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The ‘wait, this isn’t it, is it?’ mailbag

Many questions, few answers.

Farhan Zaidi speaking at a press conference. Photo by Andy Kuno/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers report in exactly 23 days. Unless you’re reading this article tomorrow, in which case in 22 days. Congratulations, you’re a day closer to the fun.

At this point, the bulk of the roster is in place. But hopefully not the entirety of the roster. And since Scott Boras continues to be holding his own in the world’s longest staring contest, it seems nothing will happen anytime soon.

Always a good time for a mailbag, yeah?

I respect it. The man weaponized and then monetized cringy puns. I’m only mad I didn’t figure that out first.

Well, I think we can all agree that such a scenario would snuggly fit in the “good problems to have” bin. I think, at the risk of not actually answering the question, that so much hinges on the specifics. What does “well enough” entail?

If, come July, Keaton Winn is doing his best Mike Leake impression and eating innings with a mid-4s ERA, on pace for a 2-WAR season, then that’s a cromulent fifth starter who should probably be optioned if Alex Cobb or Robbie Ray is available. If Ross Stripling is doing the same, then someone will be more than interested in trading for him: remember, the Dodgers purposely traded for Lance Lynn last year when he had a 6.47 ERA. If Jordan Hicks’ nice ERA is the result of dominating innings one through three, then struggling for innings four through six, the Giants can move him to the bullpen and promise to give him another shot at starting in 2025, after a full offseason of conditioning and building up the arm with the training staff.

Where it gets really interesting is the (admittedly extremely unlikely) scenario in which they’re all pitching at a high-end level, with the type of ERAs that simply cannot be removed from a staff. The Giants can buy time with a decision then, by being ultra conservative with both Cobb and Ray, and slow-playing their rehab while riding the MLB wave. They could even keep that up once those players are activated, giving them a few relief appearances to shake the rust off before making a decision.

What happens next depends on yet another currently unanswerable question: how is the team doing? If the offense is struggling behind this imaginary sensational rotation, then the Giants would have to consider trading someone for a hitting upgrade. Trading half a year of 3.40-ERA Stripling would net them something decent; trading five-and-a-half years of 3.40-ERA Winn would net them something very exciting. Is this hypothetical team playing well enough to really go for it, and trade a rotation staple for the foreseeable future for a hitter?

So many hypotheticals that, sadly, we’ll probably never need to know the answers to. But the reality is this: even if the Giants rotation shines, pitchers usually don’t stay healthy. There’s a reason that needing to find enough starts for the overflowing bucket of high-end starting pitchers isn’t really a conundrum that MLB teams ever deal with.

Chapman’s definitely an impact player, but that’s because of his defense, durability, and leadership as much as (or in defense’s case, more than) his offense. That said, let’s not underrate his bat: last year was one of his worst offensive seasons, yet he still had a wRC+ (110) that would have tied for fifth on the Giants last year: tied with a platoon bat (Austin Slater), essentially tied with two more platoon bats (Joc Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski), and solidly behind only Wilmer Flores and one last platoon bat (LaMonte Wade Jr.).

When you account for not needing to be platooned, Chapman would surely be one of the team’s best hitters in 2024. Is that a Juan Soto-esque impact? Certainly not ... but damn, the Giants putrid 2023 offense sure could use that sort of an injection of impact.

I don’t see them as very likely to trade for any impact bats. Randy Arozarena and Pete Alonso are probably the most obvious names, but is the organization in a situation where they should be sending out heaps of prospects for one player? I just don’t really think so. That’s a move to make when you’re an 88-win team, not a 78-win team.

Are you talking about influencing what players the Giants target and what offers they give them? Or are you talking about those players choosing to sign with the Giants?

If the latter, probably very little influence. Certainly less than Buster Posey, who has been in the front office for many of the whiffs people complain about. If the former, well ... Dusty Baker is certainly an old school guy, who might make a compelling case for overspending for a star player, analytics be damned. I’m just not sure whether it’s Farhan Zaidi or the ownership group that needs to be convinced of that approach.

Pardon the crass analogy, but I think Giants fans right now are scorned lovers who have had enough. They’re not going to be swayed by an apology, a bouquet, or a fancy dinner. It’s going to take a pattern of changed behavior to slowly repair the damage done, rather than a single gesture.

Signing Shohei Ohtani would have done it. Signing Juan Soto next offseason might. Trading for Mike Trout (or one of the entirely unrealistic names like Fernando Tatis Jr., Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, etc.) might.

But otherwise, it’s going to take a pattern of moves. As much as I wanted him, I don’t believe signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto was going to sway the fanbase, nor would signing Blake Snell or Matt Chapman or Cody Bellinger. All of those things are pieces ... just pieces.

Here’s what the Giants need to do:

  1. Win games.
  2. Be entertaining on and/or off the field.
  3. Show a commitment to sustaining those first two things.

That’s it! Think of the Giants teams of a decade-plus ago that you loved. Sure, Buster Posey being an MVP and Madison Bumgarner having one of the best postseason performances in MLB history are part of your adoration for those teams. But so were the style that Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Sergio Romo — good, but not great players — brought to the field. The beauty of Brandon Crawford backhanding grounders. The deadpan humor of Matt Cain and the ridiculousness of Brandon Belt. The “god, I just wanna be best friends with this dude” feeling you got every time Tim Lincecum did anything, even after he ceased being a star talent. The three rings.

And then the way that they prioritized keeping those things in motion ... even when their attempts to do so failed.

So I don’t think anything will wholesale excite the fanbase heading into the season. But as the season goes on, if Jung Hoo Lee is hitting .330 by slapping opposite field singles while sliding and diving all over the field, and Kyle Harrison is turning strikeouts into an art form, and Luis Matos and Marco Luciano are flipping their bats and taking wide turns at first, and Patrick Bailey is sneering while throwing out a runner as Logan Webb pumps his fist, and the Giants are winning ... well the fanbase will start to get excited. That’s all they’re asking for.

While fully understanding that I’ll likely look dumb in a few months (that’s the beauty of prospecting!), I see a clear line of delineation separating six Giants prospects from the rest: Kyle Harrison, Marco Luciano, Bryce Eldridge, Carson Whisenhunt, Rayner Arias, and Keaton Winn.

I have those six in that order, though I’m perfectly fine swapping the first two, and the last four could go in any order at all.

By pure happenstance, that arrangement perfectly aligns with our current Community Prospect List.

Ooh, that’s a very hard one. It’s just so hard to know how much teams value their own players, and how much the rest of the league does ... it only takes one scout in one organization thinking that Gabriel Arias is a tweak away from stardom, and suddenly the market is skewed.

But the short answer is, likely, a lot. A whole lot. Arias is a 23 year old who can play numerous positions, including shortstop, and comes with five years of team control. Even with his offensive struggles at the MLB level, I can’t imagine Cleveland would be willing to part with him unless they got a bit of an oversell package, which would likely have to include a top prospect and some MLB-ready talent — it’s worth noting that the Guardians play in the least competitive division in baseball, so they likely won’t want to punt 2024, even after being bad in 2023.

So my cop-out answer is this: the cost to acquire Arias will be higher than what the Giants should be interested in.

Wade Meckler sits in the same box as the other outfield prospects on the 40-man roster, Heliot Ramos and Luis Matos (and, for that matter, part-time outfielders Tyler Fitzgerald, Brett Wisely, and Blake Sabol). The plan is to work their butts off, get better, and hopefully force their way onto the roster.

Unless he completely changed his skillset against breaking balls this offseason, there’s not really a route to Meckler making the Opening Day roster, but that shouldn’t at all discourage him or make us think he’s not in the plans. It’s a loooooong season; the Giants used a whopping 16 players in the outfield last year, and before you get your jokes off about Farhan Zaidi churn, churn, churning, the Los Angeles Dodgers used 11 outfielders (and six more players, total, than the Giants did).

Right now the Opening Day outfield projects to be Michael Conforto in left, Jung Hoo Lee in center, and a platoon of Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater in right. In addition to the team almost surely carrying a fifth outfielder, that four-player arrangement features three oft-injured players, and two guys who are set to be free agents after the season. There are plenty of opportunities this year and in coming years for anyone who earns it.

Meckler, like the bulk of the young players on the roster, has to earn it. So to answer your question, I don’t think there really is a plan, per se. He’ll start the year in AAA Sacramento, he’ll try and get better at baseball (in particular hitting offspeed pitches), and when his play and/or the play and health of the Major League outfield dictates it, he’ll get a chance.

It’s worth noting that what the Giants are planning on doing with Marco Luciano is the exception, not the rule when it comes to developing players. Most good players didn’t get their start be being handed a role with a long leash. Most were prospects with question marks who forced an opportunity, usually multiple opportunities, and eventually stuck. That’s the hope with Meckler.

On that note...

I probably have slightly higher expectations for Marco Luciano than the average prospect-invested person. I loved what I saw of his defensive fluidity in his short stint last year, and I think he has enough power to at least tread water even as the depths and currents at the deep end of the pool drag some of his limbs under.

Let’s be clear: there will be struggles. Luciano will have stretches where the game moves too quickly for him, and he goes 2-25 with 15 strikeouts in a week with some ugly errors. The overall line might end up fairly mediocre: Fangraphs’ three projection systems all paint him for an 83-84 wRC+ and 1.1-1.2 WAR, and while I’d bet the “over” on those numbers, they’re very fair.

So I expect him to hold his own, even if it’s ugly at times, and grow enough throughout the year that the Giants enter next offseason knowing that he’s their shortstop going forward.

Players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft are those who signed at age 19 or older and have been in the system for four or more seasons, or players who signed at age 18 or younger and have been in the system for five or more seasons. That means that, setting aside international prospects for a second, the Giants college players from the 2021 MLB Draft and high school players from the 2020 MLB Draft will be eligible for the next Rule 5 Draft.

The latter is unimportant for the Giants, as their only high schooler from the 2020 Draft, Kyle Harrison, is already on the 40-man roster. But there are some interesting college names from the 2021 Draft, highlighted by Mason Black, Vaun Brown, and Landen Roupp. I’d also throw a player from that draft that the Giants traded for, Carson Seymour, into that grouping.

San Francisco’s top two picks from that draft, Will Bednar and Matt Mikulski, have both struggled mightily with injuries and performance. Right now they’re not on the Rule 5 radar, but if either player gets healthy and gets their career back on track, they could find their way into that discussion. As could intriguing relievers like Ian Villers, Mat Olsen, and Tyler Myrick (last year Myrick had a 1.04 ERA in High-A and a 1.44 ERA in AA).

And, like you said, players who didn’t get drafted or protected this year will still be in the pool next year. That not only includes the two high profile players you mentioned (Grant McCray and Aeverson Arteaga), but a whole lot of talented players who could be slam dunk (or at least debatable) decisions with good years, including Victor Bericoto, R.J. Dabovich, Nick Swiney, Ryan Murphy, Logan Wyatt, Jimmy Glowenke, Adrian Sugastey, Will Wilson, Onil Perez, Nick Avila, Juan Sanchez, Ben Madison, Chris Wright, Manuel Mercedes, and Esmerlin Vinicio.

Of course, some of those players will likely be added to the 40-man roster during the season, thus negating any decisions before they need to be made.

As for offseason prospect news, really not much of note that I’ve heard. Carson Whisenhunt is expected to be fully healthy for Spring Training, and Luis Matos looks like he’s taken the team’s goal for him to gain muscle very seriously. The bulk of the prospect news should start to roll in as the team flocks to Scottsdale next month.

I’m assuming you mean in terms of player acquisitions? I wouldn’t hold your breath, though it depends on what you classify as a “surprise.”

I still fully expect the team to sign Matt Chapman. If they don’t, I’d expect them to grab either Cody Bellinger or Blake Snell, or maybe make a medium-sized trade. I think there’s at least one, and likely two or three moves left for the team to make ... I don’t think I’d call any of them surprises, though.

Before answering the question, let’s address why the Giants haven’t traded Joey Bart, even though the signing of Tom Murphy makes it fait accompli. There’s really no reason to trade Bart for the next two months, unless a great deal pops up. Catchers get hurt all the time, which means two things: the Giants could need Bart at the start of the season if Murphy or Patrick Bailey gets injured, and other teams are more likely to be desperate in mid-March when they’re suddenly short a catcher with the season right around the corner (remember when the Giants lost both Bart and Roberto Peréz at the start of last season?).

So it makes sense for Bart to come to Spring Training, audition for the Giants and other teams, and wait to see what team needs him.

His trade value is slim though. Not nonexistent, but slim. He’s out of Minor League options, which means the most likely team to want him is a non-playoff team that can afford to play him regularly and just see what happens. The upside is a great defender with a power bat and five years of team control. That’s enough that someone will likely come calling.

Define “compete.” The Giants had a better record than the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 21, a whole 125 games into their season. And the Diamondbacks won the National League pennant!

Baseball’s a funny sport, especially now that they’ve expanded the postseason. I’m not ready to predict it, but the Giants are absolutely in play for the postseason in 2024, just as they were for almost all of 2023. And if you’re in play for the postseason, you’re competing and contending.

As for when they establish themselves as a perennial 90-plus win team that people expect to make noise? I’ll say 2026.

Let’s talk about Tommy Edman for a second. He gets linked to the Giants quite a bit, and I’m not entirely sure why. He’s been the very definition of an average hitter in his career (99 wRC+, 100 OPS+), and has hit below average in three of his five seasons. He’s a good defender, but the bulk of his defensive value comes at second base, where the Giants currently employ a player who is both better and younger. His ability to play all over the field is certainly a plus, but his two best positions come where the Giants have an All-Star caliber everyday player (Thairo Estrada) and someone they believe can be a franchise cornerstone (Marco Luciano).

He’s a good player, no doubt, and if the Giants want to try and figure out all their backups with one player, then come on down. But that doesn’t seem very likely.

But, for the purpose of your question, let’s assume the Giants trade for Edman without giving up any notable MLB talent, then add Blake Snell and Matt Chapman. It’s a team with a wide array of potential outcomes: does Chapman bounce back or keep slowly regressing? Does Snell recreate his MLB-leading 2.25 ERA from 2023, or slip into the 4.2s as he did in 2021 and 2019? Are Luciano, Kyle Harrison, and Jung Hoo Lee ready? You could see that team clicking or disappointing.

I’ll go on the positive side and project 90 wins with that team, but I’m openly more optimistic about the ability of the young players to step into bigger roles this year.

If it came down to that, I’d say wait until next offseason. The four names you mentioned for next year (and I’d add Ha-seong Kim to that list) are better than the three for this offseason. That said, I’m tired of the Giants punting things down the road. At some point you need to bite the bullet, not take the best deal, and try to build a winning team now. Savings accounts are for fiscally responsible individuals, not baseball teams.

And it certainly bears noting that it shouldn’t be an either/or situation. The Giants can afford a $100 million-plus contract this offseason, easily. And next offseason they have Michael Conforto, Ross Stripling, and Alex Cobb coming off the books, which clears more than $40 million annually.

Not much that has been made public. There really isn’t much to report during the offseason when it comes to prospect development. There aren’t games or formal practices, and the team rarely talks unless it’s about an MLB signing.

But get ready for some chatter in a few weeks when Spring Training kicks off. Remember, it was in February last year where we started to hear buzz that the Giants felt Patrick Bailey could become the team’s everyday catcher that year ... which felt preposterous at the time, but proved very prescient!

As for Carson Whisenhunt making an MLB debut this year ... I would say it’s much more likely than not, assuming he stays healthy. The Giants were somewhat openly talking about him debuting last year, had he not been injured, so that tells you everything. On that note, the spectacular Dave Flemming hopped on the equally-spectacular Roger Munter’s There R Giants podcast in December, and dropped a fascinating nugget: there was talk of Reggie Crawford making the Majors last year, had he not got injured. So he’s someone that, while not on many radars, I think might debut in 2024 ... albeit almost surely as a reliever.

Pretty easily: by having one guy who hits righties well, and one guy who hits lefties well.

The Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs last year by platooning Rowdy Tellez and Owen Miller/Carlos Santana at first. The Baltimore Orioles won 101 games platooning Ryans Mountcastle and O’Hearn at first.

Platoons happen. The Los Angeles Dodgers platoon. The Giants do it more than we’d like — and more than they’d like — but it’s not an inherently bad thing to platoon.

Okay now you’ve got me imagining: what if Scott Boras made a Super Bowl ad trying to sell teams on his clients?

First off, no, I don’t think that package comes even close to getting Luis Arráez. In each of the last two years, Arráez has been an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger, and garnered MVP votes. He’s only 26, and he’s still getting better. And while he’s not locked up long term, he’s not a rental either, as he’s under contract through 2025.

So he’ll cost a lot. Joey Bart is a replacement-level player without options; J.D. Davis is a fine but flawed rental; and Mason Black is non-top-100 prospect. It’s gonna take a lot more than that.

I’m also not sure why the Giants would want Arráez. If he’s an upgrade over Thairo Estrada (who is a significantly worse offensive player but a significantly better defensive one) then it’s only marginally. The Giants would have to think that Arráez could hold his own defensively at another position to be intrigued, and even if they do think that, it’s fair to be skeptical as to how long Arráez’s extremely unique hitting profile can continue to produce such good results.

So yeah, I’d look elsewhere. I think Arráez on the Giants is an (admittedly very good) square peg in a round hole, and I think it would take a package headlined by Kyle Harrison or Marco Luciano (and then probably a few more pieces) to get him.

I assume you’re referring to the time that Buster Posey rug-burned his entire neck on the infield dirt while sliding into third base, yeah?

Couldn’t tell ya.