SAN FRANCISCO — On the first day of the annual Winter Meetings two years ago, the Giants signed Mark Melancon to what was then the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher. A few hours after word of the deal leaked, a team official laughed as he saw a reporter getting coffee.
“You might as well go home,” he said. “We’re done for the week.”
The Giants have in recent years worked on a narrow path. Bruce Bochy needed more innings from his rotation, so Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija were targeted. The bullpen blew up and knocked the team out of the postseason, so Melancon was the choice from the first hours of that offseason. The lineup needed right-handed thump, and thus the Giants were quickly connected to Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen.
This time around, there’s a much more unpredictable executive leading the way. Asked about Farhan Zaidi this week, a high-ranking team employee said “anything is possible” with the new team president making calls.
As everyone in the game heads to Las Vegas, let’s try to narrow that down a bit. What will the focus be for Zaidi and the rest of the front office when the Winter Meetings kick off Monday at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino? The offense is the biggest problem, but the rotation may actually get the most attention.
The Giants are intent on adding to a group led by Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, giving them the kind of depth that Andrew Friedman and Zaidi took advantage of in Los Angeles, where they regularly had double-digit options on hand.
Zaidi, could, though, subtract before he adds. The Giants will continue to listen on Bumgarner, although it’s unlikely he gets dealt before spring training.
During an appearance on KNBR this week, Zaidi said he already has touched base with the 29 other teams, and he has some interesting trade pieces to offer. Will Smith could help any contender, Tony Watson is coming off a big year and has a reasonable contract, and Sam Dyson could be dealt after signing a one-year deal to avoid arbitration.
The bigger waves will come if Zaidi decides to make the kind of salary-swapping trade the Dodgers pulled off last year when they acquired Matt Kemp. Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt are the two main candidates in that respect.
For much of the sport, next week will be about Bryce Harper, a Las Vegas native and resident who surely will host a few meetings. The Giants have downplayed their interest for much of the offseason, but it’s possible they’ll seek a sitdown. They traditionally have gotten into the room with the biggest free agents.
Harper’s decision isn’t expected to come anytime soon, so the more immediate focus for the Giants will be adding outfielders and versatile players to a lineup that was the worst in the NL by many measures last season. But don’t expect Zaidi to feel pressure to make a move just for the sake of making a move.
Zaidi is known as a creative thinker, and it will take some time for his vision to come together. The holdovers in the front office know better than most the value in being patient. Two of the best players on the 2018 roster — Watson and Derek Holland — were signed weeks after the holidays.
“We will certainly operate with a strong motivation and maybe even a sense or urgency through this offseason, but it is a long offseason,” Zaidi said on KNBR. “You’ve seen a couple of things happen early on but we’re heading into the Winter Meetings. You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and maybe give up some flexibility on your roster or from a financial standpoint, where a week or two later you think, ‘Oh man, if we had just held off.'”