The retirement of franchise legend Buster Posey underscores what a transformative offseason this could be for the Giants, who have lots of available payroll, several roster needs, and an infrastructure that has already produced a 107-win season.
- Brandon Crawford, SS: $32MM through 2023
- Evan Longoria, 3B: $24.5MM in 2022 (includes $5MM buyout of $13MM club option for 2023)
- Tommy La Stella, IF: $16.75MM through 2023
- Jake McGee, RP: $3MM through 2022 (includes $500K buyout of $4.5MM club option for 2023)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Dominic Leone – $1.5MM
- Curt Casali – $2.0MM
- Alex Dickerson – $3.0MM
- Darin Ruf – $2.6MM
- Jarlin Garcia – $1.8MM
- John Brebbia – $1.0MM
- Austin Slater – $2.0MM
- Mike Yastrzemski – $3.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: Brebbia, Dickerson
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $22MM club option for 2022 (declined, Cueto received $5MM buyout)
- Wilmer Flores, IF: $3.5MM club option for 2022 ($250K buyout)
- Jose Alvarez, RP: $1.5MM club option for 2022 ($100K buyout)
- Cueto, Kris Bryant, Brandon Belt, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Donovan Solano, Alex Wood, Tony Watson, Scott Kazmir, Jose Quintana, Reyes Moronta, Jake Jewell, Tyler Chatwood
The 2021-22 offseason has long been earmarked as the turning point of the Giants’ rebuilding phase. When Farhan Zaidi was hired as the team’s president of baseball operations in November 2018, the consensus was that Zaidi would spend three years adding younger talent and trying to unload as many unwieldy veteran contracts as possible, but since so many of those veteran contracts were up this winter, the decks would be cleared for the team to clearly focus on fielding a contender.
As it happened, the rebuild ended a year early. San Francisco didn’t even entirely bottom out in 2019 (77-85 record) or 2020 (29-31), and then shocked the baseball world by winning 107 games this past year. Of all the great teams in the Giants’ history, the 2021 edition was the first to 107 victories, breaking the old franchise mark of 106 set way back in 1904. After such a season, a first-round playoff exit has to count as a disappointment, especially since the Giants lost to the arch-rival Dodgers in a nail-biter of a five-game NLDS.
However, even though many members of that 2021 roster might not be returning next year, there is already a sense that San Francisco has turned the corner. Zaidi’s front office and the Giants’ coaching staff have done an outstanding job of acquiring lower-cost talent and working with those players to either rediscover past potential or reach new heights on the field, so the potential roster departures may not loom at large for the Giants as they would for most clubs. Now, with loads of extra payroll space to now spend on established star names or even more hidden-gem types, pretty much anything seems to be on the table for the Giants this winter.
Looking at San Francisco’s payroll picture, Roster Resource estimates the team has roughly $74.3MM on the books for 2022 and only $33MM committed beyond this season. Considering how the Giants regularly spent well over the $180MM mark and even paid the luxury tax in each of the 2015-17 seasons, it isn’t a reach to suggest that Zaidi could add around $100MM to next year’s ledger, even if some of that money isn’t spent in the winter and instead saved for another Kris Bryant-esque trade deadline addition.
Zaidi has already stated that the pitching staff if the team’s chief focus, since Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Johnny Cueto are all free agents. “I would be surprised if we didn’t wind up doing at least one multi-year deal for a starting pitcher,” Zaidi said, while also noting that the Giants would again be looking at less expensive one-year options to help fill these many rotation spots.
The good news is that San Francisco’s one remaining surefire starter is Logan Webb, who broke out with a tremendous 2021 season. Just about any veteran ace on the market could be a candidate to team Webb at the top of the rotation, considering how much money the Giants have available. This could translate to a reunion with Gausman, signing the likes of a Marcus Stroman or a Robbie Ray, or even luring Max Scherzer away from the Dodgers to join the other side of the longtime rivalry.
The Giants have interest in retaining any of their own free agent hurlers, Zaidi said. With his $130MM deal now up, Cueto would be the least expensive of the group, likely available on a one-year deal. Wood will require a multi-year pact but his market could be somewhat tempered by his injury history, even though he pitched quite well when healthy in 2021. Gausman will require one of the largest contracts of any free agent this winter, though there is already optimism that a new deal will be worked out, and the two sides already had some talks about a long-term contract last offseason when Gausman accepted the qualifying offer.
DeSclafani could be a QO candidate himself in the wake of his impressive 2021 season. The righty has generally pitched well over his seven MLB seasons but with some inconsistency, such as a rough 2020 campaign that allowed San Francisco to sign him to a one-year, $6MM deal last winter that proved to be a bargain. There is a possibility that DeSclafani could follow in Gausman’s footsteps by accepting the qualifying offer (one year, $18.4MM) and betting on himself for a better platform year in 2022 and larger free agent riches next offseason. Taking the QO would also allow DeSclafani to lock in a big payday now and avoid any risk of a market squeeze, or the labor uncertainty looming over baseball’s offseason due to the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement. On the other hand, DeSclafani turns 32 in April, so he might reject the qualifying offer if he sees this winter as his best chance at a big long-term contract.
At the lower end of the free agent market, any pitcher coming off a poor season or two might as well see San Francisco as the fountain of youth, given the Giants’ success at reclamation projects in recent years. As a result, it’s safe to assume the Giants might have their pick of just about any veterans available on inexpensive one-year deals. Younger starting candidates like Sammy Long and Tyler Beede are also in the mix to compete with any of these veterans for a back-end rotation spot come Spring Training.
The Giants had one of the game’s best bullpens last year and the relief corps probably won’t be a huge target area, but at least a couple of new faces are inevitable as more pitchers cycle through on minor league contracts. If rookie breakout Camilo Doval isn’t quite ready to take over the ninth inning, the Giants might stick with their loose committee system — Jake McGee will likely again get the bulk of save chances, with Doval, Tyler Rogers, Jose Alvarez (whose club option is very likely to be exercised), Zack Littell, and others all chipping in with saves based on situations.
We’ll begin our look at the Giants’ position player mix with catcher, as Posey’s retirement marks the end of a Cooperstown-level career and in some ways a symbolic end to the era that saw the Giants capture World Series titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Posey might also be the perfect symbol of this Giants rebuild, as his return to All-Star status in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season and an injury-marred 2019 mirrored the team’s own unexpected rise.
Posey’s retirement gives San Francisco even more financial room to maneuver, as the team was going to at least exercise his $22MM option, and a longer-term extension seemed like a distinct possibility. However, replacing Posey’s 2021 production is a very tall order no matter the money on hand, and it puts more pressure on Joey Bart to immediately deliver on his potential as one of baseball’s best prospects.
Bart hit .294/.358/.472 with 10 home runs over 279 plate appearances for Triple-A Sacramento this season, which represented his first exposure to Triple-A ball. Bart hasn’t done much over his 35 games and 117 PA at the big league level, but obviously that sample size isn’t representative of what the former second overall pick might have in store for the future. The Giants are likely to retain Curt Casali as a veteran backup or platoon partner with Bart in 2022, depending on whether or not the youngster is ready for a larger share of the playing time.
While the Giants aren’t going to do anything to hamper Bart’s long-term development, allowing a rookie catcher time to get his feet wet as a Major League player might not be ideal for a club that wants to win in 2022. It wouldn’t be surprising to see San Francisco acquire a veteran catcher on a one-year contract to essentially take Posey’s role as the short-term bridge to Bart in 2023, though Bart would still get his share of at-bats this coming season. Whether this scenario would potentially make Casali expendable remains to be seen, and the Giants also have two other interesting catching prospects (Patrick Bailey, Ricardo Genoves) waiting to make their debuts in the next season or two.
With Posey now retired, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are the last Giants remaining from the 2014 championship team. Belt is a free agent, but we already know Crawford will be staying, as the veteran shortstop rather unexpectedly delivered the best season of his career at age 34, which resulted in a two-year, $32MM contract extension back in August.
Crawford’s extension is both a fitting reward for a long-time franchise fixture, and an interesting early signal for San Francisco’s winter plans. Since Crawford is now locked up for two more years and star shortstop prospect Marco Luciano is at most a year away from the Show, the Giants might not be inclined to take part in the star-laden free agent shortstop market. If other teams with greater shortstop needs are targeting those players, it creates an opening for the Giants to focus on prime free agents at other positions.
Or, to pivot, the Giants might look at one of those shortstops at a position other than shortstop. Marcus Semien, for instance, already spent much of 2021 playing second base for the Blue Jays, and could potentially be willing to take on that role over the longer term to play for a contender (and particularly a contender that plays in Semien’s hometown of San Francisco). Zaidi’s past job in the Dodgers’ front office has made him very familiar with Corey Seager, and since there is already some sense that Seager will to change positions eventually, it is possible Seager might be open to making the move now under the right circumstances. For what it’s worth, there hasn’t been speculation that Crawford could switch positions, and that type of move seems unlikely since Crawford continues to be one of the better defensive shortstops around.
Chris Taylor might be a particular free agent name to watch, as he is another player with past ties to Zaidi in Los Angeles, and Taylor’s ability to play multiple positions fits the Giants’ love of versatile players. Taylor wouldn’t be as expensive as any of the “big five” shortstops (Seager, Semien, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Trevor Story) but he would still require a significant multi-year contract, and some draft pick compensation since he’ll be turning down the Dodgers’ qualifying offer.
Getting another super-utility type would help the Giants juggle playing time around the diamond, since the team already has a lot of available options. This is the interesting challenge facing Zaidi’s front office this winter when it comes to position player additions — the Giants have had great success in mixing and matching players throughout the lineup, but to take the next step towards a World Series ring, which reliable everyday stars are needed? And, since pretty much everyone on the roster played well in 2021, which of the productive platoon situations is the team willing to supplant with a single everyday player?
For instance, adding Taylor or the ultra-durable Semien at second base would lock down a position that already has depth, but also question marks. Wilmer Flores is likely to be retained and Thairo Estrada impressed in limited action in 2021, but Donovan Solano is a free agent and Tommy La Stella’s Opening Day readiness is in question due to Achilles surgery.
For first base, re-signing Belt would seem like an obvious move, and there is already some sense that Belt could be back for a 12th season in San Francisco. Belt also turns 34 in April and has a lengthy injury history, so Belt may not be able to match his 2020-21 numbers going forward. For as much payroll space as the Giants have on hand, they might prefer to spend those dollars at another position, and instead rely on some combination of Flores, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Darin Ruf as a first base platoon.
Or, maybe the easier solution is to just re-sign Belt and solidify the first base spot. Belt has been so good over the last two seasons (.285/.393/.595 with 38 homers over his last 560 PA) that such production is hard to replace, and the NLDS was a prime example of how the Giants lineup sorely missed Belt’s bat. With the DH likely coming to the National League in 2022, the Giants and other NL teams will be on the lookout for more offense, and having a DH spot available could help Belt stay healthy. Belt’s big numbers make him another candidate for a qualifying offer, and while it isn’t yet known if the Giants will extend such an offer to the first baseman, there would seem to be at least a chance that Belt might take such a deal. It would secure Belt another year with his longtime team, while also setting up a chance at another big payday next winter if Belt stays healthy and keeps hitting in 2022.
Evan Longoria is another veteran who is no stranger to the injured list, and a two-month absence due to a shoulder strain was the biggest reason Longoria was limited to only 81 games in 2021. Longoria hit well when he did play, and with the likes of Flores, Estrada, and La Stella all capable of playing third base, the Giants will probably stand pat at the hot corner barring something unexpected like Seager signing and then changing positions. This is purely speculation, but if the Giants did have a larger move in mind, Longoria might be an under-the-radar trade candidate since he has only one guaranteed year left on his contract (and the Rays are still paying a notable chunk of Longoria’s salary).
In the outfield, the collection of Bryant, Wade, Ruf, Mike Yastrzemski, Steven Duggar, Austin Slater, Alex Dickerson, and others all combined to give the Giants above-average production. Re-signing Bryant or a similar everyday name (i.e. Starling Marte, Mark Canha) would account for one position on a regular basis, reducing the number of platoon situations the Giants would have to monitor, and it would also allow players like Wade or Ruf to see more time in the infield. Dickerson seems like a non-tender or trade candidate, and if another outfielder is acquired, the Giants might feel they have enough of a surplus to make some other outfield names available in trade talks. Prospect Heliot Ramos didn’t have a great 2021 campaign in the minors, but he should also be available for his MLB debut next year.
Since Bryant is capable of regularly playing or at least filling in at five different positions, re-signing the former NL MVP would seem like a natural way to address San Francisco’s roster needs. There is enough of a fit that a reunion between the two sides probably can’t be ruled out until Bryant officially signs elsewhere, yet Zaidi seemed to imply that Bryant was only one of many possibilities open to the Giants, and not necessarily a priority.
It is a sign of how the Giants’ approach has evolved that San Francisco now has the luxury of waiting on talents like Bryant, since the Giants have perhaps the most overall flexibility (from both a financial standpoint and a roster standpoint) of any team. While Zaidi’s tenure has seen the Giants at least make some exploratory measures towards bigger-name acquisitions in the past, this may be the first offseason where Zaidi will have the organization’s full resources behind him, fully directed towards contending and winning. Expect a lot of rumors and headlines out of San Francisco this winter, as the Giants’ next steps could be the talk of the offseason.