If Opening Day was January 17, 2018, the Giants’ starting center fielder would be Steven Duggar.
Though Duggar has never taken an at-bat at the Major League level, Giants’ general manager Bobby Evans joined Gary & Larry on KNBR on Tuesday and explained that the team is confident Duggar has the skill set and tools to compete for a starting job this spring.
“It wouldn’t be a guess, it would be Steven Duggar,” Evans said, when asked if he could make an educated guess about who would man the middle of the outfield if San Francisco didn’t add another player to its roster this offseason.
While Austin Slater, Jarrett Parker and Gorkys Hernandez are all in-house candidates who could threaten to steal the job away from Duggar with strong performances this spring, the organization is excited about Duggar’s potential and eager to watch him rise to the next level.
“We know we have Steven Duggar very close and ready and yet we’d love to give him some more time even if that’s part-time in the big leagues,” Evans said. “We’d rather give him more time than having him become the everyday guy. That said, there’s a chance of that in spring. Depending on who we add between now and Spring Training, whether it’s a complement to him or someone that holds him back in AAA, that remains to be seen.”
A sixth-round draft choice of the Giants in 2015, Duggar excelled at AA Richmond in 2016 before an injury forced him to take a step back last season. Duggar only received 46 at-bats with AAA Sacramento, and the Giants would likely prefer to have Duggar begin the season up the road on I-80 instead of with the big league club at AT&T Park.
Though the Giants have several candidates on their 40-man roster capable of playing center field including new acquisition Andrew McCutchen, Evans said the team is still exploring its options on the free agent and trade markets. San Francisco has been linked to free agent center fielders Jarrod Dyson, Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, and Evans said the franchise is still keeping an eye on former Kansas City center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
To add Cain to the roster, the Giants would likely have to offer the 31-year-old a contract that spans at least three seasons, and the organization would also have to forfeit multiple draft choices to the Royals because Cain received a qualifying offer. Though Evans doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of signing Cain, he indicated the team’s chances of adding the eight-year veteran aren’t strong.
“We just would see ourselves as a dark horse right now,” Evans said. “The market dictates how things end up for the player and for us, but it would appear currently that we would have a hard time being the leading team for him (Cain).”
If the Giants don’t add a center fielder via free agency, the front office can still broker a trade. Miami Marlins’ center fielder Christian Yelich is reportedly interested in finding a new landing spot, and his team-friendly contract runs through 2022. After striking out on Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton earlier this offseason, Evans believes Miami is interested in trading Yelich to a small group of teams that likely doesn’t include the Giants.
“Well he’s (Yelich) viable for us in the sense that we’re continuing to pursue the possibility (of a trade),” Evans said. “Yet, I think the Marlins have isolated some teams that they think are the best fit for him if they trade him and my sense is they’re probably going to hold onto him. But my sense is that they’ve isolated three or four teams that they have the best match with and I think that puts us on the outside looking in. At the same time I think we’ll continue to pursue it.”
Adding a salary of any high-profile player is a serious concern for the Giants this offseason because the team would prefer to stay below the $197 million luxury tax threshold. After trading for McCutchen, the Giants have fewer than $5 million worth of space under the luxury tax ceiling, so the team doesn’t have a significant amount of flexibility.
Though luxury tax calculations are not made until December of each year, the Giants have made a concerted effort this offseason to hold steady below the $197 million mark. With needs at the back end of the team’s starting rotation and in the middle of the bullpen left to address, there’s a growing possibility that San Francisco arrives in Scottsdale, Arizona this spring with a plan for Duggar to take over as the team’s primary center fielder.
To listen to Evans’ full interview with Gary & Larry, click the podcast link below.