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‘The tide has turned’ for Giants in recruiting free-agent hitters

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It does not sound as if the Giants are about to make waves on the free-agency market. But the seas are acting far nicer to them than in the past.

Two years after the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi, the club’s president of baseball operations is seeing buoyed thoughts from free-agent hitters about coming to San Francisco.

“I think the tide has turned there pretty significantly,” Zaidi said on a Zoom conference call Wednesday. “It’s reason for optimism as we look at that market. … We’ve had some of those conversations with players and agents, and I think everybody recognizes that the park played pretty neutrally to even favorably at times for hitters.

“There’s been a lot written and justifiably so about the hitting group at the major league level and the work that they did and our continued emphasis on major league development, having that theme out there and having case studies of guys that really took a step forward this year. I have noticed a lot more interest from position players or a lot more willingness to sign with us based on what they saw from the team and the organization over the past year.”

The Giants have grown accustomed to pitchers being excited to play their home games at Oracle Park, notoriously forgiving for fly balls. Over the past two offseasons, Drew Pomeranz has signed with San Francisco on a base $1.5 million deal that he turned into a four-year, $34 million deal with San Diego; Kevin Gausman upped his $9 million pact to $18.9 million next season, and Drew Smyly just went from $4 million in orange and black to $11 million with the Braves.

But attracting hitters to the same park in the same cool summer air has proven far more difficult, part of why the Giants’ top prospects skew so heavily to hitters — those guys don’t have a choice. But in the 60-game sample, the Giants’ largely-the-same offense (add Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf, subtract Buster Posey and Kevin Pillar) went from scoring 4.19 runs per game in 2019 to 4.98 in 2020, from the third least in baseball to the eighth most.

The park, as Zaidi alluded, played much smaller and literally was smaller. The fences more crawled then ran in, and the ducts in right field were closed off to the wind, which is believed to have allowed balls to travel much easier. In 2019, Oracle Park was the worst park to play in offensively; 2020 saw it move up to a middle-of-the-pack 13th.

And the hitting group of Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind took advantage. With mindsets of ignoring pitches that they couldn’t do damage to, veterans made comebacks (Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria), inexperienced major leaguers took leaps (Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano and Austin Slater) and the unproven proved themselves (Donovan Solano, Darin Ruf).

The Giants do not have to lure a Bryce Harper this offseason, but they would have a much stronger chance to do so.

“We’re pretty happy with our position-player group, they did a terrific job. There’s maybe a role here or there that we may have to fill,” said Zaidi, who could use a lefty bat. “But overall, we have the makings of a really strong offense.”

One target could be Tommy La Stella, whose lefty bat could complement at second and who could spell Evan Longoria at third and who would bring the plate discipline this regime craves.

As for keeping their own, Ruf has gone on record saying he wants to return but will be a difficult arbitration/nontender decision. With an NL DH unlikely next season, Zaidi said, “It may make it more important to have enough defensive versatility and defensive ability in our position-player group.”


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