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Giants could again 'roll the dice' for starters

@mi_guardado
November 19, 2020

The Giants finished 1-for-2 in their attempt to retain Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, their top two starters in 2020, this offseason. While Gausman accepted a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer to remain in San Francisco, the Giants couldn’t secure a reunion with Smyly, who signed a one-year, $11 million

The Giants finished 1-for-2 in their attempt to retain Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, their top two starters in 2020, this offseason.

While Gausman accepted a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer to remain in San Francisco, the Giants couldn’t secure a reunion with Smyly, who signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Braves on Monday.

Gausman’s return will give the Giants another experienced starter to pair with veteran Johnny Cueto at the front of their rotation next season, but there are still holes to fill following the departure of Smyly, Jeff Samardzija and Trevor Cahill.

Cueto posted a career-worst 5.40 ERA in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and would like to get more work this offseason by pitching in the Dominican Winter League, which the Giants are still weighing. Logan Webb will also be back, but the 24-year-old logged a 5.47 ERA in 2020 and struggled to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis.

The Giants’ inventory also includes left-hander Tyler Anderson, who will be entering his third year of arbitration, and Tyler Beede, who is expected to return from Tommy John surgery at some point next year.

Bolstering their rotation depth will continue to be a priority for the Giants, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he believes the club is better positioned to “roll the dice” on additional starters now that Gausman is back in the fold. National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer is the top free-agent starter available, but the market also features several pitchers who are coming off subpar or injury-wrecked seasons, including Corey Kluber, James Paxton, José Quintana, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Minor.

The latter group could prove to be more intriguing for the Giants given their success with previous reclamation projects like Gausman, Smyly and Drew Pomeranz, who each turned one-year deals with San Francisco into loftier paydays in free agency. Gausman and Smyly earned $9 million and $4 million, respectively, with the Giants in 2020. Pomeranz signed a $1.5 million contract with the Giants before landing a four-year, $34 million pact with the Padres last offseason.

Zaidi believes that track record could help give the club an edge in wooing high-upside pitchers who are looking for destinations where they can rebuild their value in 2021.

“I think when you look at the free-agent market for starting pitchers, there's a number of guys who have pretty significant pedigree who are coming off injuries or down seasons for whatever reason,” Zaidi said during a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. “It's going to be a market where a lot of players are going to be working to do kind of short-term, make-good deals to re-enter the market. I think for us, the cases of the guys we signed last year, and the pitching infrastructure that we've built up over the last couple years would be a strong selling point for us for those kinds of targets.”

The Giants believe the opportunity to work with their analytically driven coaching staff, which includes pitching coach Andrew Bailey and director of pitching Brian Bannister, could help attract free-agent starters as well. Assistant pitching coach Ethan Katz was hired away by the White Sox this month, but Zaidi said the Giants are currently in the process of filling the vacancy on manager Gabe Kapler’s staff.

“I think we try to look for not just guys with ability, but guys that have the aptitude and motivation to make adjustments,” Zaidi said. “That's what everybody's looking for. We've been fortunate to find guys that have been able to execute at a level that's kind of put them in a much better position from a market standpoint.”

The Giants’ growing appeal isn’t limited to pitchers, either. Zaidi said he’s seen an uptick in interest from free-agent hitters, who took notice of the friendlier offensive environment at Oracle Park in 2020. After ranking last in the Majors with a .652 OPS at home in 2019, the Giants posted an .841 OPS at Oracle Park this past season, the fourth-highest mark in the league. Several factors are believed to have contributed to the dramatic improvement, including the arrival of hitting coaches Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind; the snugger outfield dimensions resulting from the relocated bullpens; and the closed-off archways in the right-field arcade.

“I think the tide has turned there pretty significantly,” Zaidi said. “It's sort of reason for optimism as we look at that market. As I've said, we're pretty happy with the position player group. They did a terrific job. There's maybe a role here or there that we may look to fill, but overall, we have the makings of a really strong offense. But we've had some of those conversations with players and agents, and I think everybody recognizes that the park played pretty neutrally to even favorably at times for hitters.

“I have noticed a lot more interest from position players, or a lot more willingness to sign with us based on what they saw from the team and the organization over the past year.”

Injury updates

Zaidi said it’s too early to say whether first baseman Brandon Belt will be ready for the start of Spring Training after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right heel last month.

“It depends on his recovery,” Zaidi said. “Everything we're hearing is positive. But I don't think we have kind of a firm timetable or target date yet. I know that's the hope, that he's available for Spring Training or be ready to go by Opening Day, but I don't think we can say that for certain right now.”

Outfielders Austin Slater (elbow) and Heliot Ramos (oblique) are expected to be healthy by Spring Training, but prospect Alexander Canario is expected to miss the beginning of the Minor League season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder this month.

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.