Luis Gonzalez game-winner exemplifies Giants’ creative way to add talent


Giants’ creative way to add talent pays off with Gonzalez originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — Farhan Zaidi doesn’t talk much about his demolition of the Los Angeles Dodgers fantasy football league, and he certainly won’t be giving away any of the secrets that allowed him to beat the stars of those teams three years in a row. But if you watch the way Zaidi manages the Giants, you can get a sense of how he might churn through running back and wide receiver options.

Like a fantasy manager who waives his kicker for a few days every week and stashes running back flyers, Zaidi has never, ever let a potential Giants roster opening go to waste. It seems that whenever the Giants have an open 40-man spot, they find a way to claim a young player who was let go elsewhere. On Monday night, one of last year’s lottery tickets paid off in a huge way.

Luis Gonzalez hit the go-ahead homer against the Milwaukee Brewers in a 4-2 win that capped off a very impressive 8-3 road trip. It was his third start with the Giants, who made a series of roster moves last August and managed to sneak a toolsy 25-year-old outfielder into their organization.

Gonzalez was ranked 19th on Baseball America’s midseason top 30 prospects list for the White Sox, but he injured his right shoulder while diving for a ball in July. When the White Sox needed to take star outfielder Luis Robert off the 60-day IL, they decided not to put Gonzalez on it. Instead, he was DFA’d on Aug. 9, one day after the Giants had done the same with veteran right-hander Aaron Sanchez.

The Giants’ 40-man spot would ultimately be needed for Evan Longoria, who was rehabbing his own shoulder injury and was also on the 60-day IL, but the Giants had a free spot for a few days until Longoria was ready, and they pounced on gonzalez. Longoria was activated on Aug. 14 with the Giants temporarily opening up a spot for him by putting right-hander Jay Jackson on the COVID IL — which doesn’t count against the 40-man roster — with vaccine side effects. When Jackson returned the next day, Gonzalez finally went on the 60-day IL.

That is a series of roster moves that boils down to this: The White Sox didn’t want to pay Gonzalez big league money while he rehabbed. The Giants did.

“Talking to my agent, for them to put me on the 60 (day IL) after claiming me, that’s something that the White Sox didn’t do,” Gonzalez said last week. “It shows that the interest is there. And this is where I want to be.”

That last part was important, because Gonzalez became a free agent in the offseason while he was still rehabbing from surgery. He said other teams contacted his agent, but he already liked what he had seen from an organization that showed a lot of faith in his abilities. If you’re a Triple-A hitter looking to break through, there aren’t many places better than the current home of Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr.

“It was always come back here,” Gonzalez said. “My eyes were set on the Giants.”

The decision to stash Gonzalez has already paid off, and the Giants are hopeful that other similar moves help them out in the future. They are as good as anybody at managing their 40-man roster — they used an open spot Tuesday to trade for infielder Kevin Padlo — and a big part of that has been a willingness to bet on injured players.

Earlier in 2021, right-hander Sam Delaplane was added because the Seattle Mariners DFA’d him when he needed Tommy John surgery. Like Gonzalez, he became a free agent in the offseason and stayed with the Giants. Reliever John Brebbia was signed during the 2020 offseason as he rehabbed from Tommy John and this year he has a 1.13 ERA in seven appearances. The Giants gave left-handed starter Matthew Boyd $5.2 million in March even though he won’t be ready to pitch until midseason.

“In theory you have the ability to acquire an elevated level of talent if you’re willing to hang in there through injury risk and through the rehab process,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “That’s why you’re able to have guys like that in your organization. They’re talented and they’re hurt and coming back from injury.”

Kapler watched some film on Gonzalez before the move last year, and this spring he raved about the quality of his at-bats, saying they were as good as anyone’s at Scottsdale Stadium. Since Gonzalez was called up Friday, he has started four of five games. He is 5-for-17 while showing off the tools that made him an intriguing addition last year, even if the minor league numbers weren’t overwhelming and the shoulder was hurt. Gonzalez has a strong arm and has flashed above-average sprint speed numbers in limited time. The home run in Milwaukee left the bat at 109.2 mph, territory that on this roster is generally inhabited by sluggers Joc Pederson and Darin Ruf.

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The blast came about eight months after Gonzalez had his labrum repaired, a procedure that led to three to four hours of strengthening and mobility work, five days a week. It all paid off on Friday when the Giants brought him back to the big leagues.

“This is my dream, this is where I want to be,” he said. “It’s good to be back in the bigs, but with the Giants this time.”

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