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Opening our minds to what’s possible at the edges of free agency

Given Farhan Zaidi’s biggest strength is finding value at the bottom of lists, let’s adjust our sights to more realistic targets.

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Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

It’ll cost the San Francisco Giants a lot of money to improve their roster via top of the market free agents and given the ballpark and the quality of opponents in the division, any big hitter left and any premiere pitcher left is likely to not be worth their AAV. Add to that Jung Hoo Lee’s probable season-long learning curve and Robbie Ray being out until after the All-Star break and it’s logical, even rational, to conclude that this year’s a punt and the goal should be to compete in 2025.

Unfortunately, Farhan Zaidi must field a team in 2024. We know from his comments during the COVID year that he thinks all major league games should be 7 innings. He recently suggested an offseason deadline for multi-year deals to fast forward through free agency. The dude’s first thought is to sim through a season as quickly as possible, a man who has firmly grown up in the baseball sim era. No judgment there, it just must be really frustrating for him that he must experience this plodding rebuild at the same speed as the rest of us.

While it’s plausible that a trade is on the horizon (the deadline to sign arbitration eligible players who were tendered contracts is today and some teams might be itchy to dump salary), it’s more likely that the Giants will need to figure out a stopgap rotation until Robbie Ray and Alex Cobb return via free agency, even if you factor in Keaton Winn, Tristan Beck, and Ross Stripling to go with Logan Webb and Kyle Harrison. The team agrees with me!

We don’t know how much the Giants have to spend on free agents but let’s assume it’s not much. Maybe $10-$15 million, with or without a Matt Chapman deal. They’ll still need some pitching. But not pricey pitching. Given that and that the Giants’ President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi, has one great and unimpeachable strength — finding value at the edge of reality — let’s see what pitching depth he could add to the roster that might help the team limp along until Cobb and then Ray return.

Using the MLB.com free agent list for starting pitchers, there are 33 free agent starting pitchers remaining, excepting any relievers the Giants might think could be reconstituted into bulk guys (Jordan Hicks, Dinelson Lamet, Jimmy Nelson). For the purposes of this article, I’ve spun those names out into three lists: Too Much, Too Bad, and Just Right.

Too Much

Blake Snell
Jordan Montgomery
Clayton Kershaw
Marcus Stroman

We had that moment where we thought it might be Marcus Stroman, but the Yankees are rumored to be the frontrunner now. Although, it’s Jon Morosi reporting, and after the Ohtani fiasco he should probably be at the bottom of the list in terms of reliability. That said, Stroman opted out of $25 million to pitch for the Cubs in 2024. Could mean he perceives a greater market for himself or a higher AAV than the Giants would prefer just to insert an injury guy (and Stroman’s hip issues absolutely make him an injury guy) into the rotation as a bridge to their other injury guys’ returns. His utility beyond 2024 is questionable, too, even if Stroman has never been a bad pitcher at any point in his career.

I’m throwing him in the too expensive pile, though, because I think it comes down to cost. Obviously, the Giants aren’t going to pony up for Blake Snell, and Jordan Montgomery seems like he’s riding the inflated market coming off being a postseason hero. Clayton Kershaw would cost at least $12 million, and I think even that is too much for what the Giants seek at this point in the offseason. Besides, I doubt Kershaw would want to finish his career with the Giants and the suggestion is that the Dodgers are keeping the door open for a return. Would it be funny, though? Maybe a little.

Too Bad

Matthew Boyd
Julio Urias*
Noah Syndergaard
Mike Clevinger*
Rich Hill
Corey Kluber
Carlos Carrasco
Alex Wood
Johnny Cueto
Noah Syndergaard
Zach Davies
Julio Teheran
Madison Bumgarner (lol remember that guy?)
Dallas Keuchel
Tommy Milone
Drew Rucinski
Naoyuki Uwasawa
Vince Velasquez (out with Tommy John)
*-people of bad character

This seems like a pretty obvious list. Urias, Clevinger, T**v*r B***r... why? What’s the upside? They’re all men of publicly bad character, practically notorious. You should feel bad thinking any of these players make sense. They’re not “distressed assets,” they’re human beings who have caused great harm to other human beings off the field.

Anyway, this is a combination of aged-out players, enemies of the front office (Alex Wood, Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner), and just generally bad players whose skill sets don’t really suggest qualities that could be fine tuned by the Giants’ pitching lab — an area we can’t assume will be as great in a post-Andrew Bailey/Brian Bannister world. Bryan Price’s accomplishments are from before the existence of Statcast. He’s a dinosaur and now he’ll have input on pitcher usage. Something to watch as the season goes on.

And I put Matthew Boyd at the top of the list as a warning: yes, the Giants signed him last season while he rehabbed from Tommy John then dumped his salary to the Mariners during that rehab. He gave the Mariners 13 innings and then he re-signed with the Tigers last offseason for $10 million only to land back on the IL with another elbow strain. He wasn’t very good with the Tigers during this most recent stint (5.45 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.4 HR/9) and so if the Giants sign him it’s a sign that they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Just Right

I want to make it clear that these are not the pitchers I want the Giants to get (I want them to get Jordan Montgomery, although it’s doubtful he’d want to move to the West Coast), these are players who seem like ideal players for the organization. A combination of experience, results, peripherals and price make them simply perfect potential Giants.

I’ve ranked them in order of Makes Sense-ness...

Hyun Jin Ryu

Former Dodger, so that should already tickle Zaidi’s neurons. He’s coming off a 4-year, $80 million deal with the Blue Jays in which COVID and Tommy John limited him to just 60 starts and 315 innings pitched but he had a decent 110 ERA+. He’s not the traditional sinker-slider guy the team likes, he’s more of a cutter-changeup guy with a really nice curveball in there (30+% Whiff rate on that sucker over the years).

He’s a crafty lefty who will be 37 on Opening Day and so that plus the extremely mid stuff means a pillow deal on the scale of, say, Carlos Rodon is out of the question. Steamer projects him at 1.8 fWAR, which suggests something closer to $15 million and therefore too rich for the Giants’ blood, but something in $8-$12 million range just might make the most sense for both sides, because there’s no way he’s giving any team a full season.

Michael Lorenzen

I debated if he belongs on this list because I figured he’ll cost too much. He almost certainly wants a multi-year deal (the Angels turned him into a solid starter), but even if teams collude to squeeze him down to a one-year deal, I think the Giants might have to bid way up just to get him. He made $8.5 million last season and that’s coming off basically a 2-WAR season. Steamer projects a 1.2 WAR, but that’s based in part on his previous numbers as a reliever, so, I think he’s setup to be closer to $12-$15 million.

That said, Ross Stripling was only able to get a $12.5 million AAV from a 3-WAR season in 2022, and so maybe $12 million is Lorenzen’s ceiling, even if the Giants have to pay more than the next guy because free agents loathe San Francisco (a claim Farhan Zaidi disputes despite continuing to mention it, so....).

His 94 mph fastball (both a four-seamer and a sinker) and 2500 rpm slider should have him on the Giants’ radar already.

Spencer Turnbull

I read up on why Scott Harris decided to non-tender Turnbull and it almost made me take him off this list. There seems like more to the story of him filing a grievance with the MLBPA because of IL shenanigans on the part of the Tigers. It followed a weird injury situation where he had neck issues that he didn’t report.

Cody Stavenhagen for The Athletic (subscription required) described it as a “saga.” I agree, and with the Giants pushing Ross Stripling into grievance territory at the end of 2023, perhaps Turnbull might be wary of walking into another situation where a similar outcome seems likely to occur.

Still, as far as I know, he hasn’t harmed a person IRL and so I don’t feel like this contradicts my “they’re not distressed assets, they’re people” proclamation earlier, it just means that both parties might be more than willing to look for something on a short-term deal.

He’ll turn 32 in September, a point in his favor. Stuff-wise, he’s got the sinker-slider combo the Giants love (especially the 2,500 rpm spin slider). He’s coming off a 7.26 ERA season (7 starts, 31 IP) after missing all of 2022 with injury, and in the four seasons prior (2018-2021), he posted a 4.25 ERA (109 ERA+) in 271.1 IP (53 games started). The most he’s ever pitched in a season, though, is 148.1 innings. He’s also from Alabama and so, prejudicially/stereotypically, San Francisco might not be his preferred destination.

Still, Turnbull was projected to make just $2.4 million in arbitration which, again, the Tigers declined (perhaps as part of their settlement), and so he’d be a low cost addition whose profile fits what the Giants have sought out during the Zaidi era.

Jake Odorizzi

The Giants had interest in him during the 2020-2021 offseason and I’m a little surprised he hasn’t already been a Giant. He’s a huge injury guy who missed all of 2023 with a right rotator cuff strain and he’ll be 34 on Opening Day, but again, we’re just looking at stopgap arms the Giants can find until their supposed-to-be good arms rejoin the rotation.

From age 22-29, Odorizzi’s line was solid:

1028.2 IP
3.88 ERA (105 ERA+)
4.09 FIP
1.24 WHIP
8.6 K/9
3.1 BB/9
1.2 HR/9

He averaged 23/24 starts a season.

30 and beyond (2020, 2021, and 2022):

224.2 IP
4.45 ERA (93 ERA+)
4.48 FIP
1.30 WHIP
7.6 K/9
2.9 BB/9
1.4 HR/9

And he’s made 49 starts (the COVID year screws up the average).

His stuff doesn’t really conform to the Giants’ preferred repertoire (no sinker, low spin slider, doesn’t have a sweeper), but maybe he’s been in the lab working on pitch design and other mechanics and he’ll do a showcase that could lead to a low-cost deal.

James Paxton

He ended the season on the IL due to right knee inflammation and he started the season on the IL with a right hamstring strain that kept him out until May. This after missing all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery. But that just means he might be ready to have a great, fully rehabbed season in 2024, right?

Except for 2016, when he averaged 97.5 mph with his four-seam fastball, Paxton has been a 95 mph fastball dude. That was the case this past season, even, with both his four-seamer and, for the first time since 2016, his sinker — HELLO! His curveball and changeup had 38 and 47 percent whiff rates respectively, too. It was just 96 innings for the Red Sox, and just a 101 ERA+, but it was a bit of a return to form.

Now, is that something he might want to parlay into a 1+1 sort of deal or a multi-year deal? That could be a problem. But as a guy who might be able to give you 8-12 starts before Alex Cobb returns, a one-year deal is a really good investment. But the cost is a real question. He signed a weird deal with the Red Sox in which they paid him $6 million to rehab with them in 2022 and then a team option in 2023 for $13 million that if they declined he could then exercise a $4 million player option (which he did). Is he a $13 million pitcher? I’m not sure. But a deal that includes a lower guarantee that increases with innings pitched might be something the Giants could fit into their budget and would give them an intriguing upside.

Luke Weaver

He pitched for three teams in 2023 (Cincinnati, Seattle, and the Yankees) and so it’s hard to say if there’s something here that the Giants can exploit for a couple of months or if he really is a 6.40 ERA guy.

His final three appearances of the year came in starts for the Yankees and he had a 3.38 ERA (4.46 FIP) in 13.1 innings. He struck out 16, walked 3, and gave up 3 homers. At first I thought it had something to do with the sweeper he added during the season, but that pitch got crushed (.346 batting average against despite a 22.5% Whiff rate).

He looks like a guy who chose rehab over Tommy John and so it looks like he’s a very big injury risk... but that fastball. He averaged 94 with the four-seamer and his cutter seems interesting, too. Just 90 mph average velocity, but a 2,410 rpm spin rate. For comparison, Camilo Doval’s cutter spin is 2,521. He also has a slider.

He just turned 30 and seems on the verge of needing Tommy John, but the potential cost would be incredibly low.

Brad Keller

Oh what’s that? You’re getting a little tired of all these fringe guys? Well, you need to get used to it. This is how you build a roster from the bottom up! You have to find solid floors with potentially high upside under the right conditions that doesn’t cost a lot.

Keller added a sweeper in 2023, too, and his got crushed really good, too (101.3 average exit velocity despite being thrown just 22 times). BUT! He has a 2500 rpm slider and he throws a 92.5 mph sinker. That’s very Giantsy.

Still, he hit the IL at the end of the season with symptoms arising from thoracic outlet syndrome. That’s not an automatic career-ender like it used to be, but it’s not a good thing.

Chase Anderson

He started the season with Rays which means they saw something they thought could be helpful. He wound up being claimed by the Rockies, though, and as tough a beat as pitching in Coors Field is — and I wouldn’t say he held his own very much (5.89 FIP in 81.1 IP) — he gave good Statcast: 93.3 mph with his fastball, a great sweeper (2400 RPM, 25% Whiff rate, .172 batting average against), and a 2410 rpm cutter. He just turned 36, though, and given all that info, he seems more like an NRI with an opt out date than a guy setup for a guaranteed major league deal. Still, the Giants can’t be too choosey. Building from the sewer up isn’t a dignified process.

José Ureña

Analytics-wise, his best season was back in 2018 when he generated 1.7 fWAR for the Marlins on a 3.98 ERA (4.17 FIP) and just a 6.72 K/9 paired with a 49.6% groundball rate. In 2017, he went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA, but because of a 5.20 FIP and 43.1% groundball rate, FanGraphs said NO NO NO and he was worth just 0.2 fWAR — replacement level. This guy is nothing but red flags. And yet, he’s had a major league job since 2015.

The Rockies enjoyed 5 starts and a 9.82 ERA before releasing. The Nationals signed him to a minor league deal and released him after 15 starts and a 6.72 ERA in Triple-A. Then the White Sox signed him and promoted him from Triple-A after a 3.38 ERA in 4 starts for their Charlotte team. In 5 starts with the White Sox, he had a 4.10 ERA (4.74 FIP). He has a 95 mph sinker and a slider with decent spin (2,276 rpm). But he also walks a fair amount and even when he was good he threw a lot of wild pitches (26 between 2017 and 2018). At 32, he seems to be in the NRI with opt out bucket, same as Chase Anderson, but for a team on a budget, that stuff seems intriguing.

Eric Lauer

Left elbow inflammation at the end of 2022 and a right shoulder impingement in 2023 so it seems like this lefty is destined for surgeryville and therefore not a viable option to start the season. Still, a cursory glance of that Baseball Reference page is intriguing: a career 8.6 K/9 and prior to 2023, he had a really nice pair of seasons in 21 & 22 (117 ERA+ in 277.1 IP - 49 starts).

In 21 & 22 his fastball velocity was 93 mph and it was accompanied by a high spin cutter, a high spin slider, and high spin curveball. But also a low spin changeup. His fastball velo fell off in 2023, down to 91 and so, yeah, probably not a good sign going forward — but still, he was projected to earn just $5.2 million in arbitration before the Brewers outrighted him and he elected free agency. The Giants might not need much convincing of his health (and according to our friends at Brew Crew Ball, his rehabbing didn’t go well) if the cost is low.

Brandon Woodruff

John Brebbia, Luke Jackson... look, the Giants sign guys coming back from injuries if they think there’s future value. Now, Woodruff completely invalidates the thesis of this post. He’s going to miss all of 2024 and signing him would be a clear sign that the plan has always been to punt on 24 and gear up for 25.

This is why I’ve included him on the list. There’s definitely strong arguments to be made that adding guys with solid floors and decent upsides is what any competitive team does, but if this is where the Giants focus their energies — if they opt out of Snell or a trade for a Corbin Burnes — it can’t mean that they are serious about contending for a playoff spot in 2024. It could only mean that they’re trying to depth-luck their way into staying competitive for the third Wild Card spot for as long as they can in 2024.

He won’t be able to pitch again until his age-32 season, but what a get he would be. A career 137 OPS+, 10.4 K/9m and just a 1.0 HR/9. He’d probably sign a 1+1, too, where the Giants would pay him $4-$6 million to rehab for them in 2024 and then $13-$18 million for 2025 and then he’d be gone.

Only a few of the remaining free agents would really point to the Giants trying to be ultra competitive in 2024 anyway, and the likelihood of any of those few players being in the Giants’ budget is very slim, whether we like it or not. The Giants are not shy about signing guys who’ve missed a year and have a ton of red flags so long as they have a track record and don’t cost very much. If the Giants were a restaurant, revived leftovers would be their house specialty.