Shifting on from Slater, Ahmed a ‘vote of confidence’ in younger gamers – The Mercury Information

Nick Ahmed #16 of the San Francisco Giants stands safely on second base after a sacrifice fly by Austin Slater #13 in the ninth inning of their MLB game at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 24, 2024. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

SAN FRANCISCO – When the Giants team bus arrived at Oracle Park late Sunday night, finally home from a six-game tour of Atlanta and Cleveland, someone was waiting to pick them up.

Farhan Zaidi, the club's top baseball executive, had news he wanted to deliver in person.

Austin Slater, the Giants’ longest-serving player, was traded to Cincinnati.

The departure of the outfielder, who was drafted by the previous regime in 2014, made his debut in 2017 and became one of the most productive platoon players in the major leagues, with a batting average of .275 and an OPS of .804 in 872 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, was just a sign of things to come.

Between the final out of their road trip and the start of their final home game before the All-Star break, the Giants reshuffled the deck with clear intent. Less than 72 hours later, they parted ways with another veteran, shortstop Nick Ahmed, who was scheduled to play before Tuesday's series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We've talked a lot about giving some of our young players opportunities and adding athleticism to the squad. One of the best ways to do that is to bring the young players forward and give them roles,” Zaidi said before Tuesday's game. “More than anything, this is a vote of confidence in these guys.”

That the move comes the same week that one of their young outfielders, Heliot Ramos, was named an All-Star was a coincidence, but the performance that led to that recognition gives the Giants some confidence that their other young prospects — most notably Luis Matos and Tyler Fitzgerald — can handle bigger roles just as well.

They enter their final home game before the All-Star break with three wins in their last four series against playoff contenders, but still three games under .500. Zaidi said the Giants' record is “a real cause for dissatisfaction” and “we can say we feel like we have positive momentum, (but) we're still three games under .500. We have to find a way to get better.”

With three weeks to go before the July 30 transfer deadline, Zaidi hinted that those improvements would come more from within. Their beleaguered starting lineup is slowly getting back into shape after Blake Snell returned from the injured list on Tuesday and Robbie Ray and Alex Cobb will join him soon after the All-Star break.

On the outfield side, the Giants expect playing time in right field to be split between Matos and Mike Yastrzemski and at shortstop between Fitzgerald and Brett Wisely, who, like Ramos, has proven to be a revelation, giving management the confidence to part ways with a pair of flagging veterans.

“As we look at some of these internal options, some of these young players that we think can continue to bring energy to this team and help us, I think it's fair to say that giving them as many opportunities as possible in the final weeks before the deadline will help us,” Zaidi said. “I think we have areas of depth and areas where we're a little weak. When I look at our team, I think we have pretty solid players at pretty much every position on the field. …

“There's nothing that jumps out at us as a stopgap measure, we just take whatever is available on the commercial market. When you're in it, there's always the expectation and pressure to do something to change the mix, but we have to be careful that whatever we do is a meaningful improvement.”

Originally signed as a backup to promising shortstop Marco Luciano in spring training, Ahmed later won the opening day job and appeared in 52 games, maintaining his reputation as a strong defensive player, delivering some timely hits and maintaining a .232 batting average and .581 OPS.

After battling injuries to his throwing arm and side in spring training and then missing three weeks of the regular season with a concussion, Slater battled through his most difficult season at the plate, posting a .200 batting average with a .575 OPS in 43 games, but that didn't diminish his impact in the locker room.

Slater served as the league's player representative to the players' union until mid-last year and was “the biggest piece of the puzzle for us” as the league navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, said his platoon partner Yastrzemski.

“He was there at every meeting,” Yastrzemski said. “It's very selfless things like that. He wanted to make sure everyone in the league was taken care of. I think that was his character overall, a guy who maybe didn't get on the field as much as he could have and was always looking out for the team and everyone's well-being. So it's tough to miss that presence in the locker room, but we still have a great group here.”

Zaidi said he was saying goodbye to a player of Slater's stature: “It may not change the path you're on, but it's one you want to show the utmost respect for as you go down it. It's a big deal. I drove here because I wanted to have this conversation with him personally (with manager Bob Melvin).”

Yastrzemski, who holds the title of longest-serving member of the team, learned shortly after Slater that he would be getting a new teammate. For the past six years, he and Slater have held down the fort in the outfielder's corner of the clubhouse.

“I grabbed my bag and walked out when he said goodbye. I was like, 'What do you mean?'” Yastrzemski recalled. “He was like, 'I just got traded.' Like, what? It happened really fast and it was a shock, but that's baseball. You just show up the next day and keep doing your job.”

On Tuesday, Slater’s old locker got a new resident: Ramos.


— Where does the top candidate come from? Marco Luciano fit into this youth movement? In 54 games at Triple-A Sacramento, he has a .230 batting average with a .687 OPS and has split his time between shortstop, second baseman and designated hitter. “But we're not giving up the shortstop role for him,” Zaidi said.

— As for the reinforcements the Giants want to add in the second half of their rotation, Robbie Ray is closer than Alex Cobb. Ray was expected to throw about 65 pitches for Single-A San Jose on Tuesday, which Melvin called a “big day for Robbie.” Cobb will follow Ray on Wednesday with his third rehab start for San Jose, but Melvin said the right-hander will need “three or four” more, while Ray is “right on the fence.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button