What Giants are planning for outfield after failed Judge pursuit originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO -- For a few hours this week at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, the Giants could dream of everything lining up perfectly.
They had announced a three-year deal for Bay Area native Mitch Haniger and were hopeful that Aaron Judge would be the next to put pen to paper. An alignment of Judge in right, Mike Yastrzemski in center and Haniger in left would be light years better than last year's outfield, and with a little more health from Haniger and a little more consistency from Yastrzemski, the San Francisco Giants, of all teams, could have the best outfield in baseball.
The dream came crashing down at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning, but Judge's decision was not the only hit for the Giants. They're quickly running out of ways to rebuild their outfield.
Earlier in the week, Cody Bellinger agreed to a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. On Thursday night, Brandon Nimmo agreed to an eight-year, $162 million contract that easily surpassed all prior expectations in both years and total money.
The Giants kicked the tires on Nimmo, but the industry expectation was that New York Mets owner Steve Cohen would win that bidding. There was serious interest, though, in Bellinger, who played for Gabe Kapler and Farhan Zaidi in Los Angeles and was seeking just a one-year deal.
Kapler raised eyebrows during his press conference Tuesday when he opened by saying his policy was not to comment on free agents, then closed by speaking 263 words when asked about Bellinger specifically.
"I think he's one of the most interestingly talented defenders in the sport in center field," he said.
Bellinger, or at least the 2020-21 version, would have been a tough fit for the lineup. But he might have made up for that in run prevention. Giants center fielders ranked 25th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved last season. Their left fielders were dead last and their right fielders also rated below average.
Judge was Plan A, but adding an elite center fielder could push Haniger -- an average right fielder with a strong arm -- to left, and Yastrzemski to right, where he is potentially a Gold Glove Award winner. But about an hour after Kapler addressed the media, Bellinger became a Cub.
Regardless of how the next steps turn out, Kapler made one thing clear this week. Joc Pederson was brought back to be a DH, not a full-time outfielder. That alone will boost the outfield defense.
"As a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, in that sort of role, he's, like, elite. He's elite at that job," Kapler said. "He was one of the best hitters in baseball against righties last year and it would be no surprise to see him do that again, and I think we need to improve our outfield defense. I think that's not just a desire. We have to improve our outfield defense because we were one of the worst in baseball.
"We need to be better at converting ground balls into outs, so we're going to be really diligent about working on that [too]. Just like it has a cascading effect when you play s--tty defense, it also has a cascading effect when you play really good defense. We're going to get more athletic in the outfield and more athletic on the dirt and as a result I think we're going to be protecting our pitchers better and we're going to see the wake of that."
With Judge and Nimmo gone, the best outfielder remaining in free agency is Andrew Benintendi, who would bring contact skills but not that much power. He is part of a remaining group of players with plenty of warts. Jurickson Profar is an above-average hitter but poor defender in left. Kevin Keirmaier is a very good defensive center fielder but has a .690 OPS the last three seasons. Michael Conforto is someone the Giants have had interest in the past and they could try to rehabilitate him. After that, it's guys like Joey Gallo and David Peralta.
Zaidi has been clear that he wants a second outfield addition after Haniger and the Giants will check out the trade market, where Bryan Reynolds leads the way as a great fit, but at a very, very high price in terms of prospects. If he truly is available, there will be a bidding war across the game.
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It's also possible that the Giants react to this week's action by adding a first baseman. They flew to San Diego with Yastrzemski, Austin Slater, Luis Gonzalez and LaMonte Wade Jr. on the roster, with Wade looking headed for a lot of time as the left-handed half of a first base platoon. But Zaidi said the Giants might look for first base help now and play Wade in the outfield more often.
Yastrzemski's ability to play center allows for that. The Giants have viewed Yastrzemski as a crucial swing piece, someone who is great in right but also good in center. That allowed them to chase the dream of adding Haniger and Judge, but they now will have to pivot. After watching the AL home run king stay in New York, the outfield focus now will be a familiar one.
"I think the best way for us to upgrade is to go and get another really good defensive outfielder and then have Yaz and Haniger at the corners and LaMonte at first with the ability to go out there [in the outfield]," Zaidi said.