SAN FRANCISCO -- After weathering a pandemic-shortened regular season beset with unforeseen challenges, the Giants head into the offseason with lingering uncertainty surrounding various areas of the organization.
Here's a look at five questions the club's decision-makers will have to address as they look toward 2021:
1) How will the Giants replenish their rotation depth?
Jeff Samardzija was cut on the penultimate day of the regular season, and Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly and Trevor Cahill are set to be free agents, leaving the Giants with few established rotation options. Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson will be back next year, but Cueto logged a career-worst 5.40 ERA in 2020, and Webb and Anderson dealt with inconsistency.
Tyler Beede should be an option after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery, but he’s unlikely to be ready for the start of the regular season. The Giants have pitching prospects Sean Hjelle and Seth Corry in the pipeline, but they'll still need more depth to get through a 162-game season in 2021.
The most straightforward solution here would be to re-sign Gausman and Smyly, who have both expressed a desire to return to San Francisco. The Giants appeared to lay the groundwork for a reunion with Gausman on Sunday, when they extended the 29-year-old right-hander a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer. Gausman will have until Nov. 11 to accept or reject the deal, though the two sides could also negotiate a multi-year agreement.
“I think I've made it pretty open that I feel good here and I really like this club,” Gausman said in September. “More than anything, I really like the guys.”
2) How will Posey and Bart co-exist?
The Giants installed Joey Bart as their No. 1 catcher after promoting him to the big leagues in August, but he experienced significant growing pains in his rookie year. Third baseman Evan Longoria noted that Bart's struggles were likely exacerbated by the absence of Buster Posey, who sat out the 2020 season after he and his wife adopted twin girls who were born premature in July.
Posey's return should be a boost for the Giants and for Bart, who Longoria predicted will grow “exponentially” under Posey's mentorship in 2021. It's not guaranteed that Bart will open next season in the Majors, though. Zaidi didn't rule out the possibility of looking outside the organization for extra catching depth this offseason, as the Giants might prefer to have Bart, 23, start the year at Triple-A Sacramento to give him more time to develop.
“Whether it makes sense for him to work in tandem with Buster or get more development experience in the Minor Leagues, we have plenty of time to sort that out,” Zaidi said. “It's good to have options where we're not forced into a decision that might be not in everybody's best long-term interests.”
3) Will there be a set closer next year?
The Giants never officially named Trevor Gott their closer, but he emerged as manager Gabe Kapler's preferred ninth-inning option until three consecutive rough outings in mid-August. San Francisco opted to use a closer by committee approach the rest of the way, with Gott, Sam Coonrod, Tyler Rogers, Tony Watson, and Sam Selman each logging saves in 2020.
While they are known to prize flexibility, Kapler and Zaidi said they aren't opposed to having a set closer if a reliever shows that he can slot into that role and lock down games. The Giants are unlikely to pursue a proven closer via free agency this offseason, but they have a potential in-house option in Reyes Moronta, who missed the 2020 season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery but should be ready for Spring Training.
“There's no philosophical war against the closer,” Zaidi said. “If you have an elite closer, managers like Gabe feel really good about being able to hand that guy the ball in the ninth inning. At that point, the manager’s work is done. It was a function of personnel.”
4) How will the cancellation of the Minor League season affect the timeline of prospects like Ramos and Hjelle?
In a normal 162-game season, Heliot Ramos and Hjelle likely would have had a shot at joining Bart in the Majors this year. Instead, Ramos spent the summer working out at the Giants' alternate training site in Sacramento, and Hjelle was left to train on his own after being omitted from the club's 60-man player pool.
The Giants will attempt to recoup meaningful reps for their prospects by hosting an instructional league in Scottsdale, Ariz., this fall, but a lost year of development is a significant blow for a rebuilding club that was expecting an infusion of young talent in the near future.
“I think that's been one of the more unfortunate drawbacks of how this season played out,” Zaidi said. “Not just for us, but for every team in baseball. Young players didn't get those competitive reps that you're talking about. Every team, us included, tried to make the alternate camps as competitive as possible. But frankly, the feedback that we got from a lot of our players and heard from around the game is it's just not the same when you’re not seeing a different uniform on the other side of the field.”
Zaidi said he believes teams could end up being more aggressive with promoting their prospects through their farm systems next year, though he cautioned that they’ll have to strike a delicate balance “because you don't want to do anything that really hampers their development or their chances of long-term success.”
5) How will the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic impact the Giants' financial flexibility?
Zaidi said it’s hard to say how much the lost revenue resulting from the pandemic will impact the Giants’ payroll moving forward, but the entire organization has already experienced some contraction. In October, the Giants eliminated roughly 10 percent of their 500 full-time positions, which amounted to about 50 layoffs between the baseball operations and business departments.
“The bottom line is no teams know what the revenue picture is going to look like in 2021,” Zaidi said. “It's going to depend on social-distancing scenarios and what percent capacity are allowed in our stadiums, so it's really hard to put stakes in the ground in terms of payroll and how that might impact your strategy. We've had a super-supportive ownership group. I think our plan is to be flexible and evaluate where the team is, what our needs are and make good baseball decisions. That's been the charge I've gotten from them since I've been here.”