MLB.com Columnist

Mark Feinsand

Giants looking to improve, turn season around

Giants looking to improve, turn season around

These are tough times for the Giants.

After watching San Francisco's even-year magic come to an end last season, general manager Bobby Evans said this spring he hoped to establish a new trend with a Giants championship in an odd-numbered year.

"It's an odd thought, but I'm very much liking it," Evans said in late March.

There can't be very much for Evans to like at the moment. Even after salvaging the final game of their three-game set against the Mets at Citi Field, the 12-23 Giants remain in sole possession of last place in the National League West.

San Francisco has a championship pedigree, having won World Series titles in 2010, '12 and '14. The bulk of its roster was part of that last championship team, with several of those key players sporting two or three rings.

Evans on long tenure with Giants

None of that matters in 2017.

The Giants' brutal start to the season has some wondering if Evans will find himself selling off pieces before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, something they haven't done in quite some time. Evans told reporters on Tuesday that he's not thinking about the Deadline yet -- at least not in terms of being a seller.

"We are going to be strategic; our mindset is not to get too far ahead of ourselves," Evans said. "We're in May. We're not looking at the Trade Deadline right now. We're evaluating trade opportunities that will improve our club; that's our focus. Our focus right now is to look toward improving this club and try to get us back to position where we're competing in our division, which we're not right now."

Those opportunities are unlikely to be there for another month, by which point that approach could change. What if the Giants decide at that point to become sellers? Do they have anything valuable to sell?

In terms of expiring contracts, infielder Eduardo Nunez would appear to be San Francisco's best asset. Backup catcher Nick Hundley also falls into that category, though neither player figures to bring back any notable prospects. Not that the organization is concerning itself with that at the moment.

"It's too early to think about that," Nunez said. "The only thing on my mind right now is to win games and to start playing better. We have to figure it out. We're professionals. We're in last place today, but in two weeks, we can be in first place. Why worry about it now?"

The most interesting trade chip would be Johnny Cueto, the former 20-game winner who has posted five quality starts in his first seven outings this season. Cueto would be a solid upgrade to any rotation, but his contract situation makes acquiring him a tad more complicated than usual.

Cueto's 10 K's in 10 seconds

Cueto signed a six-year, $130 million contract with the Giants before the 2016 season, a deal that includes an opt-out clause at the end of this season.

So would teams view Cueto as a two- or three-month rental who will become a free agent this fall or a player signed through 2021?

"Any team trading for him has to treat him like a free agent, yet be willing to risk him getting hurt and having four years and a lot of money left on his deal," an NL executive said. "It's a tricky situation."

History shows that most players exercise their opt-out clause, confident there are more dollars -- and more guaranteed years -- waiting for them on the other side. But what if Cueto has a terrible few months? Or worse, what if he sustains a major injury? With four years and $89 million guaranteed on the contract should he not opt out, that's quite a gamble to take.

"I view it essentially as a player option and not that valuable for a club, because he likely opts out if he pitches well," one general manager said. "But if he becomes injured or underperforms, it's now an obligation."

Added a second GM: "It's a significant issue that certainly muddies the water. Without some assurances, the other 29 clubs would have to view him as a pending free agent."

Posey's solo homer to left

San Francisco has the bulk of its core locked up with long-term deals, making most of the club's attractive players unlikely to be traded. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Jeff Samardzija, Mark Melancon and Brandon Belt are all signed through at least 2020, accounting for more than $90 million in payroll that season. Posey, Crawford and Belt are signed through the season after that, during which they will earn a combined $53.8 million.

In other words, the Giants will be winning or losing with their guys for the immediate future.

Posey, who homered in all three games at Citi Field this week, couldn't pick out one specific area the Giants were struggling with during this nightmarish start. That makes a turnaround even more challenging, but Posey and his teammates must figure it out over the next eight weeks or changes -- whatever those might be -- could be in the works.

"Hopefully the tides will turn," Posey said. "I think as players, we have to try to compartmentalize as much as we can. Focus on today, focus on trying to win a game today; whatever happens in a month or two months, hopefully we're in a position where that's not the case."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.