The Giants prioritized bolstering their starting rotation this offseason, but they may not be done making additions as pitchers and catchers prepare to report to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the start of Spring Training on Wednesday.
Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto and newcomers Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood are already locked into the Giants’ rotation, with Logan Webb expected to enter camp as the frontrunner for the fifth spot. Tyler Beede will join the mix once he completes his rehab from Tommy John surgery in May, but the Giants could use more depth now that the regular season is set to revert to 162 games following the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
“I think we're still going to look to add,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said during a Zoom call with reporters on Friday. “Adding another experienced starting pitcher, whether it's an NRI [non-roster invitee], or potentially a Major League deal or trade, is something we're still looking at. … Certainly, we feel like on the position player side and in the bullpen, we're pretty settled, but starting pitching is probably the one area we're going to continue to look at.”
Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Jake Odorizzi are among the starters left on the free-agent market, but the Giants could opt to take fliers on other veterans on Minor League deals, like they did with Trevor Cahill and Tyson Ross last year. San Francisco’s internal options also include Conner Menez, though Zaidi said the 25-year-old left-hander is currently projected to start the season at Triple-A Sacramento.
The Giants will be relying on Gausman to anchor the top of the rotation, as he emerged as the club’s most dominant starter in 2020, logging a 3.62 ERA over 59 2/3 innings. He’ll be a primary candidate to start for San Francisco on Opening Day, though he’ll have to show that he can sustain his success over a full season in 2021.
There are questions surrounding the rest of the pitching staff, too. Cueto’s 5.40 ERA ranked as the highest mark among qualified National League starters in 2020, but the Giants are optimistic that the veteran will return to form now that he’s further removed from Tommy John surgery. Cueto, who turns 35 on Monday, will be entering the final guaranteed year of his six-year, $130 million contract, providing extra motivation for a resurgence in '21.
San Francisco is also hoping for bounce-back seasons from DeSclafani and Wood, both of whom have track records of success in the Majors but were derailed by injuries in 2020.
Like Cueto, Webb struggled in 2020, posting a 5.47 ERA over 54 1/3 innings. Still, the Giants remain confident that the 24-year-old right-hander will continue to push forward his development and establish himself as a reliable starter this year.
Asked where Webb stands in the fifth-starter competition, manager Gabe Kapler said, “He's kind of in the driver's seat right now. He's in a very good spot.”
The Giants had discussed putting Webb on an innings limit last spring, but those workload concerns were alleviated when the regular season was cut to 60 games. Zaidi said the Giants probably won’t set hard innings limits for any of their starters, though they will keep a close eye on Webb, who has never thrown more than 104 2/3 innings in a single season during his pro career.
“I think our general philosophy is going to mirror the way we approached it last year, which is not be too fixated on season-long innings limits, but really make sure that we're building up our pitchers in a healthy and sustainable way through camp and the early part of the season,” Zaidi said. “With a lot of these guys, I think their buildup will continue early in the season, especially with a young guy like Logan, where he doesn't have that much experience getting through a longer season and throwing 100-plus innings. You may see us being a little bit more conservative with how deep he works into games early and allow him to build up over the course of the season.”
• Brandon Belt, who underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right heel in October, is doing light baseball activities, including throwing and hitting. He started a running progression in mid-January, but he is expected to be limited for the first few weeks of camp. Kapler said Belt is on track to play in exhibition games in March, stoking optimism that the veteran first baseman will be ready to go for Opening Day on April 1.
• Beede resumed throwing bullpen sessions this week, though he is not expected to pitch in any Cactus League games this spring.
• Reliever John Brebbia, who is also rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, is expected to start throwing bullpens in March and will stay on a throwing program for a couple of months after that. The 30-year-old right-hander joined the Giants on a one-year, $800,000 deal in December.
• An elbow injury prevented Austin Slater from playing the outfield for most of last year, but Kapler said Slater is now healthy and could draw looks in center field this spring.