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Final week mailbag

All your questions (not) answered.

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Gabe Kapler walking across the field in warmups. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants are about to play a baseball game, so let’s talk about them. Because right now that’s more fun than watching them.

I asked for mailbag questions at the end of last week and got a ton. I was going to break it into two or three parts but decided that instead it would be a good time to practice concision. Let’s see how I did!

Extremely unlikely. That’s not a shot at the players or even a criticism of the team’s plans. It’s just the odds.

Let’s start with just the basic odds. Bryce Eldridge was selected with the 16th pick in 2023; Reggie Crawford with the 30th pick in 2022. Players selected in that range are likely to make the Majors but unlikely to stick as quality everyday players — for example, the 2016, 2017, and 2018 drafts have yet to produce an All-Star from picks 16 through 30.

I’ll reach into my trousers and pull a number out and say that a mid-late first-round pick has a 30% chance of becoming a quality Major Leaguer. Which means if you give Crawford and Eldridge a 30% chance of being a quality MLB hitter and a 30% chance of being a quality MLB pitcher, they have a 9% chance of being a quality two-way player. That dramatically overestimates the odds though, because Crawford is more like a first-round pitcher and a fifth-round hitter and Eldridge the opposite. And if you give a fifth-round player a 5% chance of being a quality Major Leaguer, suddenly we’re looking at a 1.5% chance of being a quality two-way player.

And even that ignores the real issue, which is that developing a player to play both sides of the field is really difficult. We tend to think that’s because players are splitting their development focus, but the bigger issue (in my eyes) is that development isn’t linear: even a great two-way prospect is likely to develop more quickly on one side of the diamond than the other.

Here’s a real-life example: the Giants view Crawford as just about ready to face AA hitters as a pitcher. Had he not gotten injured at the end of the year, I think he would have ended the season in AA. Let’s say that the Giants give him a month in High-A to start 2024, then promote him. And let’s say he hits once a week during that time, collecting 20 plate appearances as a DH.

If that happens, then Crawford will head to AA with 60 career plate appearances across the ACL, Low-A, and High-A. For context, the Giants made Vaun Brown take 554 plate appearances across those three levels before advancing to AA. Even the fastest player they’ve ever promoted, Wade Meckler, had 187 plate appearances before moving to AA.

So what do the Giants do if Crawford jumps out of the 2024 gates striking out everybody but not hitting? Or if Eldridge posts an 1.150 OPS in Low-A in April with a 5.50 ERA on the mound? In all likelihood, the two-way element is more of a safety plan for if either player fails at their primary position.

But it is worth noting that the Giants are still prioritizing two-way development more than I thought they were, which I’m thankful for. They’ve already announced that Crawford will be going to the Arizona Fall League exclusively as a hitter, so that’s really cool.

OK, I’m 0-for-1 in the whole concision thing. Let’s do better going forward, Brady. But it was a good question!

Ha, that’s a good question. And while the quip at the Giants expense made me laugh, I think it’s kind of the opposite. The Giants under Farhan Zaidi have notoriously avoided the trap players who put up good numbers and then fall off a cliff (remember when fans wanted them to re-sign Kris Bryant, or make a run at Trevor Story?). Instead, the Giants have gone after players with not very good numbers who they expected to bounce back and have strong numbers (or players with good numbers who they expected to recover to have great numbers), and those results have been mixed and often very frustrating. Certainly Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto stand out in that bucket, and not in the good way.

But as to your question, I will say that Matt Chapman earned himself a big contract with his first-half play, yet he’s sneakily had the second-worst offensive season of his career while posting a BABIP significantly better than his average. He has the worst ISO of his career, and, after having an OPS that started with a “1” on May 10, has posted a .660 OPS since. So he could be the answer to your trap question or he could be the answer to who the Giants will try and buy low on and expect a bounceback. Who knows!

This is a frustrating answer but also an exciting one if you’re Farhan Zaidi. I think the answer is “no one.”

Hear me out. I’m not saying the Giants should run it back ... god no. But I don’t think there’s any one position where they need an upgrade. They just need to get better, specifically on offense, regardless of where it comes from. So I don’t think there are any particular players they need to get off of.

That said, like you say, the outfield is the clear place to start, because it’s just entirely lackluster. I don’t think getting rid of Mitch Haniger is the solution ... not yet, at least. I know Giants fans will barf when I say this, but statistically Haniger is one of the best home run hitters the Giants have employed since Barry Bonds. Here’s how many plate appearances per home run some recent Giants sluggers have, taking into account their career numbers, not just their Giants numbers.

Joc Pederson: 20.6
Mitch Haniger: 22.6
Evan Longoria: 24.0
Darin Ruf: 25.2
Brandon Belt: 28.6
Hunter Pence: 28.7
Pablo Sandoval: 33.0
Buster Posey: 35.5

Haniger’s season has been awful, but smart money says he’s likely to bounce back and be a 30-homer (when healthy) presence and the Giants desperately need that. If we get to June and he’s still hitting horribly, then it’s probably time to consider ways to get him off the team, but it would behoove them to give him a little leash to get back there.

I’m assuming Michael Conforto opts out, and I think there’s a decent chance the team trades Austin Slater. So that opens up two spots, one of which will hopefully be filled by a big free agent, and one by whoever can win the Luis Matos/Wade Meckler/Heliot Ramos/Tyler Fitzgerald battle royale.

But I do think the team’s offseason plans need to firmly rest on “who do we need to add,” not “who do we need to subtract.” Fans don’t want to hear this, but the Giants almost exclusively use good players. If you need an example, just this year the Los Angeles Dodgers have employed Austin Wynns, Luke Williams, and Phil Bickford, while the Atlanta Braves have used Kevin Pillar, Chadwick Tromp, Ehire Adrianza, Dereck Rodriguez, and Charlie Culberson. Those are all struggling former Giants that fans would lose their mind at if the Giants brought them back. So the Giants need to focus on getting the Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuña Jrs of the world, or even the J.D. Martinezes and Sean Murphys of the world, rather than getting rid of anyone.

I doubt it, but there are different levels of “lost the clubhouse.” Is it with Ross Stripling and Alex Wood and Joc Pederson? Or is it with Logan Webb and Camilo Doval and the rookies? If the latter, then yeah ... they absolutely need to reverse course. But I haven’t gotten the sense that such a situation is the case.

I expect powerful left-handed reliever Erik Miller to be protected, and I think young AAA southpaw Juan Sanchez will be protected as well. The Giants don’t seem super high on righty starter Kai-Wei Teng, but he did well in the Pacific Coast League with one of the highest strikeout rates in the Minors, so he’ll absolutely be selected if not protected, so I think they’ll probably keep him.

After that it gets interesting: do they protect Grant McCray and Aeverson Arteaga, two of their top prospects but who are raw and quite a ways off? What about righty Trevor McDonald, who was dominant this year in High-A, but slowed by injuries?

Some other notable names: Victor Bericoto, Adrian Sugastey, Nick Avila, Ben Madison, R.J. Dabovich, Nick Swiney, Logan Wyatt.

Really hard to say. I think Gabe Kapler is a touch more polarizing than other managers. There have been a few players willing to speak publicly in negative ways, or even show him up on the mound, and that stands out. At the same time, there are a lot of players who openly love him, and the word from former Giants in recent years has been very positive ... unless you’re listening to Mauricio Dubón.

Ultimately, every manager has a lot of fans and a lot of players who aren’t convinced, and that number ebbs and flows based on record. I don’t expect it to be an issue with any big ticket free agents though. They usually follow the money.

It’s definitely a priority for them. But it is worth noting something that people get very mad at me for noting: every team does what the Giants do. The Giants are second in the Majors in pinch-hit at-bats, but the Dodgers are in the top five; the Giants have about one extra pinch-hit appearance every two series compared to LA. The Dodgers have used eight different relievers as openers this year.

The Giants deployment of players is incredibly frustrating, but it’s entirely due to the lack of high-end talent. They would like steadiness, which is evident by the fact that Logan Webb leads the Majors in innings pitched. I think next year will be a pretty big step in that direction, as the rotation is already shaping up. And by 2025 I expect the Giants to have a pretty well established rotation with a good five or six everyday players on offense.

It does make one miss Buster Posey, doesn’t it? The Giants strategy of waiting until they get a pitch they really like is gorgeous when it works and maddening when it doesn’t. There’s something to be said for hitting a merely decent pitch, not just a tasty one.

Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, James Outman, Will Smith, Max Muncy.

Oh, you mean players currently on the Giants? I’ll guess Joc Pederson, Michael Conforto, Brandon Crawford, Austin Slater, and, if we can dip into 40-man players, David Villar.

Ooh, fun question. In all, the Giants had 12 players make their MLB debut this year, which is a pretty staggering number, especially now that September rosters are capped at 28 players instead of 40.

Barring injuries and trades, I fully expect Erik Miller, Carson Whisenhunt, and Mason Black to debut in 2024. I think Juan Sanchez probably will, and if Randy Rodríguez and José Cruz stay on the roster through the winter, they probably will, too. Further down the pitching ranks, relievers like R.J. Dabovich, Chris Wright, Ben Madison, Nick Avila, and Tyler Myrick could definitely debut, while starters Hayden Birdsong and Carson Seymour could state their case.

No hitters jump off the page, but don’t be surprised if Victor Bericoto, Jimmy Glowenke, or Logan Wyatt make the Majors next year. Vaun Brown has a good shot, health permitting, and Grant McCray could be a sneaky fast riser. Will Wilson has the versatility and power to have things click overnight.

And I even think we could see Reggie Crawford towards the end of the season.

No, I think this is the roster the Giants will end the season with, save for a last-day move to activate Brandon Crawford. Casey Schmitt has had a long and taxing up-and-down season. Might as well get him started on the offseason.

Like you said, Patrick Bailey is a given. I think Ryan Walker is a given as well and, honestly, I would be extremely shocked if Kyle Harrison isn’t in the rotation to open the year. We’ll have to see what the offseason brings, but right now I think it’s quite likely that the Giants give Marco Luciano the everyday shortstop keys starting with Game 1.

I think Keaton Winn and Blake Sabol are in the driver’s seat to be on the opening day roster, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Joey Bart (who is out of options) makes the opening day roster and Sabol gets a little bit of time to develop in AAA, where the Giants weren’t allowed to put him this year due to Rule 5 restrictions.

Beyond that, a lot depends on how players look after an offseason of development and what moves the team makes. I think Luis Matos should be the everyday center fielder going forward, but Gabe Kapler’s very pointed recent comments suggest to me that Matos will have to have a very good winter and spring to earn that. Good springs and a lack of offseason moves (or injuries) could give Heliot Ramos, Wade Meckler, and Tyler Fitzgerald a chance, and maybe even Casey Schmitt. And Tristan Beck is certainly in play.

I see three clear ways the Giants can be different (in a good way) next year.

  1. Make some big offseason moves. There aren’t a ton of impact players on the market, but there certainly are some. Shohei Ohtani would transform the team, and Cody Bellinger would be a significant upgrade. Failing there, there are a lot of exciting players that might be available to trade for. The Giants will almost surely be aggressive, as for the first time since taking over, Farhan Zaidi knows that his job is dependent on immediate results, not long-term vision. Over-paying is always worth it to a decision-maker in that situation.
  2. Have some bounce-back performances. You can’t fully rely on that, but it is fair to think that someone who entered the year with a career .261/.335/.476 slash line won’t hit .207/.265/.365 again, as Mitch Haniger did. It’s fair to assume a player who had a 3.01 ERA in 2022 won’t post a 5.57 ERA in 2024, as Ross Stripling has done in 2023. And a 30 year old with a 125 OPS+ in the last four years will probably recover from the 101 OPS+ that J.D. Davis has had this season. That alone won’t save the Giants, but it will give them a higher floor to work with.
  3. Improvement from the youngsters. The Giants played a lot of young players this year, and that came with a cost. Per Fangraphs’ WAR, Wade Meckler, Luis Matos, Casey Schmitt, Heliot Ramos, Brett Wisely, and Kyle Harrison have all been below replacement value. I don’t expect that to be the case next year, when they all have MLB seasoning and an offseason of development under their belts. I suspect two or so of Matos, Meckler, Schmitt, Wisely, or Ramos will turn into quality regulars. I think Harrison will became a high-quality starter. I believe Marco Luciano will be a big upgrade over Brandon Crawford, Paul DeJong, Mark Mathias, and Schmitt. Blake Sabol will improve. And the team will get a full year of Patrick Bailey, Ryan Walker, and Keaton Winn.

I think a mix. We can pen Logan Webb and Alex Cobb into the rotation, and you can use a pencil with a busted eraser when you write Kyle Harrison’s name in there. I think Keaton Winn should, and will be in the rotation.

The fifth spot would then be a free for all, as it was this year, with injuries, need, and performance helping the team choose between Ross Stripling, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tristan Beck (I expect Sean Manaea to opt out). I think they’ll start with DeSclafani, who was sneakily having a really good season before the injury hampered him — he had a 2.13 ERA through six starts, and entered June with a sub-3.50 ERA. But you gotta think that Mason Black or Carson Whisenhunt will nab one of those spots eventually.

Also, that’s just based on what they currently have. I actually think the Giants will make a big pitching signing this offseason.

Wow. Started off strong and all downhill since then, huh? Hope your marriage hasn’t mirrored your anniversaries.

For this one it’s easy, though: enjoy the hell out of Brandon Crawford.