ALAMEDA – The Raiders started 0-10 and finished 3-13 that in Derek Carr’s rookie year. Near that season’s merciful end, but a handful of local reporters attended his postgame press conferences.
There was little interest in that 2014 squad for obvious reasons, especially after Dennis Allen was fired and the Raiders played out a long string of losses. There was some interest in rookie starters Carr and Khalil Mack, but nothing like there is today.
The Raiders are 10-2. Carr is an MVP candidate. The Silver and Black might be the most entertaining team in football, with their penchant for drama and epic comebacks.
Carr used to play for a thin crowd. Now it’s a packed house. That was the case after Sunday’s 38-24 comeback win over Buffalo.
Now this isn’t Dallas or New York. The body count isn’t quite that high, but interest in this team and its quarterback has certainly spiked.
“It’s an exciting time in Oakland, for our fans. It’s really exciting,” Carr said on Sunday night. “Look how many people are in here now. I remember my rookie year, it was like ‘eh.’”
“This is definitely a fun time. We’ve come a long way as everyone here knows and has been with us. We’ve come a long way, we’re enjoying it.”
Wins draw attention in the nation’s most popular sport, and Carr is getting plenty of it as his legend grows.
Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of the next big thing. Carr’s on the ESPN the Magazine cover. He’s been featured on national halftime shows and syndicated radio programs. Many outlets are begging Raiders public relations to let them watch film with Carr and coordinator Bill Musgrave, to get inside the mind of one cerebral quarterback.
The spotlight will be hot all week, heading into highly anticipated Thursday night game against the rival Kansas City Chiefs for control of the AFC West.
Carr’s natural inclination is to accommodate, but the Raiders would like to insulate him some as the attention mounts.
“When the games get bigger, there are more people around,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “You’ve got to protect your time. You’ve got to protect your preparation time. You have to protect the time you get with your family.”
“I just think he’s mature. He’s a young player. He’s maturing and that’s probably the thing that I’m most pleased with. Obviously, the productivity is awesome, but the way he has conducted himself, the maturity, the handling it, continuing to heap praise on his teammates, to make it more about us, not about anything he’s doing individually. It’s more about us as a team. I think that’s really healthy for us.”
Carr keeps the focus on others whenever possible and shrugs off MVP talk at every turn.
It’s not just a rise in coverage. Ticket requests go up, as do outside demands on time Carr would rather spend with family or working on his craft. He has learned how and when to say no during this crazy time of year.
“I’m trying to learn as we go through it how to say no and things like that and I think I’m getting pretty good at it now and how to tell people no,” he said. “Because, everyone just wants a piece of what’s going on. They didn’t much want a piece of it when we were 3-13, you know? So, you can really have that inner circle of people you really love and you can trust and you’re just kind to everybody else.”
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Bobby Evans kicked some big tires before giving a record deal to Mark Melancon, and he didn’t limit himself to the robust closer market. The Giants checked in on Yoenis Cespedes and they talked to the Pirates when it became clear that Andrew McCutchen was available.
“You check in on everything,” Evans said. “You have to.”
Cespedes got $110 million to stay in New York and the Giants are no longer in any sort of mix for McCutchen, who comes with an overwhelming asking price. There are other big outfield names out there, but the Giants don’t expect to make a splash. The Melancon deal put the organization over the competitive balance tax, but even before that, the intention was to give Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker a shot to win the left field job next spring.
“They’re not getting any younger and they deserve an opportunity,” Evans said. “But we also are not going to give them the jobs. They have to come out there and earn them and there will be competition and other options. There may be trade scenarios or other scenarios that allow us to bring in a guy that’s going to be hard to beat, but right now we just have to give them the opportunity if nothing develops. That's really how I look at it.
“We’ve got to keep our doors open but an opportunity where they’re competing in the spring is a win for us. But ultimately they have to go out and prove it. Part of our organization being strong is giving young players a chance, and again when they get to be past 25 and 26 they’re not as young anymore, and these guys are getting older and they need that opportunity.”
In the lobby of the Gaylord National Resort here outside of Washington D.C., there is often skepticism that the Giants are being truthful. National reporters want to shoehorn them in as a fit for any slugger on the market. When Evans was at the GM Meetings in November, he was surrounded by New York reporters who thought the Giants represented the greatest outside threat for Cespedes. But executives from other teams have conceded that Evans and the rest of the front office have not been aggressively asking about outfielders.
“You can’t lose sight that your (minor league) system is there for a reason,” Evans said.
Both young outfielders have shown flashes of what might be lurking. Parker hit .347 and slugged .755 in a September cameo in 2015 that included a memorable three-homer, seven-RBI game in Oakland. He had an uneven sophomore year, but still hit five homers in 127 at-bats, showing the front office that he could be a 20-homer guy if given a full-time shot. Williamson has batted just .222 while being pulled back and forth from Triple-A to the Majors, but he was highly thought of as a prospect and scouts marvel at his raw power. During a 26-game stretch before the trade deadline last year, Williamson posted a .277/.382/.538 slash line and hit five homers.
Evans said others will be in the mix next spring, including Gorkys Hernandez (a likely replacement for speed/defense reserve Gregor Blanco), prospect Austin Slater, and Wynton Bernard, a 26-year-old career minor-leaguer who signed last month and is known for his speed. The Giants also are curious to see what they have in Chris Marrerro, a 28-year-old former top prospect who signed in November. He hit 23 homers last season in Triple-A.
The Giants are open minded about adding as the market shapes out, and they can be patient now that the heavy lifting in the bullpen is done. There's a chance a power bat is still sitting there in late January, although those players traditionally have not chosen AT&T Park as a place to rebuild value. The price could dramatically drop for a player like Detroit's J.D. Martinez.
The likelihood right now, though, is that Williamson or Parker starts in left field on opening day. If either sticks, it would be a huge boost for a front office that is trying to control costs in certain spots.
The Melancon deal, with an average annual value of $15.5 million, put the Giants into the tax for the third consecutive season. The penalty for that is a 50 percent tax for every dollar spent over the $195 million limit. The Giants have committed $313 million to free agents the past two offseasons, but that plan isn’t sustainable without the support of pre-arbitration players who are contributing at or just above the MLB minimum of $535,000. Buster Posey won an MVP award in 2012 while making $615,000. Joe Panik made $545,000 last year as a Gold Glove second baseman, and he'll continue to be a bargain this season. Until a pair of extensions, the Giants had Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford in the lineup for about the cost of a middle reliever.
“When you’re invested (heavily) in the ‘pen, rotation, first base, shortstop, catcher, right field, center field — at some point, you’re going to need your farm system to rise up,” Evans said.
The Giants hope Williamson and Parker can do that.
“The final stage of development comes at the big leagues,” Evans said. “Until they get those at-bats, you’ll always wonder.”