Why Giants stockpiled starters this offseason
This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado’s Giants Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
After letting All-Star left-hander Carlos Rodόn walk via free agency, the Giants opted to take a strength-in-numbers approach to filling the massive hole in their starting rotation.
Rather than target another elite starter who could serve as Logan Webb’s co-ace, the Giants decided to sign two veterans -- Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea -- to identical two-year, $25 million deals that include opt-outs after the 2023 season. Between Stripling and Manaea and holdovers Webb, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani and Jakob Junis, the Giants are now poised to head into Spring Training with seven capable starters on their 26-man roster.
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he hopes the extra layers of depth will help guard against injuries and protect the club’s bullpen, which was leaned on heavily down the stretch last year. If everyone stays healthy, the Giants could go with a six-man rotation or experiment with tandem starts to better manage their pitchers’ workloads this season.
“I think it's really going to be a mix,” Zaidi said in December. “There may be some situations in which we go to a six-man rotation for a period of time. The drawback of that is you're down to a seven-man ‘pen, but if you have rested starters who are going deep into games and you have guys in the bullpen that can throw multiple innings, that can help mitigate that. I think there will be times we do that.
“There will be times when we tandem guys and try to use two of our starters to get through an entire game and give the rest of the ‘pen a day off. That's something we've heard a lot from our relievers over the last couple years. There's a lot of value -- and it's kind of intuitive, I think -- in games where pretty much the entire ‘pen has the day off. If you could have a guy throw five innings and then a guy come in behind him and throw the final four, that’s huge for the entire bullpen. This isn't a strategy or matching up type thing as much as it is a load management thing and a way to keep everybody healthy.”
Junis is expected to shift to more of a swingman role in 2023, so he seems likely to open the season in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. Wood and Stripling also have experience pitching in relief, though Stripling said the Giants currently view him as a starter. DeSclafani made only five appearances before undergoing season-ending right ankle surgery last year, so the Giants could look for ways to ease him back into action, as well.
The Giants’ lack of upper-level pitching depth forced them to rely on openers and bullpen games to cover innings in 2022, but they’re expecting to have better options at Triple-A Sacramento this year. Sam Long and Sean Hjelle could be candidates to provide length out of the bullpen if needed, and the Giants are hoping young starters such as Kyle Harrison -- the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball -- Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn will be ready to make the jump to the Majors at some point in 2023.
“I just think back to last year and the strain that it causes both on the field and in the clubhouse and in the front office when you've got an injury and you literally don't have anybody to start an upcoming game,” Zaidi said. “You’ve got to start thinking about a bullpen game or selecting somebody to the roster that you hadn't really even thought of before. Those things can really be taxing, and to put yourself in a situation where you have sort of lines of defense before you get in that situation, that was part of the reason why we added multiple starters to a pretty full group as it is.”