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Friday mailbag!

Get excited or bummed out before a long weekend of baseball.

Gabe Kapler and Casey Schmitt laughing in the dugout Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I put a call out for my very first San Francisco Giants mailbag. The Giants had just lost six games in a row, and I got so many questions that, even being selective with the ones I took, I ended up with two massive mailbags.

Yesterday I put the call out again, only this time the Giants had won five of their last six games, and the result was that I didn’t get half as many questions. I’ll admit that it’s been that way all year for this team: my Twitter notifications explode when the team is struggling, and are nearly silent when they’re playing well. So it goes. I’m not here to tell anyone how to fan.

Anyway, we’ve got a four-game weekend coming up, so let’s get into the questions. Thanks everyone who asked them.

Oh, whoops, I probably should have put that one in before the intro.

I kid, I kid ... kind of.

I talked a little bit about hitting coaches in last week’s mailbag and, even though this question is a different one, the same two points I made then are the ones that are most important here.

  1. I have no idea how to evaluate the job that hitting coaches do.
  2. Coaches always get too much credit when things go well and too much criticism when things go poorly. Ultimately, the bulk of the finger-pointing — positive and negative — should go to the players doing the hitting, and the decision-makers who added those players to the team.

It’s also worth noting that the Giants have a large number of players who are out-performing their hitting projections.

But with that said: yes, the hitting is a bit of an issue and one that does need to be addressed in some form or fashion. The Giants are 22nd in batting average, 20th in on-base percentage, 24th in slugging percentage, and 18th in wRC+. That simply won’t fly, but I think the solution should start with having better players, not changing coaches.

I also wonder how much of a trickle-down effect there is. Had the Giants signed Aaron Judge, would other players have better lines? We’ve seen first-hand how a serious weapon in the lineup — which the Giants emphatically do not have — alters the way pitchers throw to less-dangerous hitters. Sometimes it only takes one addition for everyone to rise up a bit.

Which leads us to Barry Bonds, as you mentioned. I don’t think making Bonds the hitting coach would be a particularly good idea. Great players rarely make great coaches, and it’s important to have coaches that are all fairly philosophically aligned. And let’s not forget that Bonds has been a hitting coach before, and he was fired after one lackluster year.

That said, Bonds has visited the Giants a few times over the last few years to meet with individual players, and they’ve usually had good results afterwards, while singing his praises. It might behoove the team to bring him around a little more often, if he’s willing.

So, let me start with something that’s perhaps obvious: this should be Plan B.

It’s really important that the Giants add a great hitter this offseason. Really important. Part of why they pushed so hard for Aaron Judge last year was because they felt their young and homegrown core was starting to materialize, and that was the right time to fold in a star talent.

That’s doubly true this year. The Giants have a front-line starter and closer in Logan Webb and Camilo Doval. They have one of the best catchers in baseball in Patrick Bailey. Kyle Harrison looks like he could be a top-line starter next year, and Luis Matos should be a near-everyday player. Throw in some strong performances from a few players in the Marco Luciano/Casey Schmitt/Keaton Winn/Brett Wisely/Heliot Ramos/Wade Meckler/Carson Whisenhunt/Tristan Beck/Blake Sabol bucket, and you have a foundation that’s ripe for a middle-of-the-lineup star.

But they desperately need that star. They should (and will) do everything possible to sign Shohei Ohtani. If they fail, I think Cody Bellinger is a prime candidate to give a potentially questionably contract to. If they fail with both of those, it’s time to get on the phonelines and see what’s going on with Mike Trout, and hell, even Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. I’d prefer they keep it on the younger side but hell, might as well check in on Paul Goldschmidt while they’re there.

So your proposed offseason of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and either Andrew Vaughn or Rhys Hoskins is Plan B, and they should do everything possible to not make it to Plan B.

It’s a decent Plan B though. Yamamoto, a Japanese pitcher who just turned 25, is someone I would love for the Giants to land. So that gives your proposal a good grade.

But I’m less convinced about the position players. Gurriel is a fairly overrated player in my eyes. He fits what the Giants like, in that he has a low strikeout rate, holds his own against same-handed pitching, and does really well with a handedness advantage. But — and cover your ears, Giants fans — as an everyday player he’s kind of a Dollar Tree version of Mitch Haniger. And as a platoon player/pinch-hitter, I’m not convinced he’s any better than Austin Slater, who is a significantly better defensive player.

Vaughn is a no-go. He’s an OK hitter and a truly horrendous defensive player, and as a 25 year old with three years left of team control, the Giants will have to part with some quality prospects to pry him away from Chicago.

Hoskins would be an awesome addition, though with his defensive struggles he might be relegated to just being a DH. Not sure that would be worth the price tag.

DJ Tofu asks:

How much would you be willing to pay Yamamoto?

A lot. Kodai Senga’s success has certainly helped Yoshinobu Yamamoto get paid. In seven years playing in Japan, Yamamoto — who turned pro as an 18 year old — has a 1.74 ERA, a 0.915 WHIP, 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and 2.0 walks per nine innings. Those are significantly better numbers than Senga had, and Yamamoto is about four-and-a-half years younger than Senga was when he came to the states.

The Mets gave Senga a five-year, $75 million deal with an opt-out after the third year, and it certainly looks like a good one. Yamamoto should get comfortably more, though it’s worth noting that the winning team will have to pay a posting fee, which wasn’t the case with Senga.

Yamamoto has a mid-rotation floor with a ceiling for more. Given his age, I’d be very comfortable with something in the five-six-year, $100-120 million range.

Mikey_Starbeams asks:

What do you think of the Giants’ ability to land “big stars?” Who/what is their best bet here? The farm hasn’t produced a mega star (yet). Is Ohtani even a remote possibility? Would love to read your thoughts

I think that most stars sign with the team that offers them the most money. Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper can talk all they want about how the teams they signed with are the right fit for them, and Carlos Correa can do his best to convince people that signing a shorter and cheaper deal with the Twins was actually better for him, but the reality is the Giants got a seat at the final table with Judge and Harper, and briefly signed Correa, primarily for one reason: they offered a huge sum of money.

There are always some slight exceptions. Freddie Freeman signed with the Dodgers without looking elsewhere because he wanted to go home. Trea Turner was adamant that he would play on the east coast. Seiya Suzuki reportedly chose the Cubs over the Giants because Chicago felt more like Tokyo than San Francisco did.

But it’s usually money, and if I had to guess whether the Giants will sign Cody Bellinger this offseason or Juan Soto next offseason, my answer will be, “yes, if they offer more money than any other team.” And that’s my answer for all 30 MLB teams.

Shohei Ohtani will break from that mold a little bit, in part because it’s hard to imagine any team blowing the others out of the water. They’ll all reach an “F-it” stage. I do think he’s a possibility, though he’d be a better possibility had the Giants not spent two months cosplaying as a AA team.

Ohtani wants to go to a winner. The Giants are not the best winners, but they’re currently in place to make the playoffs, and they have one of the best records in the Majors over the last three years. Based on nothing but speculation and gut feeling, I don’t anticipate Ohtani needing to go to a frontrunner ... he just wants to go somewhere where he knows he can compete year-in and year-out. Plenty of people see the Giants as such a team going forward given their farm and front office. Who knows how Ohtani feels?

San Francisco has the advantage of using unique rotations and player usage. This might be frustrating to fans, but for Ohtani — who is adamant about pitching every sixth day, not fifth day, and wants to find a way to be deployed regardless of his arm — that’s a selling point.

I absolutely think the Giants have a chance. But they’ll be competing with a lot of teams, many who have more wins than they do.

Lyle asks:

What would you do at SS and 3B going into 2024?

I’d keep it pretty simple. Barring a really bad spring, I would make Marco Luciano the Opening Day starter at shortstop and give him a full-time job. Sign a defensively-sound proven veteran — hell, Brandon Crawford and Paul DeJong are good options — to provide depth and mentorship, and to be the emergency option if he gets injured or struggles.

I’d have J.D. Davis be the everyday third baseman, barring the signing of Matt Chapman or trading for Nolan Arenado or Manny Machado. If Casey Schmitt has a good spring, have him be the backup infielder at three spots and see if he can eventually steal the job.

To me, that feels like the right balance of trying to win and developing the next core.

Nopelongpause asks:

Should fans be ok with a team that consistently hovers around .500 with a shot at the WC? What if that team never produces those “big draw” players that get your butt into your seat for first pitch every day? Does not sucking make up for not really being exciting most of the time? At what point does a filthy rich ownership group owe the fans a marketable star, or deserve to see those empty seats?

No, fans should not be OK with the team consistently hovering around .500. Although I’m not sure the Giants are doing that. They’re only two years removed from finishing 52 games above .500. It’s not at all out of the question that they finish seven or even 10 games above .500 this year. I know everyone’s tired of hearing it, but these things take time.

The “big draw” question is interesting. I’m legally obligated to remind people that big draws don’t always help. The Padres went all out to add Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Xander Bogaerts to a team that had Fernando Tatis Jr. The Mets went all out to add Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Francisco Lindor to a team that had Pete Alonso. Meanwhile, the Dodgers let Scherzer, Trea Turner, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger walk.

A big draw is important, but without a quality foundation and other smart moves, it doesn’t do anything except maybe get a few more people to turn on the TV. So I think the grass is always greener. No, to use your words, “not sucking” does not “make up for not really being exciting,” but Mets and Padres fans will be quick to point out that being exciting does not make up for sucking. You need both.

Given how close they’ve been to landing Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper (and hell, even Shohei Ohtani), I’m inclined to think a big star will end up in San Francisco sooner rather than later. But until they add one or develop one, the grumblings from the fans will persist. And they’ll be very fair.

bdimugno asks:

would you rather go golfing with gabe kapler or get shitfaced with farhan zaidi?

This is a little bit of an unanswerable hypothetical, not just because none of these things will happen, but because Farhan Zaidi is a devout Muslim who does not drink alcohol.

I will say though, for the complaints that the fanbase has about Zaidi being a walking spreadsheet, he sure seems like a guy who has quite a fun and silly side. Having a baseball conversation with an unfiltered, off-the-record Zaidi would be all kinds of fun and fascinating.

But I’m mostly curious as to what golfing with Gabe Kapler would be like. I have so many questions! He’s pretty openly a whiskey guy (kind of funny that the Giants have a president and a manager who are nearly tied at the hip from a baseball standpoint, but one doesn’t drink and the other has a YouTube show based around drinking scotch) — would he break from his preferred alcohol to have beer like a real golfer? Or would we spend the 18 holes drinking enough Lagavulin to forget how to golf? Does Kapler, an avid fitness guy, wear those Tiger Woods warmups that show off his pecs and abs, or does he wear standard (read: boring) golf attire? And is he the kind of guy who takes too little club, convinced he can just muscle the ball further, or who platoons himself and takes too much club so he can three-quarters swing everything?

And can I bring Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Matt Cain?

JoeMan212 asks:

How does this team avoid becoming too right-handed (as so many of their position player prospects are of that persuasion).

I’m not actually sure the team is as full of right-handed hitting prospects as they initially seem. Of the MLB-ready-or-adjacent prospects they have righties Luis Matos, Marco Luciano, Casey Schmitt, and Heliot Ramos, lefties Wade Meckler, Blake Sabol, and Brett Wisely, and switch-hitter Patrick Bailey.

The next waves in the Minors include righties Vaun Brown, Victor Bericoto, Aeverson Arteaga, and Rayner Arias, lefties Grant McCray and Bryce Eldridge, and switch-hitter Diego Velasquez.

Ultimately, I think “how do the Giants develop a position player who can actually hit well?” is a much more pressing question than how they do it with lefties. But it is worth noting that they drafted left-handed (or switch-hitting) position players with their first, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and ninth-round picks in July.

And it’s really worth noting that Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger hit left-handed.

lnvphil asks:

Being as attendance has been dipping, to what degree do you think attendance numbers affect ownership’s decision on what to do in 2023/2024 free agency?

This is a great question, and I won’t pretend to be an expert on the attendance side of matters, which is certainly a hot topic in Giantsville. But I think there are two very important points to address.

  1. The team is not the sole reason — or even, I’d argue, the biggest reason — for the poor attendance numbers. The 2021 team set a franchise record in wins, but that didn’t boost their attendance much during the year or for the year that followed. The attendance numbers for June, when the Giants were one of the best teams in baseball (and school was out), aren’t significantly better than they were in August, when the Giants were one of the worst teams in baseball. Even Kyle Harrison’s home debut and Bruce Bochy’s return didn’t move the attendance needle in any meaningful fashion. There are a lot of factors beyond the play of the team, namely that the pandemic has pushed a lot of people out of the city and resulted in a lot of people no longer working in the city.
  2. Stars still put butts in seats. There’s no way around that, and I have no doubt that Greg Johnson and Co. went to Farhan Zaidi last offseason and reiterated that they would write a check of virtually any size to land Aaron Judge. I’m sure it will be the same for Shohei Ohtani this offseason. The Giants know that there are many factors at play, but I am sure they’re taking the factors they can control very seriously. And attendance tends to have a snowball effect: get butts in the seat to watch Ohtani and you increase the chances of them coming back to the seats at a later date. Going to baseball games is fun. But sometimes we need to be shown it, not told it.

lnvphil asks:

Follow up, you don’t put ketchup on a hotdog, do you? I assume you’re a mustard guy but I’ve been wrong about this kind of thing before

Putting ketchup on a hot dog is like toasting a bagel. When the food needs it, you do it. And if the food needs it, you’ve already lost.