Giants Mailbag: Will team be buyers or sellers in free-agent market?

Alex Pavlovic
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Will Giants be buyers or sellers during odd MLB free agency? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Are you ready for the Cold Stove?

People around the game have been bracing for a rough winter, and in recent days, there have been signs that it could be worse than we thought for free agents. Organizations are slashing payroll, with even the Giants -- who have continued to build up Lot A through all of this -- cutting about 10 percent of their full-time workforce earlier this month. 

On Thursday, the Indians waived Brad Hand, one of the best relievers in the American League. He has a $10 million club option in his contract, a no-brainer in a normal offseason. But after a season played without fans, with another one potentially on the way, teams are in serious cost-cutting mode. 

The Rays declined a $15 million option on Charlie Morton and the Braves declined a $3.5 million option on Darren O'Day, a key piece in their bullpen.

The best players -- the J.T. Realmuto's and George Springer's -- are still expected to get massive deals, but it's going to be a long, long winter for a lot of mid- and low-tier free agents. Before the action officially starts Sunday, here's a look at where the Giants stand, with help from Instagram followers who sent over plenty of great questions: 

More likely Giants will be aggressive and be buyers, or sellers in the offseason. -- tyler_peterson24

They'll be on the buyer's side, in part because there's not much to sell. Their veterans are all making far too much money to try and deal in this economy, and it's not like they're overflowing with cost-controlled starters and relievers who could help other teams. 

Farhan Zaidi said earlier this offseason that he would seek complementary pieces for the lineup, and it's clear the Giants will add at least a couple of starters and a veteran for the bullpen. The real question is how aggressive will they be given what we're seeing?

There will be serious bargains sitting there in December and January, and a team that's spending as it normally does can add four or five good veterans for a fraction of what they would usually cost. Zaidi and Scott Harris have proven to be opportunistic, but it's unclear if the organization feels up to throwing its financial weight around this winter. Letting go of about 50 full-time employees was not a great sign that the Giants are about to be aggressive spenders. 

Do you think Ramos and Hjelle will debut at some point next season? -- dylangonzales_02

I do, and for entertainment purposes, I hope it's before September. The thing about Heliot Ramos is this is probably a "when he comes up, it's for good" situation. The Giants have a pretty solid mix in the outfield right now, so they can be patient and let Ramos get a couple hundred more at-bats -- he has just 95 at Double-A -- so he's ready to hit the ground running, possibly late in the year. 

Sean Hjelle had a really interesting year. He welcomed a son shortly after camp ended and was never added to the alternate site, but the Giants say he threw all summer and was staying ready in case they needed him late in the year. Hjelle has made just five starts above A-ball, but he's a pretty polished prospect and the Giants have just about no starting depth, so he could pitch his way to the big leagues sometime next summer. 

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Who do you think will end up being the team MVP next season? -- longo.bombz

Both Brandon Belt and Mike Yastrzemski should be on plenty of NL ballots -- they go 10 deep -- when they're released next month, so those are the obvious candidates. Given that Yastrzemski seems to get better and better, and that Belt tends to deal with injuries and miss some games, I think Yastrzemski is a pretty easy preseason choice. 

Do you think we will trade a core piece from our farm system? -- edh_1

Eventually, yes. The dream is for these players to keep developing, giving the Giants an opportunity to flip a young position player to fill a hole. For instance, if Ramos and Hunter Bishop establish themselves in the outfield, maybe you deal a Luis Matos for a proven starter or superstar. Or maybe the roles are reversed, with Matos turning into the potential star and someone else getting sent away. The Giants also could have a logjam at catcher if everyone hits their ceiling. This is what the Dodgers just did, trading Alex Verdugo for Mookie Betts. 

But right now, and even into next offseason, there should be no dealing from the system. The Giants are focused on developing these players and getting them to the big leagues, and they have a lot of guys -- Matos and Alexander Canario come to mind -- who might have significantly more trade value as they get a bit older. 

Will Buster Posey be our starting catcher next year? Will Joey Bart start the year in the minors? -- dawesomejuan

Yes to both. Zaidi made it pretty clear in his end-of-season Zoom press conference that Bart is likely to spend more time in the minors, even mentioning the potential of adding a veteran backup. 

Is Posey moving to first base less imminent now with the reemergence of Brandon Belt. -- b_english33

Even before the season, the new staff was making it clear that Posey might not play first base at all this season. I'd be shocked if he started more than a couple of games there next season, and it has nothing to do with Belt. 

Posey had a .688 OPS in 2019, and has 12 homers the past two years. Maybe he'll see a late-career surge like Belt and Brandon Crawford just did, but if he hits the way he has since 2017, this staff isn't going to feel the need to keep him in the lineup when his legs need a break. They would much rather have Wilmer Flores' bat at first. 

Will the Giants trade Belt now that his stock is up? -- jesseaflora

I guess this gets back to the theme of this whole offseason. Belt had a career year, but those numbers were put up over 51 games and he turns 33 next season, so even in a normal financial picture, it would be hard for the Giants to market him as a big piece. In this environment, you're unlikely to find anyone who has an interest in taking on a player owed $16 million next year. The Giants could pay that down if they really wanted to, but at that point, you're much better off just keeping one of your best hitters and hoping the market looks more normal at the deadline. 

What free agent best fits this offense, given the rumored loss of DH/fewer ABs to go around? -- mvcrowell

I wrote earlier this week about some players who are good fits, and since then another has had his option declined and hit the market. Kolten Wong had a down year at the plate, but in 2019 he hit .283/.369/.428 against right-handed pitching. He's a Gold Glove-caliber defender at second, and while he hasn't played third in the big leagues, he's athletic enough that he could probably provide help there. I think finding a left-handed bat to platoon with Evan Longoria -- and potentially Donovan Solano and Flores -- is one of this roster's biggest needs, and Wong's younger brother, Kean, already is in the organization. 

Having said all that, Wong is a good enough second baseman that I assume he'll find a starting job somewhere. On that initial list, I still view Joc Pederson as the best "fit." He's a Bay Area kid who mashes right-handed pitching, and he might be the type of player who takes a shorter deal this offseason in hopes of cashing in once MLB is back to normal. 

Who won't be returning? --haroldstuart

You guys are really doing a great job of teeing up articles I've written this month! Here's a look at some guys who definitely won't be back, and some guys on the 40-man roster who might be in trouble. 

How long until we have to say goodbye to the Brandons? -- tylertothevargas

Longer than we thought a year ago, right? Both had bounce-back years, but both will be free agents after the 2021 season. I would be surprised if both are back in 2022, if only because at some point the Giants are going to turn the keys to the organization over to the kids. 

Belt had the better year, and the Giants don't have an obvious replacement at first base in their system, but I actually could see Crawford lasting longer. He's as homegrown as it gets and seems a good bet to retire as a Giant. The front office might feel that Marco Luciano is ready in 2022, but Crawford could bridge the gap, and as a left-handed hitter he would still fit the roster when Luciano arrives. 

Priority is a lefty platoon for third base, a veteran reliever, or starting pitching? -- giantsfan2323

All of the above. This pretty much nails the offseason wish list, and these are holes Zaidi said he would like to fill. In order, I would go get two starting pitchers, a right-handed reliever with late-game experience, a lefty who can play third and second, and then another starter. And then one more arm, just to be safe. 

Do you see the Giants going after Bauer this offseason? -- kevinpoler

Ahhh, the Bauer question. A lot of people asked about Bauer, the likely Cy Young Award winner and best pitcher on the market. To steal a phrase from the previous regime, the Giants always "kick the tires" on the top names, and I think they will on Bauer. But this really depends on whether he sticks to his previous desires. 

Bauer has said in the past that he'll sign one-year deals -- with massive annual salaries -- throughout his career, which would be fascinating. But coming off a Cy Young, he might decide this is the perfect time to cash in with a long-term $200 million deal. 

If Bauer does want a one-year contract, I think the Giants would be interested. He would give them a legitimate ace for another surprise push for a playoff spot, and if the team is out of it halfway through the year, that's the best trade chip on the market. 

But they're not giving a starting pitcher $200 million at this stage of their rebuild. The most they've spent on one the last two years is $9 million. 

Are there any serious non-tender candidates? Dickerson, Solano, Gott, etc? -- stevenrizzo11

The Giants have 11 arbitration-eligible players, and you would think bringing most back would be an easy decision. Maybe 2020 finances come into play, but guys like Alex Dickerson and Donovan Solano are key pieces and still cheap. 

Gott is fascinating because as rough as his 2020 was, he has a big arm and was pretty good early in the year. He's the kind of player the Giants have tried to stockpile, but they might decide that the raise isn't worth it in a year when a lot of similar pitchers will be non-tendered. 

The biggest question for me is Tyler Anderson, who is due about $4 million. If the season started today, Anderson might be the Giants' most reliable starter, but they could prefer to take that kind of money into the market and see who is out there and desperate in January. The Giants could also do what they did last year when they non-tendered Anderson but signed him to a contract outside of the arbitration process. 

Will Hunter Pence be hired as a special assistant? -- savorysaltysweet

The Giants currently list four special assistants/special advisors: Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Bruce Bochy and Will Clark. That's a hell of a list, but Pence would fit right on it. He also would fit really well as what the Giants call a "community ambassador," which currently would be Jeremy Affeldt, Orlando Cepeda, Dave Dravecky and Jeffrey Leonard. 

Pence will be involved in some capacity whenever he's ready, and I could see him in that latter group, with an emphasis on representing the organization to season-ticket holders and at community events. 

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Where can I get garlic fries, it's been too long. -- thephenomjr

I know how you feel. Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder if the self-serve nacho bar will ever reopen in Petco Park's press box. I fear it's gone for good. 

It feels like we taped this three years ago, but during the hiatus, I was part of a cooking show and we made garlic fries in one episode. It actually works pretty well at home, especially if you have an air fryer (you really should have an air fryer).