Over the past month, it had become clear that the last player manager Bruce Bochy wanted to use off his bench was Austin Jackson – and that’s saying a lot considering that Hunter Pence is also on his bench.
And it also became clear the last pitcher he wanted to use in a high-leverage situation was Cory Gearrin.
On Sunday morning, the San Francisco Giants dropped some dead weight for their roster by trading both Jackson and Gearrin to the Texas Rangers.
And what did the Giants get in return? Well, in short, nothing – at least for now.
The trade involved the Giants sending Jackson, Gearrin and pitching prospect Jason Bahr to Texas for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
And it appears the Rangers have little interest in Jackson. The team reportedly informed the outfielder not to report to the club right away. The Rangers have little use for another outfielder and will look to flip Jackson to another team, or potentially designate him for assignment if a trade partner can’t be found.
So why in the world would the Rangers take on more than $6 million in guaranteed salary when most of that money is going to a player they don’t even want or need?
Well the answer is they must really like what they’ve seen in Bahr.
Bahr is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who was drafted in the fifth round by the Giants in the 2017 draft out of Central Florida.
After posting a 3.55 ERA in seven starts (13 appearances) for short-season A Salem-Keizer last summer, Bahr has had a solid first full season in the minors with the Giants’ two full-season Class A clubs.
Bahr was 6-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 13 starts for low-A Augusta, striking out 88 and walking 21 in 68.2 innings. He was recently promoted to high-A San Jose, where he went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three starts, fanning 15 and walking just two in 16 innings.
Last winter, the Giants signed Jackson to a two-year deal, hoping the veteran outfielder could play all three outfield positions and be a big threat in the lineup against left-handed pitching.
Well, Jackson did hit 100 points higher against lefties than righties, but that’s largely because he hit just .188 against righties this season.
Jackson started the season in a lefty-righty platoon in center field with Gregor Blanco. But Blanco was eventually sent to Triple-A, and Jackson went to the bench when Gorkys Hernandez, who also bats right-handed, proved a better options offensively and defensively in center field.
Jackson is still owed $3.5 million in 2019, plus a $500,000 buyout in 2020. Add the back half of his $3 million salary this season, and the Giants were on the hook for about $5.5 million to Jackson.
Jackson had made just two starts – 15 plaste appearances — since June 13.
Likewise, Gearrin has spent most of the past six weeks being called on to pitch when the Giants were trailing or leading by a large margin.
Since May 20, Gearrin had made just one appearance with the Giants holding a lead of three runs or fewer, and that came on July 1 when he was asked to get one out in the fourth with the Giants up on Arizona 4-3.
Gearrin is making $1.68 million this year and has one more year of arbitration left.
By clearing Jackson and Gearrin off the books, the Giants open room on their payroll to potentially add another veteran player in a trade, if they decide.
It also opens up room on the roster to look at two players performing well in the minors – outfielder Steven Duggar and reliever Ray Black.
Duggar was a sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Clemson. He impressed the Giants in the spring, particularly with his glove, as he challenged for a spot on the roster.
He was eventually sent to Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .272 with a .354 OBP in 78 games. He still strikes out a butt-ton of times for a guy who doesn’t hit for power – 103 in 356 plate appearances.
It seems odd that the Giants, who are currently carrying just one reserve infielder and have two other infielders who can play the outfield (Alen Hanson and Brandon Belt) that the Giants would add a second reserve outfielder. But Duggar is a plus defender and gives the Giants a left-handed option off the bench, which they have been lacking.
The more exciting addition to the roster is Black, a 28-year-old righthander who was drafted out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2014.
Black can touch 100 mph on the radar, something the Giants really haven’t had in their bullpen before. Black battled injury and control problems in his five seasons in the minors.
But this year has been different. He started out at Double-A Richmond, where he posted a 0.90 ERA in 10 outings, striking out 20 of the 38 batters he faced, while walking just four.
After a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, he had a 2.91 ERA in 22 outings, striking out 38 in 21.2 innings, while walking seven.
Both Duggar and Black were added to the Giants’ 40-man roster and activated after the trade Sunday morning.
When the San Francisco Giants signed Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million deal in December 2016, they saw the move a missing piece to make the Giants competitive.
After all, the Giants were coming off a 2016 season that saw them blow 30 saves, and that didn’t inclue the two they blew in the Division Series against the Cubs.
But with Melancon at the back of their bullpen, the Giants foresaw the following scenario playing out over and over again – ace Madison Bumgarner pitches well, leaves the game with the lead and Melancon comes in the ninth to lock down the win.
The Giants thought that scenario would first play out on Opening Day 2017 when Bumgarner pitched seven solid innings against the Diamondbacks and left with a 5-3 lead. The lead was 5-4 when Melancon enter the game in the ninth.
Melancon gave up two runs and the Diamondbacks won 6-5.
Melancon didn’t get another opportunity to save a Bumgarner win before Bum hurt himself in a dirt bike accident three weeks later.
Bumgarner would spend almost three months on the disabled list. By the time he returned in mid-July, Melancon was on the DL with a pronator strain.
Melancon came off the DL in August, but did not pitch in the closer role, which had been turned over to Sam Dyson. Melancon’s season ended in early September.
Both Bumgarner and Melancon started the 2018 season on the DL.
Melancon made his season debut on June 3. Bumgarner made his debut two days later.
However, Melancon made his first seven appearances of 2018 in a non-closer role as the Giants worked him back into form.
With the Giants’ bullpen in flux after closer Hunter Strickland punched a door and broke his hand, Melancon got his first save opportunity on Thursday against the San Diego Padres. It came after Bumgarner threw eight shutout innings on 100 pitches.
With a 3-0 lead, Melancon got three outs, allowing just one hit, to record his first save since May 27, 2017.
And it was his first save of a Madison Bumgarner win, the sight the Giants have been waiting 18 months to see.
It was Bumgarner’s first win since beating the Dodgers on Sept. 23, 2017. It was his first outing without allowing a run since July 30, 2017, and his first eight-inning outing since April 8, 2017.
Ooooh, that looks really bad.
That was my first reaction after watching Evan Longoria get hit on the hand by a Dan Straily pitch on Thursday in Miami.
There are many factors that can lead someone to make a conclusion like that … how the player reacts, the angle that the ball deflects after hitting the player, the location of where the player got hit.
All of those factors with Longoria led me to believe it was bad.
But then Longoria shook it off and headed to first base. The trainer came out to have a look, but Longoria stayed in the game.
Then I felt “Oh, maybe we dodged a bullet there.”
But then while standing on first, I say Longoria gesture to the dugout.
After the game, Longoria said he decided to stay in the game because he didn’t need his hand to run the bases. But as he stood at first, he felt his hand get worse, not better.
So he exited the game and Alen Hanson took over at third base.
Typically what happens in cases like this is the player goes for X-rays. If the report is good, the club will make an announcement a couple of innings later saying that X-rays were negative and the player is day-to-day.
But no such report came. And the game limped on for SIXTEEN INNINGS.
So when the game finally ended and we learned Longoria had a fractured pinkie, it was no surprise.
And now Giants fans are left to ask a question they’ve been forced to ask all season.
The 2018 season has been a minefield of injuries. Here’s a look at the top 16 players on the Giants’ payroll and the time they have spent on the disabled list this season.
Try to find a week when at least three Giants were on the shelf at the same time.
The timeline for Longoria’s stint on the DL is about six weeks. That would put his return around Aug. 1.
With Brandon Belt making a rapid return from an appendectomy, the front line to step in to fill Longoria’s absense falls to Pablo Sandoval.
Bruce Bochy said so much on Friday. But that could be a cause for concern.
The 2018 version of Sandoval is not the same Sandoval from the Giants’ three tile runs. But the Panda has been productive in 2018.
In fact, from one viewpoint, Sandoval has been about as good as Longoria. To date, Sandoval has about half as many plate appearances as Longoria. If we doubled Sandoval’s production to match Longoria’s plate appearance, they are pretty comparable.
But with any statistical analysis, the deeper you go, the more catches you find.
In Sandoval’s case, 78 percent of his plate appearances have come as a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching. And that’s because recently his switch-hitting splits have been very wide.
In his entire career, Sandoval has been better from the left side, batting .295 as LH batter and .251 as a righty. Of his 130 career home runs, 111 have come from left season.
This season as a lefty, Sandoval is hitting .301/.359/.484. But as a righty, he’s .160/.276/.200. That horrendous split is the main reason Sandoval has stopped becoming an everyday player the past couple of seasons.
When you consider that more than one-third of the starting pitchers the Giants will face over the next six weeks are lefties, an alternative must be sought.
The first choice would seemingly be switch-hitting Hanson, who has been a bright spot this season as a minor-league signee in the offseason.
Hanson’s splits are better, but not great. Some 77 percent of Hanson’s plate appearances this season have come from the left side, where he’s been very good — .357/.390/.768. But from the right side, it drops to .267/.333/.400 in a very small sample size.
Over his brief big-league career, Hanson’s split have been pretty even, even if the lion’s share of PAs came as a lefty.
So a possible option for the Giants is to have Sandoval start against righties, and Hanson against lefties.
Another option is to recall Kelby Tomlinson and give him some at-bats against lefties. But he’s actually hit righties slightly better this year.
Against lefties, Tomlinson is .209/.277/.256.
One more option is to recall Ryder Jones, who is hitting .286 in Triple-A. But he’s a lefty batter and last year his .312 Triple-A average became a .173 big-league average.
Right now, it’s Sandoval first. We’ll see where that goes.
The second opinion Johnny Cueto went to get on Monday on his elbow wasn’t nearly as bad as most San Francisco Giants thought it would be.
And who could blame them?
Normally when a player goes to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion, it almost always comes back “Yep, you need surgery.”
But that’s not what Andrews said on Monday.
Cueto, the Giants’ ace of 2018 so far, was diagnosed with a sprained elbow ligament on Monday, and Andrews’ prescription was rest.
That means Cueto will be sidelined six to eight weeks. He won’t be pitching for the Giants again until late June at the earliest.
On the surface, that seems bad. But when you consider surgery would have meant Cueto would have missed the rest of 2018 and likely half of 2019, rest sounds pretty good.
Cueto was reported to have been “ecstatic, excited and pumped” by the news, which lends credibility to speculation that the first opinion Cueto got on his elbow was much more ominous.
Need further evidence? Manager Bruce Bochy said Cueto asked to pitch in Atlanta last weekend before seeing Andrews. That translates into he expected the worst from Andrews and figured he couldn’t do any more damage by pitching through the pain, which he had done very well in his previous two starts before going on the DL.
Now Cueto and the Giants hope the elbow responds to rest and rehab. That doesn’t always happen, and a real possibility of surgery being somewhere in Cueto’s future still exists.
So what will the Giants’ do between now and late June, while Cueto rests.
Well, Andrew Suarez will remain with the big club for at least late May, until Madison Bumgarner returns from his broken thumb. Suarez will get the chance to prove to deserves to remain beyond that.
Suarez is 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA in three starts with the Giants this season. He has 18 strikeouts against two walks in 17.2 innings. That’s one fewer walk than what Jeff Samardzija allowed in the first inning on Monday in Philadelphia.
Four of the six runs Suarez has allowed have come on home runs. Once Suarez figures out what pitches he can’t throw to big leaguers, he could be really, really good.
The Giants hope he is, because the depth pool for starting pitching in the organization gets a little thin after Suarez. Tyler Beede would be next up, but he’s not dazzling with his 1-2 mark and 4.84 ERA at Triple-A.
Beyond that, you’re looking at Dereck Rodriguez (4.26 ERA), Casey Kelly (9.25), Tyler Herb (5.59) and Jose Flores (4.50). Matt Gage got promoted from Double-A Richmond in April and has allowed just one earned run in 11 innings in two starts at Sacramento, so that’s something to watch. None of those pitchers are on the Giants’ 40-man roster.
And, of course, the Giants could kick the tires on Matt Harvey, who was designated for assignment by the Mets last week.
In the meantime, they’ll stick with the pitchers they have now, and hope the offense can give them good support, which they’ve been doing of late.
Saturday’s opening game of a split doubleheader was one to forget for San Francisco Giants fans.
It started out with the announcement that outfielder Mac Williamson would need to go on the 7-day concussion disabled list when he failed one last test on Saturday morning.
It got worse when the Giants announced the Joe Panik would need to go on the DL with a sprained thumb.
And things didn’t get any better when the game started. In the first inning, Chris Stratton had a hard time finding the strike zone, walking four Dodgers which led to three runs.
In the second inning, Stratton found too much of the strike zone and the Dodgers hammered him, sending him out of the game with one out in the second inning having allowed six runs.
And it didn’t get any better as the Dodgers tallied 15 runs on 20 hits and seven walks.
But then in the ninth inning came a little relief.
That’s when Pablo Sandoval became the first Giants position player to pitch in game since Greg Litton did it in 1992.
The Panda recorded a 1-2-3 inning.
“It’s not that easy, but I do everything I can to save some bullpen for the next game,” Sandoval said. “We lost the game, but we had a little fun at the end of the game.”
It provided a lot of reaction.
Manager Bruce Bochy said: “It did bring some levity to a real long game. With that said, it was pretty impressive what he did.”
Shortstop Brandon Crawford said: “”He was hitting corners. You do that, it’s tough to hit, tough to drive a ball, even if it’s 87 or whatever it was that he hit. He got us some ground balls.”
Pitcher Jeff Samardzija said: “A couple of more miles an hour, he’s serviceable.”
Even Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was impressed. “[I] like Pablo, like the arm stroke. Good secondary. Sometimes it’s amazing how certain people can make the game look so easy. It was a big inning for them. They needed him. It’s a crazy game. I was thinking [Austin] Slater, but Pablo was the right choice. Touching 88.”
It’s even more amazing when you remember that Sandoval was born a left-handed thrower. But as a child, he yearned to play shortstop, which is hard to do as a lefty. So his grandfather helped him learn to throw righty.
And he threw 88 on Saturday.
Because of that, we offer a new nickname for Pablo Sandoval.
The Panda Express.
Mac Williamson has arrived with the big club, but is he the savior just about every San Francisco Giants hopes he will be?
Williamson performed very well this spring after spending the winter retooling his swing with help from the same coach who helped turn the Dodgers’ Justin Turner into an All-Star.
Many Giants hoped Williamson would have been on the Giants’ opening day 25-man roster.
But a combination of manager Bruce Bochy wanting to have more defensive flexibility and Williamson still having an option year left sent the outfielder to Triple-A Sacramento, where he tore it up.
In just 11 games, Williamson hit 6 home runs, drove in 16, hit .487 with a .600 on-base percentage. Slugging 1.026, he had a whopping OPS of 1.626.
What may be most impressive is the fact that Williamson walked seven times and only struck out five.
Five strikeouts. Compare that to River Cats teammates Steven Duggar (16), Kyle Jensen (19) or Chris Shaw (21).
Now last season, Christian Arroyo tore it up in Sacramento in April, prompting a May call-up to the big club. Then he proceeded to struggle and was sent back to Triple-A after hitting below the Mendoza line.
But that was a 21-year-old Arroyo in his first stint in the bigs. Williamson is 27 and has had brief stints of success with the Giants, so he knows what to expect.
For the move to pay off for the Giants, Williamson does not need to match his Triple-A numbers, not that anyone is expecting that. In fact, he doesn’t even have to come close.
He just has to give the Giants something, anything. Because the Giants have received NOTHING from left field this season.
If you look at all eight positions, nowhere is the Giants getting anything less than from left field with team lows in batting (.188, .208 is next worst), on-base percentage (.219, .270 is next worst) and slugging (.203, .324 in next worst).
And those left-field numbers are largely the product of one player — Hunter Pence. Pence was hitting .172 with a team-worst .197 OBP, a team-worst slugging of .190 and a team-high 22 strikeouts.
Now I am not part of the chorus of fans shouting to cut Pence, saying he’s washed up. But even veteran San Francisco Chronicle writer suggested that this DL move could be simply a way for the Giants to delay making a hard decision regarding the future of Pence in his final contract year.
I don’t believe that. But it’s very hard to ignore how bad those numbers are.
Pence went to the DL because of a sprained thumb he first injured in the home opener against the Mariners.
Pence said he didn’t know if his thumb was the reason for his struggles, but it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t make things worse.
Of Pence’s 10 hits this season, four came in the four games before his injury, including in his only extra-base hit.
Pence started the season 4 for 15 (.267) before hurting his thumb, and .140 since. Now 15 at-bats is a very small sample size, but you can’t find another series of 15 at-bats this season in which he’s produced four hits since his injury.
And what’s worse, his strikeouts have increased. He struck out six times in his first eight games (29 plate appearances). He has struck out at least once in his last nine games — 16 whiffs in 32 PAs).
He clearly need time off to fix something, and that’s hard to do with a sore thumb.
Yet, Pence played in all of the Giants’ first 17 games, starting all but two.
That’s why I believe the thumb injury is a legit one.
While Pence heals (and/or rights himself), Williamson will get at least a couple of weeks with the big club.
The hope is he keeps hitting, provides a much-needed offensive spark and makes it very difficult for the Giants to send him back down.
But as long as Williamson can give the Giants something, they’ll be better off.
During the opening weeks of the season, Pence had an -0.4 WAR. That’s wins above replacement. And the replacement is your average Triple-A call-up.
The hope is that Williamson will be better than an average Triple-A call-up.
But with Pence setting a very low bar, anything Williamson can contribute will be a good thing.
The San Francisco Giants’ offense is struggling.
And while the Giants rank fourth in the National League in batting, their batting in run-scoring situations is horrible.
So we’ll look at just how horrible by using NL rankings in various statistical categories with runners in scoring position.
Not to play spoiler here, but it’s pretty horrible.
Batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP)
- Giants .158
- Cubs .193
- Nationals .210
- Brewers .220
- Dodgers .228
- Reds .228
- Rockies .229
- Cardinals .242
- Marlins .250
- Mets .255
- D-backs .263
- Padres .283
- Phillies .284
- Pirates .315
- Braves .333
On-base percentage with RISP
- Giants .263
- Brewers .295
- Dodgers .303
- Rockies .330
- Cardinals .331
- Nationals .335
- Marlins .336
- Cubs .341
- Reds .343
- Padres .348
- D-backs .376
- Pirates .381
- Phillies .388
- Mets .390
- Braves . 424
Slugging percentage with RISP
- Giants .219
- Dodgers .267
- Cubs .289
- Reds .316
- Brewers .341
- Nationals .364
- Marlins .370
- Rockies .375
- Cardinals .392
- Mets .415
- D-backs .447
- Padres .504
- Phillies .509
- Pirates .556
- Braves .558
Highest strikeout percentage (Ks divide by PAs) with RISP
- Giants .281
- Reds .264
- Cubs .250
- Marlins .236
- Brewers .229
- Phillies .228
- Cardinals .228
- Nationals .226
- Padres .224
- Rockies .212
- D-backs .211
- Mets .204
- Dodgers .200
- Pirates .173
- Braves .173
Lowest run percentage (runs divided PA) with RISP
- Giants .209
- Reds .221
- Brewers .271
- Nationals .282
- Rockies .305
- Cubs .310
- Marlins .323
- Dodgers .325
- Padres .329
- Cardinals .331
- Mets .358
- D-backs .387
- Braves .405
- Phillies .430
- Pirates .440
For those looking to point a finger at this struggle with RISP, here is how individual hitters with more than 10 plate appearances with RISP have fared for the Giants.
- Brandon Belt 3 for 10, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, .300 AVG, .429 OBP
- Buster Posey 3 for 12, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, .250 AVG, .375 OBP
- Joe Panik 2 for 12, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, .167 AVG, .231 OBP
- Andrew McCutchen 3 for 22, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, .136 AVG, .208 OBP
- Brandon Crawford 1 for 8, 1 RBI, 6 BB, 4 K, .125 AVG, .385 OBP
- Evan Longoria 1 for 10, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 6 K, .100 AVG, .182 OBP
- Hunter Pence 1 for 12, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K, .083 AVG, .143 OBP
- Other hitters 4 for 18, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, .222 AVG, .318 OBP
- Pitchers 0 for 10, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 8 K, .000 AVG, .000 OBP