first two, and Webb for the third.

I don’t expect the Giants to have as many debuting players next year, after a whopping 12 this year. And while a position player will probably emerge, right now it’s really only pitchers in line to debut. Health permitting, we’ll absolutely get debuts from Teng and Erik Miller, and I’m very curious to see how their high strikeout, high walk numbers do in the Majors. McDonald probably will debut and he is very exciting. And Mason Black! What a fun player he is.

That said, the debut I’m most looking forward to is Whisenhunt. There are few things in baseball as exciting as a left-handed starter with an elite pitch who dominates the Minors. I have no idea if Whisenhunt will be an ace, an OK starter, or a reliever, but he is super intriguing and the Giants are very high on him.

As for the prospects I’m most reluctant to trade ... my perhaps flawed philosophy is that I get scared of trading top prospects who are far away from the Majors, because I feel like you never get a return commensurate with the potential ceiling. So I would really hesitate before trading Bryce Eldridge (who hasn’t played above Low-A) or Rayner Arias (who hasn’t played stateside), because they have potential for greatness but I’m not sure the trade market will reflect that as much as if, say, Whisenhunt or Luciano were traded.

I think the best way to get Willy Adames would be to take on Christian Yelich’s contract and make it a bigger deal. Eat a lot of money, send out a Whisenhunt or something, and go from there. That said, I’m not sure how much the Giants would want Adames ... his offense has been in decline, he’s a rental, and they seem reasonably excited about giving Luciano a chance. I’d think they only chase Adames if they move Luciano in a different trade.

Based on the number of responses I get like this one, I’d say they don’t.

While understanding that this is a joke (and a funny one, at that), I do feel like it serves as an important reminder that there is a massive difference in $600 million spread out over 12 seasons and one $600 million lump sum payment.

It’s definitely a logjam that would need to be unjammed. I don’t think moving LaMonte Wade Jr. back to the outfield is particularly in play. He’s not the disaster there that Joc Pederson was, but he’s not particularly good, either, and given his constant knee issues, I think the Giants would like to limit the amount of time he spends running full speed and coming to quick stops on grass.

I think if Ohtani signs with the Giants, it’s nearly inevitable that Wade or Wilmer Flores is traded. Even without Ohtani, I think there’s a good chance that happens.

I think right now there’s a pretty clear trio right behind (or perhaps mixed in with) Harrison and Luciano: Whisenhunt, Eldridge, and Arias. Personally, I think you could make a case for Winn belonging with those three, given that he’s a high-90s starter with a big frame who has already proven to be effective at the Major League level (and yes, technically hasn’t graduated yet).

I have a sweet spot/sneaky feeling about Arias, but I don’t think I can put someone that high until we’ve seen them play in the states, unless they come with Wander Franco-esque scouting (and hopefully not Wander Franco-esque umm ... uhh ... let’s move on).

Eldridge has a slight nod over Whisenhunt in my book. This is somewhat due to my hesitancy to rate pitchers high unless they’re Harrison-level prospects, and I don’t think Whisenhunt is quite that, yet. The old acronym of TINSTAAPP holds somewhat true, and pitchers simply suffer career-altering injuries more frequently than position players ... and Whisenhunt, of course, had elbow issues that ended his 2023 season prematurely.

I probably give Eldridge too much credit for the two-way thing, which is more a fun fan thing than actual prospect value added. But to me, when you see his age, power, and athleticism, it’s just a package with superstar ceiling written all over it.

Figuring out trade packages is a hard game, but it’s doubly hard when you’re dealing with the Tampa Bay Rays, who see the game a little differently than other teams. I expect Tyler Glasnow to be traded (he has one year remaining before free agency), and think Randy Arozarena likely will be, too (he has three years remaining, but his arbitration prices are going to be pricy). But it will probably cost the Giants a whole bunch of cost-controlled talent.

Worth it though? Yeah, probably, if they can do it without giving up Harrison, Luciano, or Bailey. Which .... who knows. Actually, they would probably be OK including Luciano, after being willing to trade him for Sean Murphy this time last year.

I lean towards Villar not being on the roster come Spring Training. He survived the initial round of roster cuts, but I’m not sure he’ll survive the next. His story isn’t done being written, but between his struggles last year, J.D. Davis’ emergence defensively, and the fact that the team fairly openly prefers Tyler Fitzgerald and Casey Schmitt, I’m just not sure there’s any reason to think San Francisco will keep holding onto an unproven player who will be 27 when everyone heads to Arizona.

Three important things:

  1. It’s really hard to land top free agents. It’s not a big indictment that the Giants haven’t been able to do it. Seven or so teams will fail to land Ohtani. A dozen or so will fail to land Yamamoto. The cards are stacked against the Giants in every major free agency race, because they’re stacked against everyone.
  2. You should never stop bidding on top free agents. It only takes one, and every person is different.
  3. There seems to be a sentiment that because the Giants haven’t signed lesser free agents, or made trades, that they’re not working those lines. And that couldn’t be more false. The Giants are waiting for Ohtani and Yamamoto to make decisions because those are their top targets, and the money spent (or not spent) on those players will inform the rest of their offseason. But just because they’re not making other moves until that dust settles doesn’t mean they’re not working on them. I will bet everything I own that the Giants have had numerous discussions with Scott Boras about Bellinger, Chapman, Snell, and Lee. They had talks with the San Diego Padres about Juan Soto. I have no doubt they’ve had discussions with the Rays about Arozarena and Glasnow, the Milwaukee Brewers about Burnes, the New York Mets about Pete Alonso, and probably the Angels about Mike Trout. Just because all we’re hearing about is Ohtani and Yamamoto doesn’t mean the other moves aren’t cooking on the back of the stove. They are. In fact, I would bet that the Giants have already made hypothetical offers to some players ... as in, “if we don’t sign Ohtani, we’ll offer you this contract.”

The media will always like the Los Angeles and New York teams the most, and often Chicago too. Market size? Stereotypes/Hollywood romance? Or, more likely, the fact that most media members and studios are in those cities?

Who knows. But probably won’t change anytime soon.

I’m far from an expert on other team’s farm systems, but according to most people who are, the Giants rank somewhere in the mildly above-average territory, though it’s worth noting that Bailey, Schmitt, Beck, and Luis Matos have all graduated and thus are not included in those rankings (Harrison and Luciano still are, though).

In the immediate future, look to very exciting starting pitcher debuts from Whisenhunt and Black. Further down, the biggest potential stars are Eldridge, Arias, Reggie Crawford, and Walker Martin.

Grant McCray and Aeverson Arteaga — two up-the-middle defensive studs with big power (and in the former’s case, a million stolen bases) — are players who could be here sooner rather than later if they show upper-Minors growth the way Matos, Schmitt, and Bailey did.

No clue on the international signing period. That’s kind of an unknown for almost everyone who isn’t involved ... half because there just aren’t many reports that we have access to, and half because most international signees are players who have been courted for five or so years, and have often made verbal agreements many years before actually signing. It’s a lot more pre-determined than meets the eye. But the great Roger Munter has said that he’s heard rumblings that the Giants are more likely to finish this signing period with a high number of good prospects than with one large-bonus player.

Whichever one’s available. And there might not be any.

Bob Melvin is definitely a little more old school than Gabe Kapler, but ... and I know fans don’t want to hear this ... the general philosophy isn’t going to change. Because the general philosophy is the same one employed by all the good baseball teams and smart front offices.

The reason the Dodgers and Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves platoon less than the Giants isn’t because they value handedness advantages less ... it’s because they have better players, and more players that don’t require platooning.

Need proof? In Joc’s first year with the Giants, 13.2% of his plate appearances came against lefties. And in his final year with the Dodgers? Just 7.2%.

Kapler and the Giants weren’t unique here. There isn’t a manager in baseball — including Melvin — who will regularly start Wade against lefties or Austin Slater against righties. There isn’t a manager in baseball who will regularly keep those two in the game after the opposing bullpen switches arms. That’s just baseball right now; it’s no different than the three-point revolution in basketball. Teams have found ways to be more efficient, and they’re going to hit them hard.

I do expect Melvin to have a better big-picture view than Kapler had, however. I think he’ll have a better feel for when players should be left in games regardless of what the math says. He’ll do a better job knowing when it’s worth sacrificing the optimal matchup to keep someone in the game for a later moment — or to preserve the bench for a later moment. He’ll pay more attention to the vibe and momentum and message that moves send, and what the long-term ramifications are.

In other words, I don’t know what the 2024 equivalent of pinch-hitting Mark Mathias for Brandon Crawford in the ninth inning is, but I don’t think we’re going to see Melvin do it.

But if you want to see the Giants platoon substantially less, it’s not going to come by hiring Melvin, or Bruce Bochy, or anyone. It’s going to come by having a roster with fewer players who should be platooned.

I agree. I think the Giants are going to make a handful of notable moves, with or without Ohtani. I do expect them to make a huge run at Yamamoto, though if they’re fortunate enough to land Ohtani it’s unclear if they’d be willing to match the Stupid Money™ that the New York teams will likely dole out.

While it looks like the Padres are making a strong run, I’m still optimistic that the Giants land Lee. San Francisco will be in win-now mode if they get an Ohtani rose. I don’t think it’s out of the picture that they land one of the top starters either through free agency or trade (Yamamoto, Snell, Burnes, or Glasnow), a big position player upgrade (Bellinger, Chapman, or a trade), and Lee. That’s a fairly extreme best-case scenario, though.

That’s a ridiculous question.