Heading into the 2021-22 offseason, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris had the unenviable task of filling not just one or two, but four rotation spots. Each of Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto were free agents. Of the team’s 2021 starters, only Logan Webb was under club control.
Granted, much of that was the front office’s own doing. A generally risk-averse unit, at least insofar as signing free agents to lucrative multi-year commitments, the Giants inked each of Gausman, Wood and DeSclafani to one-year contracts prior to the 2021 season. The continued with a generally risk-averse approach this past offseason, replenishing their rotation for a combined $125MM paid out to Carlos Rodon (two years, $44MM), DeSclafani (three years, $36MM), Wood (two years, $25MM) and Alex Cobb (two years, $20MM).
Obviously, a $125MM investment is hardly a no-risk proposition, but spreading that number out across four pitchers without committing more than three years in length isn’t exactly working without a net for a team that averaged a $179MM payroll from 2015-19, topped out at $200.5MM in 2018, and has averaged a $152.5MM payroll over the past two seasons.
The quintet of Webb, Rodon, DeSclafani, Wood and Cobb had plenty of potential to be a strong group. It also had plenty of potential to be an injury-plagued unit that created ample headaches for the front office. Each of Rodon, DeSclafani, Wood and Cobb came with lengthy injury histories. Depth beyond that group was needed, and the Giants lacked it in the upper minors.
What followed was a series of sensible additions. Matthew Boyd inked a one-year deal worth $5.2MM, as the Giants hoped the longtime Tigers southpaw would be back from flexor surgery by mid-June. Former Royals righty Jakob Junis put pen to paper on a one-year, $1.75MM contract after being non-tendered by Kansas City. Carlos Martinez, a former All-Star with the Cardinals, signed a minor league contract.
Of all the names in that group, Junis was likely the most anonymous. A 29-year-old righty and former 29th-round pick, he looked the part of a player-development success story for the Royals during his first two seasons before flaming out in his final three years with Kansas City. From 2017-18, Junis gave the Royals 275 1/3 innings of 4.35 ERA ball with a strikeout rate just below the league average, a strong walk rate and slightly below-average ground-ball tendencies. It wasn’t a star-caliber profile by any means, but ask any scout in the world and they’d be thrilled at the notion of unearthing a viable fourth or fifth starter in the 29th round of the draft.
The 2019-21 seasons, however, didn’t pan out as either Junis or the Royals hoped. Although he made what’s still a career-high 31 starts in 2019, his ERA spiked to 5.24 as his walk rate ticked upward and he began to allow increasing amounts of hard contact. Things got even worse in 2020, and by June of 2021, Junis found himself optioned to Triple-A for the first time since 2017. Between that and the 5.36 ERA Junis posted from 2019-21, it wasn’t a surprise that the Royals opted not to tender him a contract, instead setting him out into the free-agent market.
Junis’ one-year deal with the Giants looked like a sensible depth pickup of an experienced arm with one minor league option year remaining, but it’s proven to be far more than that. In 17 games for San Francisco, 14 of them starts, Junis carries a 4.04 ERA with a 20.9% strikeout rate and a superb 4.7% walk rate. Fielding-independent metrics like FIP (3.83), SIERA (3.72) and xERA (3.85) all feel he’s been a fair bit better than that. For much of the year, he’s sported an ERA in the mid- or low-3.00s, though a recent pair of six-run clunkers have inflated his ERA a bit.
Even with his recent scuffles, though, Junis has been far more than a simple stopgap in the rotation. He’s only averaging about five innings per start — more or less in line with the league average at this point — and has held opponents to three or fewer runs in 13 of his appearances on the season.
The Giants have altered Junis’ pitch selection and done so to good effect; he’s throwing his slider a career-high 51.9% of the time and has yielded only a .210/.255/.359 in the 192 plate appearances that have ended with that pitch. He’s also effectively scrapped his four-seamer and his cutter in favor of a sinker he’s throwing at a 30.6% clip, and while the pitch has still been hit hard, opponents are doing far less damage against the pitch than either of the previous two fastball iterations that Junis was using at a far higher clip.
Junis will probably end up giving the Giants anywhere from a win to two wins above replacement this year — he’s at 1.6 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR at the moment — which is a solid return on their minimal investment in and of itself. But the Giants will also retain Junis’ rights into the 2023 season, as he’s still arbitration-eligible and will finish out the year with five-plus years of service. He’ll be due a raise on this year’s salary, but jumping into the $3MM range for a serviceable fourth starter is nonetheless a bargain.
The Giants already have four starters under contract in 2023 — Webb, Wood, Cobb and DeSclafani — but could very well lose Carlos Rodon to free agency if he turns down his player option (which is a lock, so long as he remains healthy). They’re not going to simply replace Rodon with Junis and call it a day, so the likelihood is that they’ll add an impact starter and enter 2023 with Junis as the sixth or perhaps even seventh starter. That’d land him in the bullpen at the start of the season, likely in a long relief role, but given the injury histories of DeSclafani, Wood and Cobb, there ought to be innings available to him next year.
The Junis pickup obviously isn’t a masterstroke that’s going to alter the course of the franchise for years to come, but he’s quietly been quite valuable for a Giants club that has had its share of pitching injuries — and he’ll continue paying dividends on their investment into the 2023 season. Not a ton has gone right for the Giants this year, but their ability to rehab and, in some cases, reinvent pitchers remains quite strong.
Don’t tell us how you really feel. Lol.
Farhan’s philosophy- if you never spend money, you’ll never get fired because no one will ever have expectations of you. He learned it from Billy Beane.
He booty the manager too get out
It’s true, Beane is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars management wanted him to spend. I think he’s using it to make space lasers.
Hopefully we will need it lord bless Chuck And the people at ren and stimpy
Beane wouldn’t spend even if he had money. It’s why he never took the Red Sox or Dodgers job in the past.
How could Management “allow” their GM to sit on hundreds of millions? Is that even possible?
Angels will take that tricky little goose Johnny Cueto as well please.
He’s a god
The problem with Junis has always been the long ball. Even this year he’s given up too many for the innings pitched. This year it isn’t hurting him as much because his walk rate is so low.
Giants once again, great scouting and signing. They groom talent well, and make good $ decisions. Angels missed out on Cobb, as he could’ve complimented their roster and could’ve been a trade deadline guy going out.
All of this for them to not sell high on him.
Farhan did it again. Stole Junis before los doyers could find him. They’re stuck with Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney. as their free agent acquisition. LA fans in full panic mode trying to keep up with Zaidi.
Rofl what is this what is this
Giants are only 28.5 games out of first place.
Dang. They’ll have to live with all star Tyler Anderson
What a gutpunch
OMG they’re multiplying!
The Giants 2022 demise can be blamed more on a obvious lack of timely hitting and a very subpar defense rather than major pitching woes. The starting pitching has been decent, but the bullpen has been only fair. They will have to shed some of the fan favorites and sign some bats if they want to return to being competitive in 2023.
Starting pitching has been the only thing that hasn’t disappointed except for the resurgence of Bart
Teams such as the Giants, Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Orioles, Brewers, and soon to be DBacks (with Brent Strom now there) are great at taking veteran pitchers from other teams that that have hit a wall and reworking some into solid productive contributors to its staff (Guardians run a pitching factory as well but primarily work on guys from their farm system).
On the other side of the coin are the Royals and Nationals – that can’t seem to get more then a one good year out of any pitcher other than Max Shurzer. These two organizations are always fertile grounds to find candidates. Both organizations ruin pitchers like the Yankees ruin position players. Make all the fun you want of Patrick Corbin; but if one of those teams can trade a few prospects and get the Nationals to eat maybe half of Corbin’s remaining contract, they’re going to wind up with a solid LH major league starter. It will take the better part of a year just to deprogram him. But if they can get him to add a team option for a year or two after his current contract expires they may well hit pay dirt.
The Giants will shed some veteran contracts this winter. I think the Giants will regret trading Matthew Boyd.
Patrick Corbin was the best free agent pitcher available that year. The Nats got a WS. Still, he’s a SP and not a wasted roster spot.
Yes, the Nationals won a WS in 2019, and Corbin was a big reason why. That was his one good year with them (same as they do with most pitchers).
Since then his ERA’s have been:
2022: 6.56 with a -2.4 bWar in 127 innings (thus far)
I’m not a big guy on this stat or that one, but these are generalized overview stats that reflect the situation. He’s not doing himself any good. It would be better for all were he to go elsewhere – he’s still 32 years-old and if reworked can be productive for years.
As for the Nats – I’m scared for their young pitchers. Hopefully one of the new owners top priorities will be to redo how the organization handles pitchers – it’s not as simple as replacing the pitching coach. I think they’re ruining Josiah Gray; and Keibert Ruiz went over there as a terrific young handler of pitchers – I have doubts about the habits he’s building there (the Dodgers are simply superb at working with young Catchers).
How about swapping Wood for Junis in the rotation? Alex Wood is probably better used, going forward, as the long man out of the bullpen. Junis can be the 5th starter but I really hope he gets replaced by midseason 2023 by Kyle Harrison.
SFG future does look bright with both Kyle Harrison and Landen Roup waiting in the wings. Jakob Junis has improved this season. His BB and HR are down. If he continues to improve, we may see something different next season.
Giants need a star studded pitcher, and a star bat to build around.
Go home MLBTR, you’re drunk. You’re not Fangraphs.