SAN FRANCISCO — During this lifeless offseason, the Giants have at least gone back to the roots of their prior success. They built three title teams on strong starting pitching, and the only two seven-figure deals Farhan Zaidi has handed out have gone to starters.
They join what could be a crowded group late in the year. Or ... this group could be torn apart at the trade deadline.
For now, starting pitching serves as a potential strength for the Giants, and in the latest installment of this spring training preview, we’ll take a look at the men who hope to keep the Giants from seriously considering “openers.”
Returning: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Dereck Rodriguez, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede.
When the Giants signed Cueto, they had two aces, as dominant a one-two punch as there was in the game. Now there’s a decent chance Cueto and Bumgarner will never be in the same rotation again.
Cueto is doing well in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, is said to be in great shape, and expects to be back in the rotation by Sept. 1 regardless of the team’s record. But Bumgarner may be the best chip available before the July 31 deadline. The Giants took offers on him this offseason and figure to get their best return in July.
The reports are good on Samardzija, too, but Samardzija consistently felt like he was making progress last season only to have his shoulder flare up when he let loose in a game. Until he's able to make it through 90-100 pitches without pain, it's hard to count on anything.
Rodriguez is coming off a huge rookie year and Suarez had a good one, too. Zaidi has said he would like to slow-play both young pitchers, but if the Giants want to start fast, their best bet is to have these two involved.
Stratton has had some dominant stretches in the past and Blach has shown versatility. Both could find new life under Zaidi, who won't be as strict about sticking to a five-man rotation. Beede has fallen off the radar but gained some traction in relief last year. For now, the Giants will let him continue to start.
The departed: Casey Kelly
The Giants are returning pitchers who accounted for 159 of 162 starts last season. Kelly made the other three. He signed a deal to pitch in South Korea.
Free agent additions: Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz.
Technically, Holland counts as a free agent signing. But you know all about him already. Pomeranz currently stands as the big outside addition of the offseason. The Giants chose him over several others with a similar profile, and he should be a good fit.
Non-roster invitees: Shaun Anderson, Enderson Franco, Conner Menez, Keyvius Sampson, Garrett Williams.
Acquired in the Eduardo Nuñez deal, Anderson had a 3.45 ERA in Double-A last season and is the organization's top pitching prospect. He'll begin the year in Sacramento's rotation and should be a big league option in the second half if the Giants need him.
Franco, a 26-year-old right-hander, comes from the Braves system, where he struck out a batter per inning in the minors last season and reached Triple-A. He had a solid winter pitching out of the bullpen for Magallenes in Venezuela, a club the Giants are very familiar with. Menez, 23, pitched at three levels for the Giants last season, and while he struggled with his command, the lefty struck out 11.4 batters per nine.
Sampson, a former high pick of the Padres, led the KBO in strikeouts and walks last season. A year ago, Williams was coming off a huge season in A-ball and looked to be the next big thing among Giants pitching prospects. He struggled with his command at Double-A, but the Giants were encouraged by the fact that he bounced back and posted a 1.88 ERA in the Fall League.
Others: Melvin Adon, Sam Coonrod, Logan Webb.
These three will be in camp after getting added to the 40-man roster in November. Adon has a 100 mph fastball and could be in the big leagues soon if the Giants move him to the bullpen. Webb broke out in 2018 and is now one of the best pitching prospects the organization has. Coonrod was in camp two years ago before having Tommy John.
The potential is here for this to be one of the more consistent rotations in the National League, and if Samardzija can return to being an innings-eater and the rest match their highs from the past two seasons, the starters could allow the Giants to hang around in the NL West.
The most fascinating thing about the rotation, though, is not what it will look like when the Giants break camp. It's what it will look like on the day after the trade deadline. Quite a few in the clubhouse wondered why Bobby Evans didn't deal Holland for prospects last season. If the Giants are in a similar spot, you can bet Zaidi will add what he can to the farm system, and 60 percent of his projected rotation can be free agents in November. If Samardzija regains his form, the Giants likely will try to get out from under his deal, too.