- Mike Yastrzemski garnered some down ballot NL MVP support this past season thanks to a stellar .297/.400/.568 slash line. He has been fantastic offensively since the Giants acquired him with little fanfare from the Orioles entering the 2019 season. Not surprisingly, Yastrzemski would like to stay in San Francisco long-term, he said earlier this week (via Jessica Kleinschmidt of NBC Sports Bay Area). It’s not clear the Giants would have much urgency to work out an extension, though. Fantastic production notwithstanding, Yastrzemski’s already 30 and controllable through 2025. He’ll make just north of the league minimum in 2021 but stands a good chance at reaching arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two player next offseason.
Right-hander Dan Straily dropped completely off the MLB radar following a dismal 2019 showing with the Orioles — a season that saw him surrender 52 earned runs in just 47 2/3 big league innings. Interest in the righty was tepid, and he opted to take a guaranteed $1MM deal with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization over a nonguaranteed deal with an MLB club.
That move could wind up paying dividends for Straily, who’ll turn 32 next Tuesday. Sportsgrid’s Craig Mish reports that the veteran righty is receiving interest from MLB and KBO clubs alike, with the Angels, Giants and Reds among the Major League teams to have reached out. Straily is aiming to decide between a return to the Majors and another season (or seasons) in South Korea as soon as next week, per the report.
Straily’s return to the market this winter comes under vastly different circumstances. While he was coming off the worst season of his professional career a year ago, Straily recently wrapped an outstanding debut campaign in the KBO. In 31 starts, Straily totaled 194 frames and pitched to a 2.50 ERA and 2.97 FIP, averaging 9.5 strikeouts, 2.4 walks and 0.46 home runs per nine innings pitched. It was a remarkable turnaround for the well-traveled right-hander — one that seems to have restored some confidence in his ability to navigate a Major League lineup.
The 2019 season was such a struggle for Straily that it’s easy to forget he’s not far removed from being a perfectly serviceable rotation piece in the Majors. From 2016-18, Straily pitched in 90 games for the Reds and Marlins, working to a collective 4.03 ERA with 7.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 1.49 HR/9. Fielding-independent marks were less bullish on the righty (4.83 FIP, 4.89 xFIP) due in some part to a .261 average on balls in play that was well below the league average and a 77.9 percent strand rate that was well north of average. It’s fair to say that Straily probably did benefit from some good fortune, but extreme fly-ball pitchers like him are generally able to sustain lower BABIPs; his .261 mark over that three-year term is right in line with his career .267 mark.
Also working in Straily’s favor is the simple fact that he should be affordable if he opts to return from the KBO. It’s possible he could command a multi-year pact with a modest annual salary, but many teams are likely hoping to ink him on a one-year deal, perhaps with some incentives to help boost his annual value. He’d surely be able to generate multi-year interest in the KBO or perhaps in NPB at this point, though a successful big league return is the most lucrative potential path forward.
The Indians have claimed right-hander Jordan Humphreys off waivers from the Giants and, in a corresponding move, designated righty Adam Cimber for assignment, according to a club announcement. San Francisco had designated Humphreys for assignment back on Friday.
Cimber, 30, came to Cleveland alongside recently waived All-Star Brad Hand in the trade that sent catching prospect Francisco Mejia to the Padres. It proved to be a worthwhile swap for Cleveland, as Mejia hasn’t contributed much of anything to the Padres yet, but the hope at the time of the deal was surely that Hand and Cimber would hold down key bullpen roles into at least the 2021 season. This past season’s lost revenues prompted the Indians to decline Hand’s option, however, and Cimber was likely deemed expendable due to a looming arbitration raise and the fact that he never pitched as well in Cleveland as he did for the Padres.
Cimber was a 27-year-old rookie with San Diego in ’17 but carved out an important role in their bullpen by pitching to a 3.17 ERA with a 51-to-10 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings prior to the trade. That performance and Cimber’s five-and-a-half remaining years of club control surely piqued the interest of the perennially low-budget Indians, but he’s looked more like a serviceable middle reliever than a potential high-leverage option in Cleveland. Over parts of three seasons with the Indians, Cimber has a 4.30 ERA with just 5.4 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9. He’d he been arbitration-eligible as a Super Two player this winter.
Humphreys, 24, has yet to make his big league debut but had a big 2017 season across two Class-A levels in the Mets organization before requiring Tommy John surgery. He allowed just two runs in 13 innings of Rookie ball in 2019 as he rehabbed from that surgery and likely would’ve been ticketed for a Double-A assignment in 2020 had their been a minor league season. The Giants acquired him in the trade that sent Billy Hamilton to Queens and likely hoped to sneak him through waivers, but he’ll instead give Cleveland an interesting depth piece. In 169 2/3 professional innings, Humphreys has a 2.60 ERA and a 177-to-30 K/BB ratio.
The Rangers announced that they’ve claimed catcher Aramis Garcia off waivers from the Giants, who had designated him for assignment Friday. The waiver claim brings the Rangers’ 40-man roster to a total of 39 players.
Garcia, 27, at one point looked like he could potentially factor into the Giants’ long-term catching outlook in some regard. He’s never rated as an elite prospect, but the 2014 second-rounder has a respectable track record in Triple-A and debuted with a .268/.308/.492 slash through 65 plate appearances in 2018.
However, Garcia saw only sparing time in the Majors in 2019, and he underwent hip surgery back in February that wiped out his entire 2020 season. Top catching prospect Joey Bart debuted this past season, meanwhile, and Giants icon Buster Posey is expected back in 2021 after opting out of the previous season.
Garcia seems to be a good fit for the catching-needy Rangers, who have a well-regarded prospect of their own looming in Sam Huff. Jose Trevino figures to get the bulk of the work while Huff heads to Triple-A to begin the 2021 season, but Garcia should have a chance to earn a spot and a part-time role in Spring Training — assuming he’s healthy.
The Orioles announced Wednesday that they’ve claimed first baseman/outfielder Chris Shaw off waivers from the Giants. Right-hander Thomas Eshelman was designated for assignment to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Additionally, the O’s revealed that corner infielder/designated hitter Renato Nunez, whom they designated for assignment last Friday, went unclaimed on waivers and has been released.
Shaw, 26, long seemed like a change-of-scenery candidate for the Giants. The former No. 31 overall draft pick has a productive .280/.328/.538 slash in more than 1000 Triple-A plate appearances, but he’s also struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances there. He made his big league debut in 2018 but still only has 82 plate appearances, as the new-look Giants front office never seemed as bullish on Shaw as the prior regime that drafted him. Shaw was initially omitted from San Francisco’s 60-man player pool this season, and although he was later added, he never got called up to the big leagues. With the O’s, his left-handed bat will get some looks at first base, in the outfield corners and at designated hitter.
The release of Nunez in many ways opens a spot for Shaw to get an opportunity in Baltimore. While Orioles fans were alarmed to see Nunez, who slugged 43 home runs in just over 800 plate appearances from 2019-20, designated for assignment last week, the move wasn’t necessarily a shock.
Nunez has struggled to get on base even while showing considerable power, and he’s a below-average defender at both infield corners. The market for OBP-challenged, defensively limited sluggers has dried up considerably in recent years, and Nunez was due a raise in arbitration. That he went unclaimed speaks to the fact that his one-dimensional skill set isn’t one that’s valued highly around the game at the moment.
As for the 26-year-old Eshelman, he gave the Orioles an aesthetically pleasing 3.89 ERA in 34 2/3 innings this past season, but that mark was likely misleading. Eshelman managed just 16 strikeouts in that time, and while many low-strikeout arms can mitigate damage by keeping the ball on the ground, his 35.9 percent grounder rate makes him a fairly extreme fly-ball pitcher.
Eshelman has just 38 strikeouts in 70 2/3 career innings, and he’s allowed 19 home runs in that time as well — a rate of 2.42 per nine innings pitched. He has a decent minor league track record, but that lack of missed bats and penchant for serving up the long ball has led to a career 5.22 ERA and even higher 6.56 FIP. The Orioles will have a week to trade Eshelman, run him through outright waivers or release him.
12:32PM: For the second straight offseason, the Blue Jays are checking in on a wide range of free agent options. The club has already been linked to George Springer and DJ LeMahieu, and now The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) adds that Toronto has spoken with representatives for Michael Brantley and Justin Turner, and the Jays also made an offer to Kevin Gausman before Gausman accepted the Giants’ one-year, $18.9MM qualifying offer. Going beyond only established big leaguers, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Jays have interest in Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, noting that Toronto has “evaluated him closely.”
While possibilities abound on the position player side, pitching is Toronto’s chief focus this winter, so it isn’t surprising that they made an early pitch for Gausman. Rosenthal reports that the Jays offered Gausman a three-year deal worth roughly $40MM, though the right-hander instead opted for the one-year deal to remain in San Francisco. Should Gausman deliver another good season in 2021 and then return to the free agent market next winter, he’ll surely receive offers beyond the two years and $21.1MM he left on the table to accept the Giants’ qualifying offer.
The Giants have interest in left-hander Jon Lester, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link). Lester entered free agency after the Cubs bought him out for $10MM rather than exercise a $25MM club option on the veteran’s services for 2021.
This isn’t the first time Lester has been connected to the Giants, as Morosi notes that Lester “seriously considered” joining the club during his last trip through the free agent market, back in the 2014-15 offseason. Obviously much has changed within the Giants organization in those six years, though the club has some other ties to Lester — both manager Gabe Kapler and pitching coach Andrew Bailey are former teammates, dating back to Lester’s days with the Red Sox.
Lester would offer durability and veteran leadership to a rotation, though he is coming off a lackluster year in terms of on-field results. Over 61 innings with the Cubs in 2020, Lester posted a 5.16 ERA, 2.47 K/BB rate, and 6.2 K/9. With the caveat of the shortened season, that ERA and K/9 represented career-worsts for Lester, while his 1.6 HR/9 was the highest of his career. There wasn’t much to like from the Statcast side either, as Lester gave up a lot of hard contact and his .328 wOBA actually outpaced his .348 xwOBA.
As it happens, these numbers might actually put Lester more squarely on the Giants’ radar. As president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recently told the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea and other reporters, the free agent pitching market contains “a number of guys who have pretty significant pedigree who are coming off injuries or down seasons for whatever reasons. It’s going to be a market where a lot of players are going to be looking to do short-term, make-good deals to re-enter the market. For us, the cases of the guys we signed last year and the pitching infrastructure we’ve built up the last couple of years will be a strong selling point for us for those kinds of targets.”
Lester doesn’t quite fit that model, as another long-term contract in free agency probably isn’t in the cards for a hurler as he enters his age-37 season. Still, landing an innings-eater like Lester would help add some depth to a Giants rotation. Kevin Gausman was re-signed via the qualifying offer, Johnny Cueto is looking to bounce back from a disappointing year of his own, and left-hander Tyler Anderson is currently lined up as the third starter. Beyond that veteran trio, Andrew Suarez, Logan Webb, Conner Menez, and (once he is back from Tommy John surgery) Tyler Beede all project to be rotation candidates, so another seasoned arm could be preferable given the lack of experience among these youngsters.
Lester and the Cubs were known to have mutual interest in a new contract, though there hasn’t been any news on that front in almost a month. Though Jed Hoyer is now running Chicago’s front office rather than Theo Epstein, it’s probably somewhat safe to assume that the interest is still there on the Cubs’ side considering Hoyer’s long stint as assistant GM in the organization (and his own familiarity with Lester when Hoyer was an assistant GM with the Red Sox).
Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi discussed several topics with reporters (including the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea and NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic) earlier this week. Some notable highlights…
- Kevin Gausman returned to San Francisco after accepting the one-year, $18.9MM qualifying offer, though the two sides also had some negotiations about a multi-year contract. However, Zaidi said those talks are “on the back burner right now” while the Giants explore other offseason business. “We’ve obviously got other things that we’re looking to accomplish….I could see that being something we revisit, but I don’t think anything there is imminent,” Zaidi said.
- In terms of what else the Giants are working on, pitching continues to be a focus. According to Zaidi, “we’re in a better position to role the dice on additional pitching moves now that we have Gausman in the fold, bringing us veteran certainty to the front of our rotation.” Position player additions aren’t as much of a priority given how well the Giants lineup performed in 2020, though in the wake of that success and the more hitter-friendly renovations made to Oracle Park, Zaidi said that free agent batters and their representatives have shown more interest in coming to San Francisco.
- While Zaidi’s first two years running the Giants’ front office have been defined by his many acquisitions of rather unheralded or under-the-radar players, the team is looking to expand that scope this winter. As Zaidi said with some humor, “it’s not a prerequisite to be injured or come off a down year for us to sign somebody….I wouldn’t limit our opportunities to just bounce-back guys.”
- There isn’t any new information on Brandon Belt’s recovery from heel surgery, as Zaidi “it’s a little too early to tell right now” if Belt will be ready by the time Spring Training camp opens. “Everything we’re hearing is positive, but I don’t think that we have a firm timetable or target date yet,” Zaidi said. As Pavlovic noted, Belt’s heel problems caused him to miss most of Summer Camp but it didn’t hurt him during the season, as Belt hit an outstanding .309/.425/.591 over 179 plate appearances.
- In other injury updates, Zaidi said star prospect Heliot Ramos (oblique) and outfielder Austin Slater (right flexor strain) are both expected to be healthy for the start of Spring Training. Outfield prospect Alexander Canario, however, will miss the start of the minor league season as he recovers from recent shoulder surgery.
The Giants have designated first baseman/outfielder Chris Shaw, catcher Aramis Garcia and right-hander Jordan Humphreys for assignment. They added outfielder Alexander Canario and righties Kervin Castro, Camilo Doval and Gregory Santos to their 40-man roster in corresponding moves.
Shaw was once a well-regarded prospect for the Giants, but the 27-year-old hasn’t gotten an extensive look in the majors yet. He’s the owner of a .153/.244/.222 line in 82 plate appearances as a Giant. Like Shaw, Garcia was seen as a promising farmhand in the past, but he stumbled to a .229/.270/.419 mark in 111 trips to the plate in San Francisco from 2018-19.
Humphreys was the return the Giants received from the Mets for outfielder Billy Hamilton last August. The deal could go down as a wash for both sides, as Hamilton is now a free agent after making little impact with the Mets and Humphreys hasn’t contributed to the Giants. The 24-year-old barely pitched at all from 2018-19 because of arm problems.
- With Smyly out of the picture for the Giants, Grant Brisbee of The Athletic takes a look at a few low-cost starters they could explore to replace him this winter. In Brisbee’s estimation, Chris Archer, Alex Wood, Matt Shoemaker and Anthony DeSclafani could make for intriguing reclamation projects for the Giants’ rotation. Nobody from that group looks especially exciting right now, but neither did Smyly at this time a year ago, and he proved to be a shrewd pickup for San Francisco.