San Francisco Giants bonus mailbag: What will the front office, Gabe Kapler do to end playoff drought?

It’s Christmas Day and no, the San Francisco Giants have not given free agent starting pitcher Trevor Bauer a 10-figure gift.
Many Giants fans are eager to see the team emerge as Bauer’s top destination in free agency and in part one of our Christmas mailbag, we evaluated the franchise’s pursuit of the right-hander and why adding an elite starter this offseason would set San Francisco up well for the future.
Questions about Bauer and the Giants’ approach to free agency can be found in part one, while this portion of the mailbag focuses on how Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Gabe Kapler expect to end the team’s four-year postseason drought.
As always, the questions have been lightly edited for spelling and clarity. If you don’t see your question answered, check if another person had a similarly phrased query. If you’re still not finding what you’re looking for, send me an email at kcrowley@bayareanewsgroup.com.
Question from @TearsAreBlue: The Giants were one win away from a postseason spot. Is the expectation this year to make the postseason?
Beat writer Kerry Crowley: Absolutely.
As we discussed in part one of the mailbag, finding a way to overtake the Padres as the second-best team in the division could be a major challenge, but the Giants are entering Year Three of the Farhan Zaidi era. There are no excuses for a team with the payroll flexibility and pedigree of the Giants to miss the postseason five straight years.
Fans expect steady progress and after missing the postseason by one win, so do executives, coaches and players.
Question from Andrew Bader: With a strike in 2022 looming, is ownership ok with Zaidi not making the playoffs in the first 4 years of his 5 year deal?
Crowley: As a quick follow-up to the last question, I’ll add this.
I don’t think ownership would be satisfied with missing the playoffs again next year, but barring a major regression, I also don’t think Zaidi would enter the 2022 season on the hot seat if the Giants are competitive. If there’s a strike, that won’t be held against him. If the Giants miss the playoffs four straight years in which there’s an actual season, then there would be some questions.
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From everyone I’ve talked to in the organization, there’s still an overwhelming sense of positivity and optimism that Zaidi and Harris have the Giants headed in the right direction. We all know how quickly that can change, but turnover in the front office isn’t on anyone’s minds right now.
Question from Alfonso Marquez: Is Gabe Kapler a long term fit for the management position in San Francisco?
Crowley: If you asked me this question immediately following Kapler’s introductory press conference last November, I would have said no.
Thirteen months later, I think Kapler is a much better hire than Zaidi was given credit for and I think he proved he could be a long-term fit for the position by hiring a coaching staff filled with innovative minds who were able to think outside the box and challenge many of the team’s veteran players to improve.
Kapler’s ability to manage a pitching staff will still be monitored closely this season, but it’s important to remember Zaidi handed him a bullpen with a huge group of unproven relievers and they posted the lowest ERA in the majors over the final six weeks of the regular season.
Is Kapler an ideal long-term fit? I don’t think anyone can say that after 60 games. What I do know is that he navigated an incredibly challenging year without many major hiccups and his team demonstrated significant improvements over a two-month period of games. There were many positive developments, and many more than most people (myself included) expected.
Question from Gary Enriquez: What stats can be used to measure the coaching staff? They got a lot of praise last year, wondering how you measure growth aside from wins?
Crowley: It’s relatively easy to cherry-pick favorable and unfavorable stats when evaluating coaches, but I like to look at year-over-year improvements or regressions and stats that measure a team’s performance as opposed to the performance of an individual.
One of the reasons I prefer team stats is because a hitting coach can help one or two players make major strides, but if the rest of the lineup struggles, it’s hard to say a hitting coach was effective.
When evaluating hitting coaches, I like to look at OPS+ because it takes my favorite offensive stat (OPS) and adjusts it to a player’s ballpark. When evaluating pitching coaches, I look at ERA+ because it takes my favorite pitching stat (ERA) and does the same.
In 2020, Giants hitters posted a 115 OPS+, up from 83 in 2019. 100 is league average. In 2020, Giants pitchers posted a 93 ERA+, down from 97 in 2019.
Does this mean the pitching coaches were bad? I’d argue no, in part because the staff was so inexperienced. If the ERA+ doesn’t improve in 2021, I’d say that’s a bad sign. There are a lot of other stats you can use, but these are a few I start with.
Question from Josh Yuen: Is Reyes Moronta leading closer by committee in 2021?
Crowley: The answer may surprise you, but I’ll say no.
Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter knows I think Reyes Moronta has as much potential as any reliever the Giants have used over the last three years, but I think Moronta will enter spring training needing to prove a lot to the coaching staff to secure a chance to pitch in high-leverage situations.
Moronta was on track to pitch at the end of the 2020 season after recovering from major shoulder surgery, but that opportunity never materialized because his fastball velocity was a few ticks down and he wasn’t in great shape. Kapler has issued a challenge to Moronta to do everything he can to put himself in position to contribute, but I’d be surprised if Moronta was the first pitcher given the chance to close games in 2021.
Next season, keep your eyes on Camilo Doval. I’m giving the hard-throwing righty a chance to make the Opening Day bullpen and it wouldn’t stun me to see him take over as the closer by the end of the season.
Question from Phil Malan: Out of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt, who is the most likely to return after this season?
Crowley: I like this question because it’s one I’ve started to contemplate a lot in thinking about how the Giants restructure the top end of their roster entering the 2022 season. With a trio of longtime homegrown starters set to hit free agency at the same time, there’s no question the Giants’ lineup could soon look drastically different.
With that being said, I don’t think it’s out of the question that at least one and possibly two of the players you mentioned return.
Buster Posey has stated his preference to remain with the Giants until the end of his career and depending on how he performs in 2021, he may be best suited for a part-time role moving forward which would allow him to catch, play some first base and potentially serve as a designated hitter if he’s still able to be an above-average contributor at the plate. I’d guess he’s the most likely member of the trio to remain in San Francisco beyond next season, but this is a front office and a coaching staff that loves Brandon Belt and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him return too.
The Giants don’t have a first baseman in waiting and they love the way Belt’s approach at the plate helped set the tone for the 2020 team, so I’d rank him second behind Posey. It’s hard to know what the future holds beyond this season for Brandon Crawford, but with so many elite shortstops hitting free agency next offseason and Crawford still likely able to be a solid starter for a team, he may look elsewhere if the Giants can’t give him more than a platoon role.
Question from John Anderson: Can the Giants expect to continue their competitive head-to-head play vs. the Dodgers without a left-hander in their starting rotation?
Crowley: Important question here because if the Giants plan on improving in 2021, it seems that staying relatively competitive with the first-place Dodgers in head-to-head matchups would provide a solid foundation.
It’s no secret the Dodgers have been loaded with hitters who thrash right-handed pitchers, and while the expected loss of free agent Joc Pederson may hurt, they still have Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy. I’d think the Giants would want at least one left-handed starter to create a favorable platoon advantage, but Zaidi would probably say that all of those guys can hit righties and lefties and some of their right-handed hitters (e.g. Mookie Betts) are simply tough outs regardless of who’s on the mound.
I understand the Giants’ desire to add quality starting pitchers over a starter who is average and left-handed, but I also think there should be a sense of urgency to acquire more quality. The rotation as it stands isn’t good enough to go head-to-head with the Dodgers and adding strong starting pitching should remain the front office’s top priority.
Question from Jesse Myers Sterling: Has Buster Posey expressed any interest in coaching or broadcasting after his playing days are through? Same question for Pence; and Sandoval (Kung Fu Panda broadcasting in Spanish, obviously). Want these dudes to be “Forever Giants” in the truest sense and the word!
Crowley: Good question and one that’s come up several times because a lot of fans want to know what Posey’s plans are when he eventually does retire.
I don’t see Posey coaching (in the professional ranks), broadcasting or having any sort of a prominent role unless it’s in a philanthropic capacity. Posey would make a good manager because of the way he processes the game and the respect he commands in the clubhouse, but I don’t think there’s any desire on his part to pursue something like that. My guess is he’ll want to work with children, continue his charity work and find ways to help others outside of sport.
As for Pence and Sandoval, I’m sure the Giants would love to find ways to keep them involved. I could easily see Pence sitting in the analyst chair at NBC Sports Bay Area and Sandoval would be an excellent addition to the broadcasting team when his playing career ends. Both have made enough money in baseball that they don’t need a second career, but they aren’t the type of people who are going to sit back and rest.
Question from Ryan Wallace: I know the front office is searching for another CF, what is the apprehension with giving the everyday job to Mauricio Dubón whereas having one of our glut of infielders spell Crawford once a week barring injury?
Crowley: Not sure I follow this whole question, but I’ll do my best to answer. The Giants see a lot of value in Dubón’s defensive versatility and while they think he can be an above-average center fielder, they also believe he can be an above-average shortstop and second baseman.
Having a player who can move around the diamond so freely allows a manager to look for favorable matchups late in games and gives him more flexibility when substituting, so that’s why the Giants want a left-handed hitting player who can complement Dubón in center field.
With regard to Crawford, it’s been a 10-year failure on the part of multiple Giants front offices to find him a competent backup. If Crawford had a bit more rest each season, his numbers would look better and the Giants may have a few more wins each year.
Question from Michael B: What’s the point of playing in the NL West? It’s looking ugly for years to come.
Crowley: If the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t end soon, my dating life is also looking ugly for the foreseeable future. Hasn’t stopped me from holding out hope. Don’t think the Giants will be deterred by their circumstances, either.

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