The Giants witnessed the departures of several key players this offseason, but made some targeted free agent strikes and filled their rotation with pitchers on short-term deals. The team is banking on veteran depth and a few new diamonds in the rough to recreate last year’s miraculous run to the postseason.
Major League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Signed 1B/OF Darin Ruf to a two-year, $6.25MM extension (deal also includes a $3.5MM option for 2024)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Alex Blandino, Matt Carasiti, Cody Carroll, Raynel Espinal, Luis González, Wei-Chieh Huang, Mauricio Llovera, Carlos Martinez, Luis Ortiz, Corey Oswalt, Taylor Williams
- Caleb Baragar, Kris Bryant, Tyler Chatwood, Johnny Cueto, Alex Dickerson, Kevin Gausman, Jay Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Buster Posey, Jose Quintana, Donovan Solano, Tony Watson
After winning a franchise-record 107 games that even the most optimistic prognosticators didn’t see coming, the Giants entered this offseason with a straightforward goal: do it again. Any team would be hard-pressed to collect triple-digit win totals in back-to-back seasons, but San Francisco finds themselves in a uniquely odd spot to attempt the feat. In their last full season in 2019 the team won only 77 games and ended 29 games back of first place, and yet when they fielded almost the exact same veteran core two years later they tacked on 30 wins and eked out a division title over the Dodgers, who again won 106 games. Career years from the Giants’ veteran roster made all the difference in 2021, but until the 2022 season is in the books it’s impossible to say if this was a perfect storm or the new normal moving forward.
Complicating the team’s hope of this being the new normal is that one of their most counted upon veterans retired at the onset of the offseason. Long-time catcher Buster Posey hung up his spikes after a dozen seasons in the league, a decision that has more than just sentimental ramifications for the club. In his 2021 comeback campaign, Posey slugged at a rate not seen since his age-25 MVP season in 2012. The 34-year-old’s production served as a final feather in the cap of the future Hall-of-Famer’s career, but 113 games of a .304/.390/.499 (140 OPS+) slash line will be hard to replace from an organizational perspective. Joey Bart is the heir apparent to San Francisco’s catching throne and a former second overall pick but will have a tough act to follow, particularly considering he had just 35 games of big league experience heading into 2022.
While Posey’s departure caught many by surprise, for reasons ranging from his elite play to the fact that the team held a $22MM club option over his services for 2022, he wasn’t the only retirement party recipient this winter. Left-handed reliever Tony Watson, who spent three and a half of the last four seasons by the Bay, also called it a career after shoulder issues dashed his 2022 ambitions. The 36-year-old reliever was no lock to return to the club even if his health permitted, but it’s worth remembering that in a lights out bullpen last season it was Watson who was the least hittable.
A pair of retirement decisions were out of the Giants’ control, but they struck early and often to keep some of their top 2021 talents in the fold. On November 7 the team exercised a trio of very affordable club options to keep infielder Wilmer Flores, left-handed reliever Jose Alvarez, and right-handed reliever Jay Jackson under team control. Alvarez racked up ground balls en route to a career season, and should team with fellow lefties Jake McGee and Jarlin Garcia to minimize the blow of Watson’s exit. Jackson, interestingly, was flipped to the Braves for cash or a PTBNL shortly after his option was picked up. Flores, meanwhile, was the consummate utility infielder last season, backing up first, second, and third base while posting a 111 OPS+ across 139 games. His easy retainment proves all the more valuable considering the team’s corner infielders, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt, have racked up a fair bit of IL time in their careers.
Speaking of Belt, the “Captain” forewent an extended trip into free agency after the team issued him an $18.4MM qualifying offer. He’ll continue to man first base at a high level when healthy enough to take the field, though the universal DH may help keep the longest-tenured Giant fresher than he’s been in years past. Keeping Belt around through his age-34 season carries some risk, as he’s endured heel, oblique, knee, and finger injuries the past couple of seasons. Despite those injury concerns, however, Belt is enough of a force at the plate— he hit a team-leading 29 home runs in just 97 games last season— that his upside far outweighs the risk of a single year pact. Belt is currently on the IL after testing positive for COVID.
Belt wasn’t the only captain to have his Giants tenure extended, as the team’s official skipper, manager Gabe Kapler, received a 2-year extension through 2024. The reigning NL Manager of the Year was an integral part of the club’s surprising division title and was credited, along with his fellow coaches, for helping so many of the club’s players reach unexpected heights in 2022. Keeping Kapler atop the coaching pyramid will help keep the coaching staff’s messaging consistent, an important note considering the team lost last year’s hitting coach Donnie Ecker to a bench coach role with the Rangers, denied the Mets a chance to do the same with pitching coach Andrew Bailey, and saw their minor league hitting coordinator Michael Brdar leave for the rival Padres’ hitting coach role.
Several of the team’s reunions had to wait a bit longer, as qualifying offers were not offered to outgoing starters Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Johnny Cueto, or Kevin Gausman (who was ineligible after accepting a QO in 2020). President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi made it clear in October that he had interest in re-signing all four pitchers, acknowledging that he and his staff would have to offer multi-year deals to do so. Offering expensive contracts of length hasn’t been Zaidi’s M.O. since taking over the club’s front office in November 2018, as evidenced by the modest one-year deals initially used to sign Gausman, Wood, and DeSclafani. However, with a payroll sitting under $100MM after Belt’s QO decision and the team’s competitive window emphatically flung open, the Giants likely felt they could curb their conservative spending to an extent.
Within a few days of Belt’s new contract the Giants began to make good on their rotation plans, as they re-signed Wood and DeSclafani to respective two and three-year deals, at annual rates of roughly $12MM. Those represent fairly sizable commitments to two early-30’s pitchers with checkered injury histories, but if either is able to maintain their mid-3.00 FIPs moving forward then the innings they do provide should be worth it— and may even be a bargain— for the big market club.
Fast forward to December and the team struck a similar deal with free agent starter Alex Cobb, at two years and $20MM (plus a $10MM club option). The 34-year-old Cobb was hardly the paradigm of a dependable starter during his time in Baltimore, pitching to a 5.10 ERA across 210 innings from 2018-2020, but he turned a corner after being traded to the Angels. A wrist injury wiped out a good chunk of Cobb’s summer, but when he was healthy he missed bats at the highest level of his career and posted a slate of sub-4.00 run prevention metrics. What’s more, Cobb entered spring training throwing harder than ever before, which he maintained into his three regular season starts. Health will remain a concern for Cobb, but that’s true of most pitchers following this year’s goofy ramp-up period. Otherwise, this deal is quite similar to the short-term pacts for Wood, DeSclafani, and Gausman, all of which worked out swimmingly so far for the club.
The Cobb addition has upside, but it surely disappointed some fans to see his signing occur on the same week that Kevin Gausman signed a $110MM deal with the Blue Jays. Gausman, after all, had already established his upside in the Giants’ rotation and was coming off a sixth place Cy Young finish in a very competitive NL field. Though the Giants were presumptive favorites to re-sign the right-hander after two successful seasons with the club, they ultimately never made an offer to retain the All-Star.
Being connected to top free agent talent was a rather prominent theme for the Giants, as their payroll sat under half of their previous $200MM heights entering the offseason. As the non-signing of Gausman demonstrated, however, the Zaidi-led front office likes to spread its money around to limit the impact of any single deal going south. The industry belief during the lockout was that the Giants were unlikely to go to nine figures to sign a free agent, which helps explain the lack of a Gausman reunion and several other non-signings this winter. Other high profile targets of the Giants included Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Seiya Suzuki, Trevor Story, Starling Marte, Steven Matz, and Marcus Stroman, yet they all eluded the team and netted a contract greater than the ones doled out by San Francisco this offseason.
Another free agent who priced themselves out of the Giant’s comfort zone was Kris Bryant, who landed a massive seven-year, $182MM contract with the Rockies. The size of the former MVP’s contract was a shock, but Bryant’s time in San Francisco was thought to be a layover from the moment of his trade deadline acquisition. Accordingly, his non-signing with the Giants was not a surprise, and the front office prepped fans for that outcome before the offseason was even underway. A lack of movement on the Bryant front isn’t the most exciting outcome for a team who certainly could’ve afforded him, but the Giants have veteran incumbents, like Wilmer Flores, and low-cost alternatives, like outfielder Heliot Ramos, to offer cover at every position Bryant would’ve been signed to play.
San Francisco drew a line on contracts it was willing to give out once the free agent market re-opened back in March, but that didn’t preclude them from handing out contracts altogether. Free agent Joc Pederson was signed to a one year $6MM contract— one thirtieth of Bryant’s deal— to roam the outfield corners in a platoon capacity. The team also handed out its biggest contract of the offseason to left-handed starter Carlos Rodon, a two-year $44MM accord with an opt-out clause that becomes available to Rodon if he pitches 110 innings in 2022.
The Rodon signing seems particularly obvious in hindsight, as the lefty’s effectiveness when healthy is undeniable. That “when healthy” caveat though is what drove his contract demands into the short-term sphere that the Giants like to dabble in, at an annual rate that matches departing ace Kevin Gausman’s contract no less. Should Rodon continue his run of 2021 dominance into 2022, then he’s a lock to head back into free agency after the season. As the Giants have shown with many of their recent starters, they have no problems with one-year pitcher commitments, and may even bring Rodon back if his market isn’t overly competitive. Through his first four starts of the season, Rodon has dominated to the tune of a 1.17 ERA and 43.2 K%.
An added complication in Rodon’s future with the team is his status as a potential qualifying offer candidate. The lefty didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the White Sox, meaning the Giants are eligible to offer one at the end of Rodon’s contract if the qualifying offer system isn’t done away with entirely by July 25 of this year. Regardless of the Giants’ ultimate interest in retaining Rodon long-term, they’ll have him atop their rotation for 2022 as they try to repeat or better the 3.25 ERA posted by last year’s starting staff.
The club’s pitching staff is high in upside, but requires depth as all rotations do. A hallmark of least season’s 107-win club was the emergence of unexpected contributors, and the Giants added some candidates who can fit that bill in their pursuit of more pitching depth. In March, right-hander Jakob Junis was brought aboard for a $1.75MM contract, with left-hander Matthew Boyd joining the team days later on a $5.2MM pact. Junis hasn’t been a particularly effective source of innings since 2018, but he comes with an extra year of team control via arbitration if the team wants it, and given the Giants’ ability to revitalize pitching careers they very well might. Boyd on the other hand has appeared on the verge of breaking out for years, though his end of year numbers always seem to lag behind his evident promise. He’ll likely be recovering from left flexor surgery until the summer, but could follow Gausman’s track and put it all together once he’s healthy and pitching for the Giants.
The Giants went thrift shopping all winter, but some moves that may pay the biggest dividends can come via the minor league contracts they handed out. Longtime Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez joined the club on an incentive-laden minor league deal, and could be a valuable depth option once he’s fully recovered from last year’s thumb ligament issues. Joe Palumbo is another potential hidden gem unearthed by the club. The 27-year-old left-hander ranked among the Rangers’ most promising farm hands through last year, but injury woes sent him to waivers where he was ultimately claimed (and later retained on a minor league deal) by the Giants. Both pitchers increase the team’s depth on minor league contracts with lighter values than departing starter Johnny Cueto’s minor league deal with the White Sox.
Outfielder and Triple-A masher Austin Dean is yet another quiet waiver claim-turned-minor league signee who can make a splash for a San Francisco team that is likely to mix and match its active roster throughout the season. A March trade with the Phillies landed the Giants Luke Williams, a speedy plays-anywhere type who can be stashed on the bench or in the upper minors of a system whose best prospects haven’t reached Double-A. The team’s ongoing habit of accruing as many near-big league options as possible can clearly bear fruit, as evidenced by the two-year $6.25MM extension awarded to slugger Darin Ruf, himself a minor league signee in 2020.
All told, the Giants signed four legitimate starters to fill their rotation and stockpiled enough depth to cover for the departures of several star players, yet there’s still the faintest whiff of the club being too bashful given its available resources. The team certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt given last year’s tour de force performance, and should have plenty of funds earmarked for trade deadline acquisitions. Time will tell if this winter’s moves were enough to make playoff baseball the new normal in San Francisco, something that will be no small feat given the efforts of all four division rivals.