A potentially intriguing offseason awaits the Giants, who are positioned to be one of the winter’s more aggressive teams depending on how they approach their long-term spending.
- Evan Longoria, 3B: $43MM through 2022 (includes $5MM buyout of $13MM club option for 2023)
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $27MM through 2021 (includes $5MM buyout of $22MM club option for 2022)
- Buster Posey, C: $24.4MM through 2021 (includes $3MM buyout of $22MM club option for 2022)
- Brandon Belt, 1B: $16MM through 2021
- Brandon Crawford, SS: $16MM through 2021
- Wilmer Flores, INF: $3.25MM through 2021 (includes $250K buyout of $3.5MM club option for 2022)
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Daniel Robertson – $1.1MM
- Tyler Anderson – $3.7MM
- Alex Dickerson – $1.8MM
- Jarlin Garcia – $900K
- Trevor Gott – $700K
- Reyes Moronta – $800K
- Wandy Peralta – $1.0MM
- Darin Ruf – $1.4MM
- Austin Slater – $1.1MM
- Donovan Solano – $2.3MM
- Non-tender candidates: Robertson, Gott
- Kevin Gausman, Tony Watson, Drew Smyly, Jeff Samardzija, Trevor Cahill, Tyler Heineman, Chris Herrmann
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi spent his first two seasons trying to work around the Giants’ long list of guaranteed contracts, but the light can be seen at the end of this financial tunnel. Evan Longoria is the only player on the books beyond the 2021 season, providing the Giants with quite a bit of room to maneuver going forward and giving them an advantage in an offseason where most teams will limit their spending.
The question, of course, is whether Zaidi will pursue bigger-scale moves this winter or next. Other than simply acknowledging how payroll “flexibility….will certainly be helpful to us in the current marketplace,” Zaidi hasn’t made any bold statements about his offseason plans, as one might expect. The Giants suffered revenue losses themselves, and a full-bore splurge of major signings and trades for expensive players might not yet be feasible for the team, nor does such a tactic seem to fit Zaidi’s M.O. for roster construction.
There’s also the matter of the big contracts still on the roster for the coming season, but these deals aren’t quite as onerous as they seemed even a year ago. Brandon Crawford rebounded nicely from a mediocre 2019 season. Brandon Belt was quietly one of the better hitters in baseball, ranking fifth among all MLB hitters with a 173 wRC+ (min. 170 plate appearances). Even Longoria still provided his customary strong third base defense despite a below-average offensive year, though his Statcast metrics indicate that Longoria may have been one of the league’s unluckier hitters.
Beyond these veteran contributions, San Francisco also benefited from continued brilliance from the more unheralded members of its roster. Maybe Zaidi doesn’t need to spend big in free agency if his front office’s continual flurry of seemingly low-level roster moves keeps finding the likes of MVP candidate Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, Alex Dickerson, or Darin Ruf.
The result is a team that suddenly looks pretty set in terms of position players, prompting Zaidi to suggest he’ll focus primarily on “complementary” position players. Dickerson, Mauricio Dubon, and Yastrzemski will patrol the outfield with Ruf and Austin Slater as the first choices for platoon/bench duty. Longoria, Crawford, Solano, and Belt hold down the regular infield slots with Wilmer Flores getting a lot of action at first or second base (or at DH, if the position exists for NL teams in 2021) and Ruf probably also in the first base mix.
While Solano, Flores, and even Dubon offer some positional versatility, needs might include a proper utility infielder who could be a feasible shortstop option if Crawford was injured. Daniel Robertson performed pretty well in his limited time as a Giant, and though that might not be enough for San Francisco to tender him a contract, the team could explore re-signing him on a cheaper deal. Ideally, the Giants would probably prefer to add a left-handed hitter since they’re already heavy on righty bats.
Catcher isn’t necessarily a question mark in terms of personnel, but it’s definitely the biggest unknown in terms of what the Giants can expect. After undergoing hip surgery late in the 2018 season, Buster Posey didn’t look right for much of 2019 and then opted out of playing in 2020. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the former NL MVP can produce as he heads into his age-34 season.
Posey projects as the starting catcher while star prospect Joey Bart is likely to start 2021 in the minor leagues to get more seasoning after struggling in his first taste of MLB competition. Zaidi implied that the team could look to add a veteran backup for Posey while Bart gets some Triple-A time, or could turn to internal options like Chadwick Tromp or Aramis Garcia (who is returning from a hip surgery of his own).
If the Giants have plenty to work with around the diamond, the opposite is true in the starting rotation. Johnny Cueto was inconsistent in his first full season back after Tommy John surgery. Tyler Beede will be back after missing a season of his own due to TJ surgery, and Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson will return as middle-to-back-of-the-rotation types.
Beyond that quartet, there isn’t much depth, experienced or otherwise. Kevin Gausman, Trevor Cahill, Drew Smyly, and Jeff Samardzija are all free agents, leaving some major holes to fill and some major innings to replace. Smyly and Cahill were limited by injuries but pitched well when healthy, with Smyly working mostly as a traditional starter and Cahill pitching as both a starter and as a reliever.
Zaidi has already said that the Giants are making a “priority” of re-signing Gausman and Smyly, and the first step in that direction was taken when San Francisco issued Gausman a qualifying offer. If Gausman simply accepts, the Giants will have him back on a one-year, $18.9MM contract, though if the team pursues a multi-year contract, the 2021 payroll would take less of a hit. This could be something of a replay of Jose Abreu and the White Sox last winter, when Abreu accepted the QO but then worked out an extension with the team after the fact.
The fact that the Giants are willing to pay Gausman $18.9MM even for one season is indicative of a few things. It speaks to the team’s need for pitching, naturally, and also to how well Gausman pitched in his first year in San Francisco. In the larger picture, it hints that the Giants may indeed be willing and able to spend this offseason; if Gausman rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, then that theoretically leaves at least $18.9MM that the Giants will have to direct in some fashion towards the roster.
Those funds could be split up among multiple players rather than a single name. (For example, the total price tag on Gausman, Smyly, Anderson, and Cahill last offseason didn’t even total $18.9MM.) Whether Gausman re-signs or not, expect the Giants to extend low-cost, one-year contracts to a veteran hurler or two.
But, let’s think a bit bigger. Looking at the free-agent pitching market, Trevor Bauer is the clear top option. His stated preference for a team that is both analytically-inclined and willing to let him pitch every fourth day could make him a fit in San Francisco, as Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler have both shown that they’re ready to think outside the box. Bauer has walked back his previous declarations about only seeking one-year contracts, but the Giants have the payroll space to accommodate both a deal for just 2021 (Samardzija and Zack Cozart’s expiring contracts represent over $30MM coming off the books) or for multiple seasons.
Marcus Stroman is also likely to score a big multi-year contract (though Stroman also has a QO decision to make and he didn’t pitch in 2020 after opting out of the season), but MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents doesn’t project any other starter to earn more than $39MM, with Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi both hitting that threshold on three-year deals. Could the Giants hedge their bets slightly by making a Tanaka/Odorizzi-esque signing that would provide the rotation with a clear upgrade, yet still not represent a truly bank-breaking investment?
Going to the other side of the pitching department, the Giants plan to add at least one veteran reliever, so they could direct some funds towards bolstering the pen. GM Scott Harris recently indicated that the club would prefer to develop a closer rather than sign one, but the Giants have the money to pursue a Liam Hendriks or a Brad Hand if they wish. The Indians’ recent decision to waive Hand (and the subsequent decision of the other 29 teams to not claim him) suggests that there might not be much appetite for spending on relief pitching this winter, so San Francisco could gain an edge on the market by offering relievers contracts even slightly closer to what they would expect to receive in a more normal offseason environment.
Despite ostensibly being in a mini-rebuild over Zaidi’s two seasons, the team has been decently competitive. The 2020 Giants fell just one game shy of reaching the postseason. Provided that the lineup keeps hitting as it did last season, it isn’t out of the question to think that the Giants are a pitcher or two away from making some noise in October in 2021. The offseason possibilities are just about endless for Zaidi, Harris and company….depending on how far ownership is willing to stretch the payroll in this particular winter. Arguments can be made for going big or going small. The likeliest course could lie in the middle — taking legitimate steps toward emerging as a contender without quickly bogging themselves down with another slate of untenable long-term contracts.