Alex Wood is a left-handed pitcher who was a high pick in the draft, has an All-Star season on his résumé, has ties to the Giants, boasts intriguing pitch characteristics and was looking for a one-year deal and a chance to reestablish himself.
Add it all up and the surprise is not that Wood is a Giant, it's that he wasn't one in 2020. On a video conference with local reporters Tuesday, Wood said he actually nearly did sign with the Giants last offseason.
A free agent for the first time, Wood's choice came down to the Giants or a return to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he had pitched four seasons before a trade to the Cincinnati Reds. He knew the Giants offered a much clearer path to a rotation spot, but the Dodgers offered a legitimate shot at a title.
"It was a really tough decision for me because on an individual and personal level the smarter decision probably would have been for me to go to San Francisco," Wood said. "I felt I had some unfinished business in Los Angeles, and I had the opportunity to go back to a team that looked like it was going to be the best in baseball. Fortunately that route worked out, as far as being able to win the World Series."
Wood ended up pitching out of the bullpen most of the year and all of October, but that didn't hurt his cause this winter. His stuff ticked up in the postseason -- it's the best it has been since his All-Star season in 2017, Wood said -- and his performance once again caught the eye of Zaidi, who also traded for Wood in 2015. The sides touched base again this offseason and this time Zaidi got his man, giving Wood a one-year deal to fill out the Giants rotation.
Wood, 30, has spent much of his career on the other side of this rivalry, and he has had an up-close view of a franchise that tumbled in 2017 but nearly got back into the postseason last year. Thrown back into the rivalry in 2020, Wood said it stood out how Gabe Kapler's right-handed lineup would "crush lefties" and he said it was a difficult group of hitters for the Dodgers to prepare for in general. The Giants had the NL's second-best OPS against left-handed pitchers and are aiming to add one more left-handed bat to get the same kind of production against righties.
To compete in this division, though, the Giants will need to match that from the pitching side. They're hopeful Wood can be part of the solution, and he sounds like precisely the type of pitcher who might thrive under this staff. On the call, Wood spent time talking about a fastball that was getting significant vertical movement in the postseason, a slider with a lot of "perceived movement" and a changeup that he's retooling for the first time.
"I've played with some new grips this offseason to where I've actually added about, on average, probably four to four-and-a-half inches of horizontal movement to my changeup, and I think it's going to be a pitch that I'm really excited to see what it's like," Wood said.
The Giants will finally get Wood in their lab in about a month, working to get him back to his 2017 form. Zaidi saw flashes of it when he watched the postseason, reiterating his longtime belief that Wood was a worthwhile target.
"Farhan really believes in me and that goes a really long way in my book," Wood said. "It's such a storied franchise in the Giants, they have a solid team, a lot of guys that know how to win. There's just a lot of things that drew me there. I'm grateful for them believing in me and giving me the opportunity and hopefully I'll be able to pay it back tenfold."