ORACLE PARK — When Connor Joe walked into San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s office after Tuesday’s Bay Bridge Series finale — a 4-2, rain-shortened loss to the Oakland Athletics — he must have looked aghast, because Bochy immediately told him, “This is good news.”
“You never know,” said Joe, who had never even come close to making the final cut before. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”
Joe, 26, acquired by the Giants from the Los Angeles Dodgers by way of the Cincinnati Reds, sat down. He was told by Bochy, hitting coach Hensley Meulens and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi that, after his first big league camp, he was making his first Opening Day roster.
Joe was among several players who found out their ultimate fates on Tuesday night, as San Francisco finalized most of its 25-man roster and its starting pitching rotation. Joe, along with outfielder Michael Reed, relievers Trevor Gott and Travis Bergen, and Pablo Sandoval made the team. Infielder Alen Hanson and catcher Tom Murphy are out.
“There are a couple guys who we’re going to give a couple days here to see if we can work out something,” Bochy said. “[Sandoval] is with us … We didn’t know exactly how we’d end up here, but I think you look at the job he did last year, and he also gives us a good bat off the bench, versatility … I haven’t talked to Pablo. Pablo knows he’s on the team until told otherwise, so I didn’t feel like I needed to tell Pablo that.”
Despite Sandoval’s on-field numbers — he hit .271 in spring training, but .248 last season — pale in comparison to the impact he has on a club’s chemistry. As the Giants first settled into the newly-named Oracle Park on Monday, Sandoval held court in the far corner of the home locker room, assembling all of the Spanish-speaking players around his locker, boistrously joking and capering around, rolling and swiveling in his chair. The energy in the room was markedly different than when he was absent after tearing his hamstring last season.
“You know how much I think of Pablo, and the job that he’s done for us,” Bochy said.
From a player looking to hang on, to one just starting out, Joe was traded to the Giants after he was taken by the Reds in the Rule 5 Draft.
Last season, Joe — who was in the Dodgers’ minor league system when Zaidi was the Dodgers’ GM — hit 17 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, with a .408 on-base percentage. On Tuesday, he poked a single to right in the bottom of the sixth.
He’s had precious little time to show what he can do in front of San Francisco brass, being acquired less than a week ago, but he didn’t really need to. Zaidi had seen enough, even though his personal interactions with Joe were somewhat limited.
“Not too many face-to-face interations, saw him around in minor league camp,” Joe said. “But, I know he was aware of what I was doing in Tulsa and Oklahoma City … Last year, I had a good year, but I didn’t know the impact it made on someone that high up in the organization. For him to bring me over here and give me this opportunity is amazing.”
Joe’s versatility earned him his spot, as it did for Yangervis Solarte. Solarte will back up Brandon Crawford, but has played all four infield positions.
“If it’s a long-term thing, we’d have to make an adjustment,” Bochy said. “With Craw getting an occasional day, it’s a way to get Solly in the lineup, a switch-hitter. Versatility’s so important.”
That likely means a bench of Solarte, Sandoval and Erik Kratz, with either Joe or Reed starting in the outfield along with Gerardo Parra and center fielder Steven Duggar.
The status of outfielder Mac Williamson — who was hit on the hand on a pitch in the sixth inning — is uncertain. Williamson — who missed almost all of last season after his promising start was cut short by a concussion — was in contention for one of the corner outfield spots. After hitting .237 with 18 strikeouts in 59 at-bats this spring, with just three extra-base hits, Williamson looked to be the odd man out in an underwhelming outfield competition, but a decision on his ultimate fate could be forestalled by placing him on the injured list.
“We’re going to wait a day here to see exactly how he’s doing,” Bochy said. “We hadn’t had [left field] set. Farhan and myself had to have that set.”
Bochy, in detailing the roster moves, also outlined the starting rotation: Madison Bumgarner on Opening Day, followed by Derek Holland, Dereck Rodriguez, Jeff Samardzija and Drew Pomeranz. The closer job is still up for debate, likely between Will Smith and Mark Melancon, with Tony Watson as the likely set-up man.
“We have talked to them, most of the guys in the bullpen, so we have some pretty good options down there,” Bochy said. “We’re going to use everybody. We have five guys down there we’re comfortable with, leading ballgames.”
Gott and Bergen were informed they’d make the team in much the same manner as Joe.
Gott threw 11 2/3 innings for the Giants this spring, allowing a single unearned run in nine games. He held opponents to a .167 average. Bergen threw 10 2/3 innings and sported a 1.69 ERA over nine games, and held his hitters to a .128 average, striking out 13 and walking four.
“Gott, what a spring training he’s had, and Bergen,” said Bochy, who added that the Giants will go with 13 pitchers.
After he was told he made the team, Joe serenely walked across the hall and told his new wife, Kylie (the two got married in November), waiting in the family reception room, that he was a Major Leaguer. They shared an embrace. Despite the fact that, as a Rule 5 pick, the Giants had to keep him or offer him back, it was still a surprise.
“I’m probably a little bit numb right now, it’s almost a little surreal,” Joe said. “As a kid, you dream of this moment. Once I get settled in and make my calls to my parents, I think that’s when it’ll hit me.”