Giants' offseason Plan B could center on pitching

December 12th, 2023

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.

Plan A was Shohei Ohtani, but that dream evaporated after the Japanese superstar elected to spurn the Giants and take his two-way talents to the rival Dodgers. To make matters worse, Ohtani will reportedly be deferring a stunning $68 million of his $70 million average salary over the next 10 years, giving the Dodgers ample flexibility to continue to build around him. 

It’s a bleak outlook for the Giants, who will now be forced to regroup and shift their attention to Plan B. Given their prolonged struggles to land premier free-agent hitters, the Giants’ best path forward may be to load up on elite arms and try to build a pitching staff that’s capable of neutralizing the most fearsome lineups in Major League Baseball.

San Francisco already has one homegrown ace in Logan Webb -- who’s coming off a second-place finish in the 2023 National League Cy Young race -- but the club will need to prioritize more high-end rotation depth this offseason. Enter , the Orix Buffaloes' ace who is widely viewed as the most coveted free agent now that Ohtani is off the board.

The Giants reportedly met with Yamamoto on Sunday, though the 25-year-old right-hander has a robust market that includes similarly motivated teams like the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Blue Jays. The pitching-needy Dodgers can’t be ruled out either, as Ohtani’s unprecedented contract structure will likely enable them to keep spending big this winter.

If the Giants miss out on Yamamoto, they could pivot to other free-agent starters like reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery or Shota Imanaga. There are also several difference-makers on the trade market, where Corbin Burnes (Brewers), Dylan Cease (White Sox), Tyler Glasnow (Rays) and Shane Bieber (Guardians) are believed to be available.

While Oracle Park was viewed as a deterrent in the Giants’ pursuit of Ohtani, the club’s ballpark has helped it land several free-agent pitchers in recent years, including Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodón and Alex Cobb.

“As things stand right now, the ballpark is more of an advantage in signing pitchers than position players,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said at the Winter Meetings earlier this month. “I think you have a little bit of an advantage one way or another. For us, it’s pitchers. We’ve had a lot of success recruiting pitchers to come.”

Zaidi hasn’t given out a contract longer than three years to a free-agent pitcher since coming to San Francisco, though that trend will have to change if the Giants intend on shopping at the top of the market this offseason. Still, Zaidi has said he believes the club’s stable of young pitching prospects will make it easier to reach a long-term commitment in the future.

“As I think about my time in baseball, I actually think our organization right now has as much good young starting pitching in our pipeline as any organization I’ve been a part of,” Zaidi said. “It’s not just the guys we saw in the big leagues last year like [Kyle] Harrison and [Tristan] Beck and [Keaton] Winn. We’ve got guys like Mason BlackKai-Wei Teng, Carson WhisenhuntLanden Roupp and [Hayden] Birdsong. Reggie Crawford hopefully gets stretched out and becomes an option for us at some point. That’s a pretty good groundswell.

“Strategically, it’s just easier to make that commitment when you feel like you have a lot of depth, as opposed to feeling like you have holes to fill. … I think that’s a strong selling point to veterans. ‘Hey, we’ve got this group of pitchers that you can help lead. We have a chance to have a lot of stability in our rotation going forward, because we’ve got some guys in Double-A and Triple-A who are really close who can be rotation partners with you for the duration of your deal.’”