Giants banking on young guys to fill void

Opportunities available in left field, bullpen

Giants banking on young guys to fill void

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Giants squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the vision?

SAN FRANCISCO -- For many ballclubs in most team sports at any level, ability comes from stability. Hence the Giants hope that 2017 will be a year when younger players establish themselves in new roles.

"With the intent of sustaining success," Giants general manager Bobby Evans said.

The spotlight will be trained all spring long on left field, where Jarrett Parker, 28, and Mac Williamson, 26, are leading candidates to become Opening Day starters. They replace Angel Pagan, 35, and Gregor Blanco, 33, in San Francisco's outfield contingent.

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Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker will compete for the left-field job.AP

The bullpen also will receive an influx of younger performers. Gone are free agents Santiago Casilla, 36 (signed with A's) and Sergio Romo, 33 (Dodgers). The revamped group of relievers, each of whom has Major League experience, is expected to include Steven Okert, 25, Derek Law, 26, and Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich, both 28.

"I want to help solidify us as the top team in the West. That's what we're looking to accomplish," Evans said. "This season and this spring we're looking for young players in the system to get a chance to elevate their status, elevate their role and elevate their ability to contribute."

Evans pointed out that the nucleus of the roster is under contractual control beyond this season, most notably catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt, second baseman Joe Panik, shortstop Brandon Crawford, third baseman Conor Gillaspie, center fielder Denard Span, right fielder Hunter Pence, starters Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore and closer Mark Melancon.

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Right-hander Johnny Cueto is signed through 2021, though he can opt out of his contract after this season. Cueto's decision could influence the Giants' strategy as they ponder a contract extension for Bumgarner, who'll earn $11.7 million this year under terms of an exceedingly club-friendly contract. As a four-time All-Star and postseason hero, Bumgarner already has considerable bargaining power. If Cueto were to depart, Bumgarner's leverage would multiply.

San Francisco's acquisition of Melancon, the free agent who signed for four years and $62 million (with a opt-out clause following 2018), remains the team's most significant offseason move.

"The biggest change to the team this winter is being very clear on who's pitching the ninth inning," Evans said. "There's no debate as to who our closer is. That's clearly in Mark Melancon's hands. It really makes the team better."

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Evans mentioned another factor that would further improve the Giants: Matt Cain's return to full health. The former staff ace owns a 16-29 record with a 4.64 ERA since 2013, compared with 85-78 with a 3.27 ERA before that. Cain faces competition from rookies Ty Blach, Chris Stratton and Clayton Blackburn for the No. 5 starting spot. But if Cain's physically whole and able to recapture his winning form, the three-time All-Star and perfect game author almost certainly will remain in the rotation.

"I'm hoping Matt Cain's able to accomplish being Matt Cain again, not only this spring but this season," Evans said. "Because that makes us a stronger and better team."

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.