Less than 48 hours after their season ended with a loss to the Cubs in the NLDS, the Giants were ready to announce a change to their makeup.
Base coaches Billy Hayes and Roberto Kelly will not return to the staff in 2017, general manager Bobby Evans said during the Giants’ end-of-season press conference Thursday.
Both were in their second season in their current capacity, Kelly coaching third base and Hayes at first. Evans did not say whether the two coaches would be reassigned within the organization and gave a general reason for the shakeup.
“We feel like we just need to grow our leadership on the field in terms of how we approach our base-running and our overall efforts, first to third, second to home,” he said. “We want to look at some different leadership there, feel like we can get stronger.”
Evans said he does expect the rest of the Giants’ coaching staff to return, though he said one club with an open managerial position has already contacted him about bench coach Ron Wotus.
Evans said the Giants will look “inside and outside” for replacement base coaches. Steve Decker, Shawon Dunston and Eli Whiteside, all members of their current coaching staff, could be candidates along with Jose Alguacil, who managed in Triple-A Sacramento this year and joined the Giants after the River Cats’ season ended.
Both Evans and manager Bruce Bochy also threw their support Thursday behind hitting coach Hensley Meulens, a target for criticism amid the Giants’ offensive struggles in the second half.
Evans said “one of the jobs for the hitting coaches, for me, is that they stay positive and continue to get the work in to help these guys prepare.” Bochy said that both Meulens and Decker, the assistant hitting coach, filled that responsibility.
“They did a nice job keeping these guys positive,” Bochy said. “And when we did need them, they responded, and that’s how we got to the postseason.”
Pending free agents – Evans said the Giants have not yet “drawn any conclusions or lines in the sand” on any of their free agents, which include outfielders Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco, and relief pitchers Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo.
During his remarks to the team following Tuesday’s season-ending loss, Bochy “made a point to thank all the free agents. We don’t know what’s going to happen … but what they’ve done for us and our success, I couldn’t thank them enough.”
Bochy said he also talked to the free agents individually but did not get a chance to talk with Casilla, the embattled ex-closer who was reportedly distraught over not being used during the Giants’ ninth-inning collapse Tuesday night.
“I will touch base with him,” Bochy said. “He did so much for us, when you look at his body of work in the postseason and during the season.
“I know there were some hiccups with him. I was trying to keep him out of high-leverage situations because that towards the end. But this guy really helped us, put some rings on our fingers. And I’ll never forget that, and appreciate his work for us.”
Who’s in left? – If the Giants do part ways with Pagan, they will have a spot to fill in left field. Evans said the Giants “have to explore all options,” but that internal candidates Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson have both “made a great impression.”
“Those guys exude power potential,” Evans said. “They haven’t done it yet.”
Evans said the Giants actually projected both to hit for more power than Adam Duvall, who they traded to the Reds last season for Mike Leake. Duvall hit 33 home runs this season, though playing in amuch more homer-friendly stadium than AT&T Park.
“We feel like both have good chances of helping us next year,” Evans said. “How that plays out depending on the winter and our options, we’ll see.”
Et cetera – The Giants are more set at third base with Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie. Nunez is under contract next season and Gillaspie, who is arbitration-eligible, emerged in the last month as a more-than-capable backup option.
Evans said some combination of those two players is “most likely the direction we’ll go,” though he added: “I love Nunez on an everyday basis. He brings some fire.”
▪ Evans said Matt Cain will compete for the Giants’ fifth rotation spot next spring, with Ty Blach as his main competition.
Cain was limited by injuries again this year, pitching 89 1/3 innings and going 4-8 with a 5.64 ERA. It was the third consecutive season Cain has failed to reach 100 innings. Evans said the Giants could explore using Cain as a long reliever, but that “he’ll come into spring training expecting to start and be given every opportunity. He deserves that.”
Blach earned starting consideration with his work down the stretch after being called up from Triple-A, including pitching eight scoreless innings against the Dodgers the second-to-last day of the season. Albert Suarez will be considered for long relief, Evans said.
▪ There was plenty of speculation that Buster Posey played with undisclosed injuries for much of the second half that sapped his offensive production. Posey batted .288, a career low for a full season, with 14 homers – just two after July 16 – and 80 RBIs. Evans said even if Posey was hurt more than he let on, “he plays a lot of things close to the vest. He’s not an excuse guy.”
Posey made a career-high 122 starts at catcher this season, which Evans said was Posey’s goal. And to revisit a recurring topic, Evans said there is still no plan to move Posey out from behind the plate, where he threw out 37 percent of would-be base-stealers this season and ranks among the best in the league in pitch framing.
“There’s value to having him out there every day,” Evans said, “even if it does hurt his power.”
▪ In a year that saw home runs spike across the majors, the Giants ranked third-to-last with 130 as a team. That does not mean, however, that they will prioritize a middle-of-the-order bat this winter.
“I think our (offensive) strength is the links in the chain,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean. “It starts with the health. We saw when they were back in the lineup as such, as a unit, had set spots, had some rest, they reared their head at the biggest time. So I think we have enough talent.
“The magic number in the National League is still four. It doesn’t make any difference how you score them. If you score four-plus runs, you’re going to have a chance to win 90-plus games.”