BY J.A. SCHWARTZ
The San Francisco Giants enter 2020 in the earliest stages of a reimagining of their roster. In 2019, they eschewed the chance to trade free agents-to-be reliever Will Smith and franchise icon Madison Bumgarner because of their position in the standings in late July, a justifiable decision that paid homage to the core of a team-and their fans-who had won three championships during the decade. The team faded badly down the stretch, finishing at 77-85, third in the NL West but 29 games behind the division champion Dodgers, and a full 12 games behind the second Wild Card spot.
Now Smith closes games for the Braves, while Bumgarner will front the rotation in Arizona after signing a 5-year, $85 million deal, leaving the only team he’s ever known as a professional. Given that their rivals in Los Angeles added talent to an already dynastic roster (seven straight division titles), acquiring superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and starter David Price from Boston, the Giants certainly aren’t entertaining visions of a division title in 2020. They likely have their sights set on more modest goals, though President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi will be ever vigilant for new avenues to improve his franchise.
Bruce Bochy, who managed the Giants for 13 seasons, retired after the 2019 campaign with 2003 wins over 25 years as skipper. He brought three championships to San Francisco, and is widely considered a lock for Hall of Fame induction. Bochy was able to coax the best out of his charges, and leaned heavily on Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to lead the team to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Gabe Kapler was tapped to take over the managerial duties from Bochy, and he’ll enter 2020 with a 161-163 record (a .497 winning percentage that is ironically identical to that of his predecessor Bochy) amassed during two years in Philadelphia. Kapler will also inherit Posey and Sandoval, both 33 by late March, as the veteran leaders on a team that figures to be indoctrinating their best young prospects onto the roster over the next several seasons.
With the MLB roster limit expanded to 26 players for the 2020 season, here is a look at how the Giants might deploy their assets in late March.
Catcher: This job belongs to Posey, who is coming off his worst year as a professional. He hit .257/.320/.368, career low marks in every category. His .368 slugging percentage was his second year in a row below .382, with his offensive productivity dropping below the league average for the first time in his stellar career. Signed through 2021, Posey will try to reverse his downward trend with the bat.
He figures to be backed up by 30 year-old journeyman Rob Brantly, or switch hitting Tyler Heineman, 28, who was signed as a free agent in January. Heineman might possess some latent upside, coming off a year where he broke out offensively at AAA for both Arizona and Miami (.336/.400/.590, 13 HR). Neither backup likely factors into the Giants long term solution at the position. Top prospect and 2018 second overall draft pick Joey Bart, 23, finished 2019 at AA, and may well end up seeing the majors at some point in 2020. He is the heir apparent to Posey behind the plate.
1B: Brandon Belt, 32 in April, will again anchor first base. He also struggled in 2019, hitting .234/.339/.403 with 17 HR and 57 RBI. Coming off his poorest offensive effort in his nine years in San Francisco, Belt, who is under contract through 2021, will hope to bounce back in 2020.
2B: With incumbent second baseman Joe Panik having been released in August after six largely effective seasons with the team, the Giants will turn to prospect Mauricio Dubon to hold down the position. Dubon, 25, was acquired from Milwaukee in July in the trade that sent pitchers Ray Black and Drew Pomeranz to the Brewers, and hit .300 with 20 HR at AAA last year before appearing in 28 games with the Giants at the end of the year. Should he stumble, 28-year-old Wilmer Flores, a free agent signee who spent 2019 in Arizona, is on the roster ready to step in. Flores had his best offensive season last year, hitting .317/.361/.487 over 89 games, and will help push rookie Dubon for the starting job.
SS: Brandon Crawford, 33, will continue to hold down the starting shortstop job which has been his since 2012. Crawford has proven capable defensively and remarkably durable during his time with the team, never appearing in fewer than 143 games over his eight full seasons in San Francisco. Like many of his teammates, Crawford struggled through one of his weakest offensive seasons in 2019, hitting .228/.304/.350, his least effective effort at bat since 2012. Signed through 2021, Crawford will be given every opportunity to regain his stroke at the plate. Donavon Solano, 32, figures to fill in at short when Crawford requires a rare day off.
3B: Veteran Evan Longoria, 34, figures to hold down the hot corner for the Giants again in 2020. Longoria is signed through 2022, and is coming off his best season since joining the team in 2018, hitting .254/.325/.437 with 20 HR and 69 RBI. He also continues to play defense at a high level, and the five-time Gold Glove winner will be relied upon to pair with Crawford to keep the left side of the infield safe from ground balls seeking outfield grass. Both Flores and Solano can slide over to third to spell Longoria if the need arises.
CF: 26 year-old OF Stephen Duggar will enter the season as the likely every day centerfielder for the Giants. A sixth round pick of the Giants in 2015, Duggar will be entrusted with the role coming off a season where he hit .234/.278/.341 in the Majors after a scorching start at AAA.
LF: The primary left field job figures to belong to Alex Dickerson, 29. Acquired in June of 2019 from the Padres, Dickerson hit .290/.351/.529 with six homers and 26 RBI in 56 games with San Francisco and brings a veteran lefty bat to the lineup. He may well find himself in a platoon situation with 36 year-old Hunter Pence, who resurrected his career in Texas last year, mashing at a .297/.358/.552 clip with 18 HR and 59 RBI. Pence, who was a starter for the Giants during their 2012 and 2014 playoff runs that led to World Series titles, changed his swing before the 2019 season and had his best year at the plate since 2011.
RF: Right field will belong to Mike Yastrzemski, 29. The Giants traded to acquire Yastrzemski from Baltimore on the eve of the 2019 campaign, and he seized the opportunity to play on a regular basis, hitting .272/.334/518 with 21 HR and 55 RBI in 107 games as a rookie. Austin Slater, 27, figures to perform in a utility role.
Starting Pitching: The 2020 Giants will be looking for an ace to front their rotation now that Bumgarner has joined the competition in Arizona. Johnny Cueto, 34, may well get the Opening Day nod for the team. Signed to a six-year, $130 million contract before the 2016 season, Cueto has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, making a total of only 13 starts. Cueto underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2018, and will be counted on to provide innings for a Giants staff that lacks a true #1 starter.
Jeff Samardzija, 35, enters his final year under contract with the team after signing a five-year, $90 million dollar deal before the 2016 season, and starts the year as the #2 starter. Samardzija went 11-12 with a 3.52 in 181 innings for the team in 2019 during his 32 starts. 29 year-old Kevin Gausman, who split last year between Atlanta and Cincinnati, will be the presumptive third starter. He struggled last year, going 3-9 with a 5.72 ERA in 102 innings, but had pitched significantly better from 2014 through the 2018 seasons. The Giants are hoping to recapture his effectiveness in his first season with the team.
Lefty Drew Smyly, 30, figures to hold down the fourth slot in the rotation. Smyly emerged as a dominant young starter in Detroit and Tampa Bay between 2012 and 2016, but then missed all of the next two seasons with shoulder issues. He finally returned to the Majors last year, going 4-7 with a 6.24 ERA over 21 starts and 114 innings in Texas and Philadelphia. The final rotation job is likely to go to 2014 first round draft pick Tyler Beede. Now 26, Beede battled to a 5-10 record with a 5.08 ERA, making 22 starts and throwing 117 innings for the Giants in 2019, who hope he can continue his development and emerge as a young anchor to the staff going forward.
Relief pitching: 2019 closer Will Smith left as a free agent to join Atlanta, leaving the stopper’s job this year in a state of flux. Lefty Tony Watson, 34, figures to have the first crack at claiming the role, and has 30 saves over his nine year career to date, though none as a Giant. Shaun Anderson, 25, and Jandel Gustave, 27, might be next in line for saves should Watson falter.
Anderson collected two saves for the 2019 Giants in his rookie season as he transitioned from a starting role to the pen towards the end of the season. Gustave showed well in his debut with the team last year, pitching to a 2.96 ERA over 24 innings of relief. Sam Coonrod, 27, will continue his development in the majors, hoping to improve on a promising rookie campaign that saw him go 5-1, 3.58 in 27 innings for the team. Tyler Rogers, 29, will bring his heavy sinker to the pen again in 2020. Rogers went 2-0, 1.02 over 17 IP last year, generating an elite 69% ground ball rate as batters struggled to lift his best pitch.
Jarlin Garcia, 27, will be the top lefty behind Watson in Gabe Kapler’s bullpen after being claimed off waivers from the Marlins earlier this month. Garcia went 4-2, 3.02 in 50 IP in Florida in 2019. The final two pen jobs will be contested between righties Trevor Gott, 27, and Dany Jimenez, 26. Jimenez was a Rule 5 selection from the Toronto organization, and must be kept on the active roster in 2020 or be offered back to the Blue Jays. The Giants are hoping that his elite minor league strikeout figures (93 in 59 IP between A and AA last year) make him an appealing option as the season unfurls.
The Giants will transition from a team led by Bochy and Bumgarner into a new era of baseball under the leadership of manager Gabe Kapler and the veteran guidance of Posey, Belt and Crawford. The next wave of future core franchise cornerstones may well arrive later this year when Bart (#32 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects for 2020), makes his debut. 2017 first round pick outfielder Heliot Ramos, 20,(# 63 on BA’s top 100 list) might be next in line to break in, though he figures to begin the year at AA Richmond with Bart. 2019 first round pick outfielder Hunter Bishop profiles to one day join Ramos in the Giants outfield, and will begin the year at Augusta, the Giants low A affiliate.
The top prospect in the system, and the #19 overall prospect in the game by BA’s list, is shortstop Marco Luciano, a 2018 international signee from the Dominican Republic. He could accompany Bishop to Augusta to begin 2020. The top pitching prospect in the system might be 21 year-old lefty Seth Corry, the Giants third round pick in the 2017 draft out of Lone Peak High in Highland, Utah. Corry dominated at Augusta in 2019, going 9-3, 1.76 with 172 strikeouts in only 122 innings. By 2022, each of these young players should be contributing to the team at the major league level, and may represent the nucleus of the next generation of franchise leaders. It would be unrealistic to expect the team, as currently comprised, to challenge for a playoff berth in 2020, but Zaidi is laying the groundwork for the next championship Giants team.