The baseball world will descend upon sunny San Diego this weekend, with a stove that already has been plenty hot cranking up the heat.
The Winter Meetings traditionally mark the meetings of the minds, a meat market in which players are traded and signed — at least they had been before the last few seasons, when a cooled hot stove without a real deadline for signings pushed the action into January and February and March in a few cases.
This year has been different, with the Giants already losing Will Smith (to the Braves) and Stephen Vogt (Diamondbacks), while the Madison Bumgarner sweepstakes intensify.
San Francisco also has said goodbye to Kevin Pillar, who was non-tendered, raising significant questions about how a 77-85 2019 team will improve in 2020. Here are some pressing questions that Farhan Zaidi will answer in some way this offseason, whether through words or actions.
What are the expectations for the 2020 campaign?
In the past, the Giants president of operations has emphasized development and progress at each turn, turning over the roster to find any slight value play. Instead of being vocally optimistic about playoff runs, Zaidi has spoken about playing meaningful games deep into the season.
Is that possible for a team that just jettisoned its best and most reliable outfielder? Can a team that didn’t play meaningful September games last season expect that to change without Bumgarner, who is likely to sign elsewhere? Where does Zaidi see the improvements coming from?
Speaking of which, what’s the status of Bumgarner?
“We’re in communication” with Bumgarner’s representatives, Zaidi told fans at a meet-and-greet Tuesday, according to The Athletic. But in the wake of allowing Pillar to leave in the name of long-term interests, does a Bumgarner reunion make sense? All has been quiet between the two sides as Bumgarner’s reported links to other teams have piled up. Without the 30-year-old, the Giants would return a rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto and a whole lot of unknowns — not a staff that inspires much fear, except internally. Joe Panik was the first of the core to leave, and the rest of a crew that brought multiple championships is in danger.
Speaking of which, is Brandon Crawford a full-time starter next season?
The longtime shortstop was among the worst hitters in all of baseball last season. His .654 OPS was the fourth worst among qualifiers in baseball. (Incidentally, Pillar’s .719 OPS was 12th worst.) Crawford still brings a solid glove up the middle, but his speed has slowed with his years. Among shortstops who fielded at least 150 balls last season, the 32-year-old was 26th — dead last — in sprint speed, according to Statcast. Keeping him around is the $30 million due him the next two seasons.
Will that keep him in the lineup, too? The lefty hitter could platoon at short with Mauricio Dubon or even move over to second, as the Giants currently lack a lefty option at the position. How much do the Giants believe in him, and how much weight will his contract hold? Whom the Giants target this offseason also will play a part in Crawford’s future.
Speaking of which, in what outfield aisle are the Giants shopping?
Nicholas Castellanos, a 27-year-old fresh off a .289/.337/.525 season, is atop the corner-outfield market. Marcell Ozuna, who carries a qualifying offer, better glove and still solid bat, sits right below him. Avisail Garcia looms, too, as a righty option for a lefty-heavy outfield. But Zaidi has signaled he’s thinking long-run over 2020, and would the Giants green-light a player who would cost $15 million for a season in which expectations are low? Or would they wait for next offseason to make the splashes? It’s possible they enter spring training with Jaylin Davis and Austin Slater as righty complements to Alex Dickerson and Mike Yastrzemski, with Steven Duggar in the mix, too. But that’s not a unit that has much of a resume.
Speaking of which, what will the Giants’ rotation look like next season?
Without Bumgarner, it’s Cueto and Shark and pray for a spark. Behind the duo — who both easily could become trade candidates — there are options, but not definites, that include Tyler Beede, Logan Webb, Tyler Anderson, Dereck Rodriguez, Shaun Anderson and Conner Menez. One or two Drew Pomeranzes or Derek Hollands are expected to be added to the mix for both stability and potential trade value. How about Brett Anderson, another lefty from Zaidi’s past? Jason Vargas makes some sense. Or would the Giants see a bigger piece like Hyun-Jin Ryu and feel they can’t wait until next year’s crop of starting-pitcher free agents, which looks less deep?