Giants’ president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recently appeared on The TK Show, the podcast of The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, and discussed a wide variety of topics pertaining to the past and the future of the club.
Broadly speaking, there’s a wide variety of paths for the Giants to take this winter. They have a lot of contracts coming off the books when free agency begins, which means they will have money to spend but also holes to fill. They could use that money to assemble a team that’s very similar to the 107-win 2021 squad, go with a completely different look, or somewhere in between. Regardless of how it plays out, Zaidi believes their success this season should help make them an attractive destination for potential signees. “We’re just going to keep trying to get better and better and better and at some point you reach the tipping point where you look up and you’re at the top of the standings, and that situation can perpetuate itself by reputation, a lot of free agents want to play for you, and you can draft off of that success if you just kind of keep grinding and trying to make the team better.”
It certainly stands to reason that free agents would be intrigued, especially given that the Giants have seemingly found a way to maximize the talents of veterans they’ve brought on in recent years, such as Darin Ruf, Anthony DeSclafani, Jake McGee and Alex Wood, who are all over 30 years old and did some of the best work of their careers in 2021. And there’s also Giants’ mainstays like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey, who are all 33 or older and had excellent seasons.
Zaidi elaborated on that point by giving some insight into how players approach free agency and how it’s evolved in recent years. He says that money and geography used to be the primary factors, but now, “I think guys are more aware of going somewhere they feel like there’s an infrastructure and a support system that can help them thrive from a performance standpoint. You get a lot more questions from free agents on what facilities do you have, can I speak to your pitching coach or hitting coach? And that’s a way bigger part of the recruiting process. We’ve been really focused on that pitch over the last couple of years.”
Zaidi had already discussed the rotation situation last week, which is surely going to be a big part of the Giants’ offseason as Wood, DeSclafani, Kevin Gausman and Johnny Cueto are all heading into free agency. Kawakami asked him about taking a similar approach to what they’ve done previously, giving short-term deals to talented pitchers with question marks on their records. “You look at the list of free agents and there are some names on that list who have had a lot of success in the past and maybe dealt with injuries this year or underperformed for whatever reason,” Zaidi said. “I think when you’ve got to fill out four spots in your rotation, you’re certainly going to look at that segment of the market.” The team has a $22MM club option on Cueto, but the fact that Zaidi admits they will be looking to fill four rotation spots seems to leave no doubt that they will opt for the $5MM buyout instead.
But those short-term deals aren’t the only thing on the table. “I would be surprised if we didn’t wind up doing at least one multi-year deal for a starting pitcher,” Zaidi added. “Certainly all of our guys who are free agents are going to be looking for multi-year deals based on the seasons they had. We have interest in bringing all of those guys back.”
In terms of payroll, the club should have lots of flexibility for 2022 and beyond. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the club’s opening day payroll was just under $150MM this year, the lowest since 2014, when prorating the 2020 number. According to Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, they only have about $65MM allocated for 2022, when factoring in arbitration estimates. Assuming the club picks up its options on Buster Posey, Wilmer Flores and Jose Alvarez, that number would jump up to the $90MM range. Even if payroll stays steady for 2022, that seemingly gives Zaidi and his team $60MM to throw around this offseason. For 2023, there’s only $33MM on the books so far, with Crawford and Tommy La Stella the only guaranteed contracts. With that level of wiggle room, the club could surely find any number of ways to build a rotation around breakout star Logan Webb, for both the short and long term.
On the position player side of things, Zaidi seems to be less worried about their situation in that department. Kawakami quotes Zaidi from a press conference last week as saying, “We’re deep on the position-player side. We have a number of guys who are platoon guys, every-day guys, we have a lot of at-bats that are accounted for. And we’ve got guys like Thairo Estrada (and) Steven Duggar that we’d like to see get better opportunities. You’ve got a layer of prospects that are even closer to being big-league ready, guys like (Heliot) Ramos and Joey Bart. So we at least have some options on the position-player side. Where all those guys on the position-player side, not just Kris but Brandon Belt, Donovan Solano, these guys fit our team, we’d like to have them back, but we have some options on that side.”
Solano has had a nice run with the Giants but is about to turn 34, whereas Estrada is about to turn 26 and had a similarly-productive season, making it fairly reasonable to see that bringing Solano back isn’t the highest priority. Belt had a tremendous season at the plate but also comes with injury concerns. The club largely turned to a productive Wilmer Flores/Darin Ruf platoon when Belt was out, which they could do again in 2022. (Ruf can be retained via arbitration, Flores by a $3.5MM club option.) Bryant is a tremendous hitter but will be command a huge financial commitment this winter and is an imperfect fit on the Giants’ roster. Third baseman Evan Longoria is still under contract for one more year, at just under $20MM, meaning Bryant would likely be pushed into more outfield time, where his defensive numbers aren’t as good. The club also has a bevy of outfield options already in the fold, such as Duggar, LaMonte Wade Jr., Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson and Austin Slater. Prospect Heliot Ramos, whom Zaidi mentioned, finished his season at Triple-A and will need to be added to the 40-man roster next month in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, meaning he should be in the mix for an opportunity soon. Zaidi’s apparent lack of urgency around the position players seems to hold up to scrutiny. The option of a universal DH for 2022 would open things up somewhat, but that’s not guaranteed to happen.
All in all, it should be a fascinating offseason for the club. The rival Dodgers are in a similar situation, with lots of players reaching free agency, such as Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor and Kenley Jansen. Both clubs will surely be frequently connected to free agents in rumors this offseason, meaning 2021’s fierce competition for the NL West division crown figures to continue right through the winter.