129 days from now, we’ll know if the most important offseason of the Zaidi era (so far) led to anything interesting. Until then, I expect the San Francisco Giants to be sensible in the extreme. Conservative, but with a twist. This has been a successful component of the Zaidi era, reflecting the new industry standard of slow playing everything to squeeze the market .
As cynical as it is — and baseball has always been a cynical business where players are nothing more than cows on a pasture for the dairy farmers who are the team owners — the Giants do it well. When they do make moves to improve the roster, they almost always work. It’s when they stand pat that they run into trouble.
Case in point: standing pat for the most part after 2020 and extending some players — Crawford, DeSclafani, Belt — backfired, but the three notable additions they made in Carlos Rodón, Alex Cobb, and Joc Pederson worked out so well that I’m going to be mad when they don’t bring back Rodón. But! That’s the sensible move!
We know they’re not going to run back 2021 again and especially not 2022, which means they’re going to be making moves that improve the team. Which moves and how much improvement is impossible to say at this point, but they’re going to do something this winter all right! And, indeed, we’re now getting a flurry of news items relating to this sensibility. The Giants have been “checking in” on a lot of players:
And these are just the players that have been reported. Yes, I winced when I saw the Jansen item. Not sure how he fits into a Giants organization that refuses to go above $2.5 million on a single reliever and I would be surprised if they made an exception for a 35-year old reliever who has averaged basically 1 fWAR a season since turning 30. But! The Giants know what they’re doing, and there’s a nonzero chance they see him as some sort of damaged good at this point, too.
According to Andrew Baggarly’s expansive mailbag from the other day (great reads if you have a subscription to The Athletic):
The reclamation projects are mostly pitchers who haven’t been healthy in recent years. I’ve heard that the Giants are extremely active in this space.
Scary heart condition aside, Jansen has been pretty healthy, so I’m mainly just using his situation to segue into this bit about how the Giants are being as sensible as they’ve always been. The wrinkle is that they are doing a lot of “checking in” this offseason. A lot of due diligence. Kicking the tires, so to speak.
I am almost certain that means there’s been a lot of,
GIANTS: “Hey, what would it take to get [player] to come to the table?”
AGENT: “What number do you have in mind?”
GIANTS: “Uhhhh...” [click]
And that would qualify as “checking in.” It also makes a ton of sense for them to be in on a lot of free agents and try to drive up the prices or tie up other teams in negotiations. I keep going back to how the Giants are definitely not going to sign Aaron Judge this offseason and how history has proven that they are basically going to have to pay market rates for ace pitchers to #2 or #3-types like what happened with Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and to a lesser extent, Mark Melancon. That seems to be the strata of player who’s down to take the Giants’ money and only if that money goes to players who would be considered slightly to a whole lot better.
So, we’re back to the Giants being sensible. They saw the numbers on Carlos Rodón and made a calculated gamble that happened to pay him the market rate for a pitcher of his skill set. They might’ve spent a little bit more than they wanted on Alex Wood and DeSclafani just to make sure they got them. The same sort of thinking is involved in the Joc Pederson qualifying offer: more than they wanted to spend, I’m sure, but for one year and what he can provide, not even a gamble — a no-brainer.
Now, this group of players they’ve checked in on since the start of free agency all could fill rolls and make a lot of sense. They’d all be good in obvious ways. You know they aren’t trying to get all of these players, though, for a couple of reasons: (1) the qualifying offer and (2) desire for a multi-year deal.
Bellinger’s case might be a little bit different in that he might want to try to reestablish his value before hitting free agency again, but otherwise, this early in the offseason, players are looking to cash in, not take what they can get. And a team like the Giants will be looking to maximum the benefits of any transaction. I don’t see them blowing 2+ draft picks and international bonus pool money by grabbing multiple QO free agents.
Examples: A team with one pick in each round of the 2021 Rule 4 Draft would lose its third-round pick. A team with two first-round picks and one pick in each subsequent round would lose its second-round pick.
• All other teams will lose their second-highest selection in the following year’s Draft, as well as $500,000 from their international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. If one of these teams signs two such players, it will also forfeit its third-highest remaining pick and an additional $500,000.
But if they’re in on Judge, then we know they’re at least open to giving up one pick because they can be assured they’ll get one these picks back when Rodón signs elsewhere:
For these teams, the compensatory pick for losing a qualified free agent would also fall between CBR-B and the start of the third round (regardless of whether the player signed for more or less than $50MM).
I’m urging you all to not mistake movement for progress, though, and consider just how much better the Giants could get by making some less obvious but just as sexy moves that would seem to fit into their preferred model of boring simplicity (again, keeping in mind that the Giants are not going to get Aaron Judge):
Extend Logan Webb
Even though I just said last offseason’s extensions went kablooey-blammo, this seems to be a pretty obvious move that would elevate him to his ace status, buying him and the team some owner-friendly cost and marketing certainty and avoiding an arbitration hearing in February.
Zaidi had said late in the season after trading Casali to the Mariners that Curt made enough of impression that they’d be open to bringing him back. Now, “open to bringing him back” is the same as “checking in on” a dude. It is logical to cultivate multiple options, foreclosing on none of them, even after choosing a direction, in case you want to revisit a path later on.
Oh — wait. How did he get in here? What’s... wait, what’s this? No qualifying offer draft pick to deal with? He turned 28 on September 27, meaning he’s basically playing all of 2023 at 28? He plays a position of need? He’s been the 18th-best hitter (by fWAR) since 2019? The Giants will have to pay him the same as Aaron Judge, but the team would probably feel more comfortable going 7-8 years with him versus Judge? Why aren’t we talking about this option more?
Not nearly the same as the Bellinger situation, but zero Dodger baggage, no loss of a draft pick, and in six seasons before his absolutely disastrous 2021, he had a 17.4 fWAR, better than Giancarlo Stanton, Cody Bellinger, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt. He will likely cost less than Bellinger, too.
If not Bellinger or Conforto, then please consider this galoot. No draft pick attachment, some Dodger baggage, some Yankee baggage, an appalling strikeout rate (career: 37.3%, but last year, in 410 PA, 39.8%). But in 2021, he was worth 4.2 wins above replacement, acording to FanGraphs, despite hitting .199/.351/.458. There were 38 homers and solid defense in there. Like Bellinger and Conforto, he could be on the look out for a 1-year deal to rebuild value. He also just turned 29 (on the 19th). He doesn’t have the dynamic range of Bellinger in center field but the test of the Giants’ instructors to fix the hitting would be the same degree of difficulty here, with an even greater payoff for power.
The Dodger connection seems too strong to ignore, especially if Zaidi is kicking the tires on Kenly Jansen. He’d be a significant upgrade over Jakob Junis, but he’d also cost 2-3 times more. Still, with Rodon departing, depth will be necessary, and without having to lose a draft pick to acquire him, spending eight figures here rather than on an older bullpen arm like Jansen might help the rotation pitch some more innings and take some of the burden off the Giants’ pen.
I can squint and see him being the right-handed part of a DH platoon with Joc Pederson, but I could also see J.D. Davis doing that, too. Just going by FanGraphs, he has put up just two dynamic offensive seasons in his career (2017 & 2019). Over the last two seasons, his wRC+ is just a little above league average. In 2022, his batting against left-handed pitching was .234/.300/.351, but 2021, it was .288/.363/.535. He has an advantage over Bellinger and Gallo and even Nimmo because he’s a RHB, which Oracle Park doesn’t hurt as much.
Expect the Giants to make a lot of noise. Or rather, to have the press say their name a lot more than a typical offseason. They will consummate any interest with a very small percentage of those names and more likely sign a bunch of players there wasn’t a press leak that tied them. There’s another Alex Cobb out there. There’s another Zack Cosart’s contract for a prospect deal to be made. There’s maybe Carlos Correa? I... I’m just putting that out there. He makes a lot more sense for the team based on what they say they want.