Why Giants didn't have first-round MLB draft pick five years ago

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Why Giants didn't have first-round pick five years ago originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 2021 MLB Draft is now less than two weeks away, bringing with it a time to not only look ahead but also revisit the past. 

Earlier this month, we looked at how Patrick Bailey and the rest of the Giants' picks from the 2020 draft have performed one year later. Fans have followed closely how recent picks like Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos and more are playing on a daily basis. But five years ago, the Giants weren't even on the clock for the entire first round of the 2016 draft. 

Why? Look no further than Jeff Samardzija and his five-year, $90 million contract. 

The Giants agreed to sign Samardzija to the long-term deal on Dec. 5, 2015. Slightly over one week later, they agreed to another big-time contract. This time, it was Johnny Cueto for six years and $130 million. 

Samardzija was coming off a down year in 2015 when the Giants brought him to San Francisco. He went just 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA in his one and only season for the Chicago White Sox. He led the AL in home runs allowed with 29 and led all of the major leagues in hits allowed (228) and earned runs (118). 

The White Sox still offered Samardzija the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer, which is how the Giants lost their first-round pick in the 2016 draft. The Giants, and every other team interested in signing the big right-hander, knew this was the risk in signing Samardzija. But San Francisco's front office clearly thought the reward was greater.

Following a 2015 season where the Giants won 84 games but failed to make the playoffs, the front office felt signing a workhorse like Samardzija could be the perfect move. They still had Madison Bumgarner pitching like an ace, Matt Cain was hanging by a thread and Samardzija looked like a great No. 3 starter after the Cueto signing. 

Though Samardzija had a down season in 2015, the industry always was a fan of the former two-sport college star, and his 2014 season was the best of his career. That was his one and only All-Star season, in which he tossed 219 2/3 innings and had a 2.99 ERA between the Chicago Cubs and the Athletics. 

On the surface, the Giants' offer to Samardzija is pretty looked down upon now. At the time, for the most part, it made a good deal of sense. So, what did the Giants do next without a first-round pick. 

College, college, college ... and more college. 

With no first-round pick and a low second-rounder, the Giants didn't have much money to spend on high school prospects. So, they went the college route. A lot. The Giants wound up drafting 35 college players, and just five from high school. 

Despite losing their first-round pick, though, their first selection was seen as a first-round talent. The problem is, he's no longer with the organization and the Giants certainly could use him right now. 

The Giants drafted outfielder Bryan Reynolds out of Vanderbilt with the No. 59 overall pick. Reynolds was seen as someone who could play all three outfield positions, was a strong contact hitter with gap-to-gap power and had the potential to add more power at the next level. Just like the Samardzija signing, the front office opted to make a win-now move ahead of the 2018 season and traded Reynolds and pitcher Kyle Crick to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Andrew McCutchen on Jan. 15, just over two years after the Giants made Reynolds their top draft pick in 2016. 

Reynolds hit .312 with 10 home runs, nine triples and 26 doubles and had an .826 OPS in 2017 for the San Jose Giants in High-A. He also gave me one of the wildest answers I've ever heard in an interview during his time with San Jose. I noticed Reynolds, a switch-hitter, would use a leg kick sometimes, and then change to a toe tap in other at-bats. Here was his reasoning

“I kind of like to keep my body guessing because it makes me feel more athletic,” Reynolds said. “I feel like if I keep doing it one way, you’re almost just going through the motions. For instance, one time I hit a ball last year and I didn’t remember if I toe tapped or leg kicked. 

"I had to ask somebody."

That still amazes and confuses me at the same time. It shows incredible hand-eye coordination and hitting instincts, both of which have followed him the majority of his early big league career.

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Reynolds made his MLB debut for the Pirates at 24 years old on April 20, 2019. He wound up finishing fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting after batting .314 with 16 homers and an .880 OPS. In the 60-game shortened season last year, he struggled mightily, hitting just .189 with seven homers and a .632 OPS, but through 74 games this season he is batting .312 with 13 homers and a .931 OPS. Those numbers would be the second-highest across the board for the Giants this season.

He was worth 4.1 bWAR as a rookie, and has been worth 3.5 bWAR as a 26-year-old. There is a chance he makes his first All-Star Game for the lowly Pirates this season. 

The first-place Giants, and just about everybody else, could use Reynolds' bat now and in the future. 

McCutchen hit .255 with 15 home runs and a .772 OPS over 130 games for the Giants before being traded to the New York Yankees on Aug. 31, 2018, and the orange and black didn't receive much back in the exchange.

Samardzija went 33-45 with a 4.24 ERA in five seasons for the Giants. He led the NL with 207 2/3 innings pitched in 2017, was worth 2.6 bWAR in 2016, 2.8 bWAR in 2017 and 3.1 bWAR in 2019. But he pitched only four games his last season in San Francisco and had a 9.72 ERA. 

It's clear Samardzija didn't fully live up to his $90 million contract with the Giants, and they released him just days before the 2020 season ended. 

Caleb Baragar (ninth round) and Conner Menez (14th round) are the only two Giants picks from the 2016 draft to make it up to the major league squad so far. Reynolds of course is the headliner from the group, one that the Giants wish they could forget. 

That hasn't been easy, as Reynolds has made them pay by batting .385 with a .916 OPS in 10 games against the Giants so far in his young career. 

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