The Giants were unable to sign Mike Fiers last week, losing him to the Oakland A’s on a 2-year, $14.1 million deal. He was, by any measure, the second-biggest free agent the Giants have been linked to this offseason and besides Farhan Zaidi’s flirtation with Yusei Kikuchi, an indicator of how the 2019 team will be built: through retreads and the scrap heap.
Fiers had a 3.56 ERA in 172 innings (24th-best in MLB, just 0.01 ahead of Derek Holland), but a FIP of 4.75 (5th-worst in MLB among qualified starters). Still, his ERA- of 84 made him 16% better than league average and gave him another 24th-best ranking. He would’ve been the 3rd-best pitcher on the Giants in 2018 by that last measure. He had the best season of his career at 33 and an above average year overall. The Giants’ rotation heading into 2019 is problematic for many reasons, so adding him would’ve been a big help. Is there value like that left on the free agent market?
Let’s remove Kikuchi from the equation for the moment and also not consider whether or not the Giants can afford to sign any free agent who would dare ask for more than $1 million. Let’s also consider some other stats in Fiers’ line: 7.27 K/9 (19.5% K-rate), 1.94 BB/9 (5.2% BB-rate), has pitched 450+ innings over the past three seasons. Here are some Fiersesque alternatives, using the 29 unsigned free agent starters (per MLB Trade Rumors):
2016-2018 innings pitched: 518.1
2018 line: 204.2 IP, 3.74 ERA (3.69 FIP), 6.7 K/9 (17.5% K-rate), 2.6 BB/9 (6.6% BB-rate), 3.6 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 196.09 IP. 3.68 ERA (3.76 FIP), 7.10 K/9 (18.6%), 2.66 BB/9 (7.0% BB-rate), 3.2 fWAR
Why it could happen: Technically, he’s the best pitcher left on the market and signing him would be a good move, PR and talent-wise. He’ll be 31 on Opening Day, but there’s a good chance he’s got some good years left in him.
Why it won’t happen: The Astros extended him the Qualifying Offer, which he rejected. There’s no chance the Giants forfeit a draft pick or international bonus pool money, as required by MLB:
A team that neither exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing will lose its second-highest selection in the following year’s Draft, as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period.
He’s also setup to make at least $20 million AAV. Even if the Giants were to sign him to a shorter deal, seems unlikely they’d spend a huge amount on another starter, given the Cueto, Samardzija, and Melancon deals.
2016-2018 innings pitched: 549.1 8.3 K/9
2018 line: 171.0 IP, 4.21 ERA (4.16 FIP), 7.8 K/9 (19.8% K-rate) , 4.2 BB/9 (10.7% BB-rate), 2.0 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 92.0 IP, 4.39 ERA (4.44 FIP), 7.71 K/9 (19.6%), 3.76 BB/9 (9.5%), 0.8 fWAR
Why it could happen: He still has his strikeout stuff and it’s possible that the long layoff and retooling he did under the Brewers’ coaching staff to work on his mechanics could help him out heading to the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park, to say nothing of Curt Young’s potential influence (he was Gio’s pitching coach back in Oakland).
Why it won’t happen: That walk rate is just too much of a liability.
2016-2018 innings pitched: 503.1
2018 line: 204.2 IP, 4.53 ERA (5.09 FIP), 6.8 K/9 (17.7% K-rate), 3.4 BB/9 (9.0% BB-rate), 0.8 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 114.0 IP, 5.30 ERA (5.30 FIP), 7.03 K/9 (17.5% K-rate), 3.57 BB/9 (8.9% BB-rate), 0.1 fWAR
Why it could happen: Dude’s an innings eater. Even if the Giants experiment with an opener, they’ll probably still want someone who can reliably pitch 4-5 solid innings once a week. Shields does that still... juuuuust barely. He’s coming off his best season since 2015, which isn’t a great sign, but he’s very likely a signing that can be made on the cheap.
Why it won’t happen: He just turned 37 and there’s a very strong chance the Giants have a pitcher or collection of pitchers already in the organization who can post the same numbers as he would, even in AT&T Park, and for far fewer dollars.
2016-2018 innings pitched: 418.1
2018 line: 74.0 IP, 6.08 ERA (5.43 FIP), 8.0 K/9 (19.2% K-rate), 5.4 BB/9 (12.8% BB-rate), -0.3 fWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 136.0 IP, 4.72 ERA (4.82 FIP), 7.62 K/9 (19.1% K-rate), 4.12 BB/9 (10.4% BB-rate), 0.8 fWAR
Why it could happen: Here’s the first possible Derek Holland-type of this list. I’m giving him a slight bump, even though he didn’t meet the innings requirement. Pomeranz turned 30 in November and he’s coming off a disastrous stint with the Red Sox following a nice run in Oakland in San Diego where it looked like he’d finally put it together. He could be a cheaper alternative to Keuchel.
Why it won’t happen: He was really bad last year and out of five pitches, none of them broke 90 mph. Movement will only get you so far, and players seemed to be able to hit all his offerings pretty hard.
2016-2018 innings pitched: 505.1
2018 line: 143.2 IP, 5.64 ERA (5.44 FIP), 6.5 K/9 (16.4% K-rate), 3.1 BB/9 (8.4% K-rate), 0.5 FWAR
2019 Steamer Projection: 90.0 IP, 5.18 ERA (5.29 FIP), 7.06 K/9 (17.9% K-rate), 3.31 BB/9 (8.4% BB-rate), 0.2 fWAR
Why it could happen: His career K/9 is 7.9 and he posted an 8.4 and 8.5 in the two years prior to 2018. Even at 35, the Giants could hope he’s due for some sort of bounce back or settle in between 6.5-8.5.
Why it won’t happen: Then again, his fastball velocity was down 1.3 mph versus 2017, and even with its higher than average spin rate, an 88.5 mph fastball isn’t going to cut it these days. Like Pomeranz, hitters launched off of him.
He’s only pitched 354.1 over the past three seasons, but he’s my second Derek Holland-type on the list. He had a 9.09 K/9 in 102 innings last season with the White Sox. Everything else about his performance was pretty terrible.
441.1 innings over the past three seasons brings him just short of the Fiers line, and he had a lingering wrist injury last year, too. He is not Fiers’ equal in terms of stuff (career 6.6 K/9), but his 2.7 BB/9 will certainly play.
469 IP over the past three years for this 27 years old, but his 2018 was ruined by elbow troubles. He’s already had Tommy John surgery, so there are a lot of red flags with him. Also more of a control than stuff pitcher.
2016-2018 innings pitched: 481
2018 line: 146.1 IP, 5.78 ERA (5.47 FIP), 5.0 K/9, 1.5 BB/9
And don’t you want to see this happen?
2016-2018 innings pitched: 393.2
Why it could happen: Zaidi wants to troll Sabean.
As you can see, these remaining options are few and the upside is grim. Mike Fiers was the best remaining pitcher on the market within the Giants’ price range. While it’s not impossible that they revive a career like they did Derek Holland, it’s just as likely that the starting rotation in 2019 is an absolute wasteland of injuries and regression to the mean.
The Giants are aiming for a boring offseason to setup a 2019 where injured players can regain value and the organization can rebuild itself from scratch. That means a lot of bad baseball at the top. Any free agent add is going to be boring and a half measure to give the presently immovable major league players a little more help to at least play out the string in semi-competitive fashion.