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Inbox: Are Giants at a crossroads?

Beat reporter Chris Haft answers questions from fans
MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

During his time as the Dodgers' general manager, current Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was able to help build prospect depth by taking on large contracts, essentially "buying" prospects. Considering how weak the Giants' farm system is, and considering how much money they could realistically spend, do you see the current situation as an option for San Francisco to leverage its ability to spend to build organizational depth?
-- Nate W., Melcher Dallas, Iowa

Eventually, perhaps. Right now, probably not. Zaidi inherited some cumbersome contracts that he won't be able to shed in order to create payroll flexibility. That is, unless those players suddenly thrive -- in which case they're suddenly worth the money. The list includes third baseman Evan Longoria ($14.6 million in 2019, $15.2 million in 2020, $18.6 million in 2021 and $19.6 million in 2022); first baseman Brandon Belt ($17.2 million in each of the next three seasons); right-hander Jeff Samardzija ($19.8 million in each of the next two seasons) and right-hander Johnny Cueto ($21 million in each of the next three seasons).

During his time as the Dodgers' general manager, current Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was able to help build prospect depth by taking on large contracts, essentially "buying" prospects. Considering how weak the Giants' farm system is, and considering how much money they could realistically spend, do you see the current situation as an option for San Francisco to leverage its ability to spend to build organizational depth?
-- Nate W., Melcher Dallas, Iowa

Eventually, perhaps. Right now, probably not. Zaidi inherited some cumbersome contracts that he won't be able to shed in order to create payroll flexibility. That is, unless those players suddenly thrive -- in which case they're suddenly worth the money. The list includes third baseman Evan Longoria ($14.6 million in 2019, $15.2 million in 2020, $18.6 million in 2021 and $19.6 million in 2022); first baseman Brandon Belt ($17.2 million in each of the next three seasons); right-hander Jeff Samardzija ($19.8 million in each of the next two seasons) and right-hander Johnny Cueto ($21 million in each of the next three seasons).

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Is Derek Holland returning?
-- Michael W., New York

The short answer is, "I don't know." And the uncertainty isn't good for the Giants as they approach next week's Winter Meetings.

This issue has gone overlooked while most folks obsess over Madison Bumgarner's status. Of course, the preoccupation with Bumgarner makes sense. He's a key figure, whether he sticks around to serve as the pitching staff's ace or if he's traded for a package of prospects. However, keep in mind that Holland rebounded nicely from a subpar 2017 season to lead San Francisco in starts, innings and strikeouts. The Giants needed his unexpected contributions just to maintain a semblance of respectability.

A significant void would be created if the Giants lost both Bumgarner and Holland. Zaidi indicated that plenty of changes are in store when he declined to tender 2019 contracts to outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and right-hander Hunter Strickland last Friday. One gets the feeling that both players would have been retained under previous regimes. Certainly the Giants could use an extreme makeover. But a handful of players are worth keeping, and one of them is Holland, who provided stability on the mound and a pleasant sense of ease in the clubhouse. Removing Holland from the free-agent pool by signing him in the near future would be a positive move for the Giants.

What are your thoughts on Joey Bart? When will he arrive?
-- Dick L., Detroit

We could see Bart as a September callup next year, depending on how the season unfolds. As fabulous as everybody says he is, he'll likely begin the season with Class A Advanced San Jose, if only because virtually every homegrown Giant who made an impact in the Majors passed through Silicon Valley first. Two of the best, Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey, were promoted for good from Triple-A in early May of 2007 and late May of 2010, respectively. It was Lincecum's second professional season and Posey's third. I have no idea whether Bart is as skilled as either Lincecum or Posey. For now, I'll take a conservative view and predict a 2020 arrival in the Majors for him. If Bart proves that he's ready for the bigs sooner than that, the timetable surely will be recalibrated.

Top 30 Giants prospects

As a longtime Giants fan from the East Coast who was devastated by the passing of Willie McCovey, can you share a story about this great man and cite some of his incredible statistics? "Stretch" was feared and hit some of he hardest balls I've seen. This is for some of the younger Giants fans who know of him but weren't lucky enough to see him play.
-- Lisa D., Brooklyn, N.Y.

My favorite McCovey factoids always will include these figures: From 1965 through 1970, an era mostly dominated by superb starting pitching, McCovey batted .291 while averaging 38 home runs and 106 RBIs per season. He and Hank Aaron led the Majors with 226 homers apiece in this span. McCovey stood alone at the top with 636 RBIs.

I shared most of my McCovey anecdotes in the stories I wrote immediately following his death, but here's one more: I saw him receive a special cap to wear for one of the Giants' World Series ring ceremonies that bore a gold "SF" instead of the usual orange logo. Once the cap was in his big hands, he didn't hesitate for even an instant. He turned it over and bent the bill into a crescent shape. Only then did he don the cap. Old-school. Big league. Fabulous stuff.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

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