Big decisions loom for Manaea, Conforto

October 19th, 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.

At his end-of-season press conference at Oracle Park earlier this month, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he expected to have “15 to 20” returning players on the Giants’ roster in 2024. 

One of the club’s more pressing offseason questions is whether left-hander and outfielder  will be among them. Manaea, Conforto and right-hander Ross Stripling each joined the Giants on two-year deals that featured opt-out clauses that would allow them to test the open market again this winter.

Stripling has already indicated that he intends to remain in San Francisco, candidly admitting in September that “I haven’t pitched well enough to opt out.” The 33-year-old veteran finished the 2023 campaign with a 5.36 ERA over 22 appearances (11 starts) and landed on the injured list twice with back strains. Assuming he returns, Stripling will be owed $12.5 million next year and likely reprise his swingman role on the Giants’ pitching staff. 

Manaea and Conforto’s decisions won’t be quite as straightforward, as they could have a better shot at landing more lucrative deals in free agency. Manaea, 31, signed the same deal as Stripling and also struggled at the outset of the season, but he got back on track while working out of the bullpen and ended up logging a 2.25 ERA over his final four starts of the year

Bolstered by his offseason work at Driveline, Manaea averaged a career-high 93.6 mph on his four-seam fastball and showed he could harness the extra zip while thriving in a variety of roles for the Giants. Still, that versatility could ultimately make him more attractive for other suitors, particularly given the limited starting pitching options on the free-agent market this winter.

Conforto, 30, was expected to serve as a key middle-of-the-order bat this year, but he dealt with long stretches of inconsistency at the plate after missing the entire 2022 season due to right shoulder surgery. He ended up batting .239 with a career-low .718 OPS and 15 home runs and was limited to 125 games due to hamstring issues. 

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Conforto said prior to the club’s regular-season finale. “On the baseball side of it, I’m proud of a lot of things. I’m proud of generally staying healthy. Keeping the shoulder healthy and showing that I can do some things that maybe were question marks coming off of surgery. Being able to throw the ball effectively, play some defense. But I also feel like I hold myself to a higher standard than the way that I played this year.

“I feel that I could have played better. But it’s just one of those things that can happen from missing a season. I just didn’t have the consistency down the stretch.” 

Conforto, who is a Scott Boras client like Manaea, said he planned to use this month to talk with his family and ruminate on his future with the Giants, who will owe him $18 million if he decides to remain in San Francisco in 2024. Conforto said he’ll be keeping tabs on the managerial search in the meantime, as the Giants’ new dugout leader could influence his choice, as well. 

“I think it factors in, for sure,” Conforto said. “There’s a lot of things that factor in. We’ll see how the timing works out with all of that and when our decision has to be made. There’s just a lot of conversations that will have to be had before I can really make any comment on it.”

If Conforto decides to exercise his opt-out clause, the Giants could have a clearer path toward upgrading an outfield mix that is already projected to feature holdovers like Mitch Haniger, Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater, Luis Matos and Tyler Fitzgerald. For now, Zaidi said the club will move forward with the assumption that everyone will be back and adjust accordingly as the offseason progresses. 

“Right now, we're sort of operating like we will have all those players back,” Zaidi said. “If they choose to exercise their right to opt out, then we'll be looking to fill those slots.”