Hicks raring to start with Giants: 'What I've always wanted to do'

January 19th, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO -- A long-held dream is finally about to come true for .

A career reliever in the big leagues, Hicks is set to convert to a starting role with the Giants.

"I think I never got the full starting opportunity, especially in the big leagues," Hicks said on Thursday at Oracle Park. "This is what I've always wanted to do, and this is what I'm most excited to do in the big leagues."

The Giants announced Hicks' four-year, $44 million deal on Thursday. In addition to a $2 million signing bonus, Hicks is set to earn $6 million in 2024 and $12 million annually from '25-27. He can make up to $2 million per season in performance bonuses based on innings pitched.

Known for his high-octane stuff -- he twice hit 105 mph on the radar gun as a rookie in 2018 -- Hicks, 27, was chasing opportunities in free agency to start after pitching in relief for the bulk of his five seasons in the big leagues.

Hicks posted a 3.29 ERA in 65 appearances (65 2/3 innings) with St. Louis and Toronto in 2023. The flamethrowing righty has just eight career Major League starts, all of which came in '22, when he won the fifth spot in the Cardinals' rotation following an abridged Spring Training due to the owners' lockout.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019, sitting out the pandemic-shortened '20 season as a high-risk individual with Type 1 diabetes and being limited to just 10 innings in an injury-stricken '21, Hicks was not particularly successful in his brief stint as a big league starter. He went 0-4 with a 5.47 ERA and only completed five innings once -- against the Giants, as fate would have it.

Now that he has more experience under his belt and feels completely healthy, Hicks and the Giants believe he's in a better place to move to the rotation than in 2022.

"As we've followed Jordan's career, we've seen him evolve as a pitcher, get better as a pitcher. He's coming off his best year," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "Sometimes you try to take a step back and say … 'Is there a chance to kind of go back to the starting route and have the opportunity to see what that looks like now that he's evolved physically, evolved as a pitcher?'

"We definitely see those ingredients as a starter."

The Giants may be done adding to the rotation now that Hicks has joined the group, which includes ace Logan Webb, top prospect Kyle Harrison (No. 20 overall per MLB Pipeline) and Keaton Winn (Giants' No. 16 prospect). Zaidi named Ross Stripling as a possibility for the fifth spot.

Alex Cobb (left hip surgery) and recently acquired Robbie Ray (Tommy John surgery) will be reinforcements in the second half.

"It's always been our goal to have a starting pitching rotation that throws as many innings as possible, and that's why I think we want to make clear we view Jordan as a … conventional starter, not in some hybrid role," Zaidi said. "We want the rotation to be sort of a driver of stability for us."

While there are plenty of converted relievers in the big leagues, there are fewer relievers -- especially not former closers who can routinely dial up triple digits -- who have made a successful long-term transition to starting.

But there's one who readily comes to mind for Giants skipper Bob Melvin: Seth Lugo.

"Mindset just has a lot to do with it," said Melvin, who managed Lugo as he converted to starting with the Padres in 2023. "[Lugo] came in -- he didn't want to talk about innings, he didn't want to talk about pitch counts."

It's not quite the same situation, as Lugo made 26 starts in his first two Major League seasons, but then again, Hicks was primarily a starter until he arrived in the big leagues.

Because Hicks was intent to return to the rotation in 2024, he has spent the offseason preparing as a starter. Zaidi said the goal is for Hicks to be in the five-inning, 75-pitch range when the season begins.

With a goal of pitching deep into games, Hicks will likely have to dial back the velocity that has been his calling card in relief. But he remembers sitting 98 mph late in the game in his last couple of Minor League starts, and he's confident he still has that ability.

"Those are things that I know are in my back pocket," Hicks said. "I know that's what I'm capable of. I know I have the stamina. … But at the same time, we'll take it day by day. Not rush it, just know that it's going to be bumps, it's going to be really good outings, so I'm just really excited to embrace all of it."