This offseason is the most complicated one most current big leaguers will ever deal with, and it appears a lot of the top free agents are doing their best to avoid what's coming in December. Everyone around the game expects a lockout next week, and that has pushed some free agents into a corner, motivating them to lock a deal in before transactions shut down.
Anthony DeSclafani joined others in signing a multi-year deal early in the offseason, but his winter was always going to be better than the previous one regardless of what the labor talks looked like.
DeSclafani, coming up on free agency for the first time, had a 7.22 ERA in 2019 and finished that season out of the Cincinnati Reds rotation. He bet on himself last winter, signing a one-year deal for $6 million that he hoped would set himself up for a better offseason in 2021, and he cashed in this week.
The Giants signed DeSclafani to a three-year, $36 million contract that was something he had been eyeing since early in his time in orange and black. The sides discussed a long-term deal during the season and felt close enough during those talks that the Giants were confident DeSclafani would return. On Tuesday, DeSclafani said he "had a lot of interest" from other organizations, but there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
"Going through it last year, my love for the city and the team just grew more and more," he said. "I was really hoping that something would work out this offseason and I was really glad that it did once we started getting into talks."
The Giants could have complicated the process earlier this month by placing a qualifying offer on DeSclafani, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi felt that wasn't the right way to approach it. He knew DeSclafani wanted security after going the one-year path once already, and he said he didn't think the lack of a qualifying offer changed DeSclafani's market at all.
"Even if we had extended the Q.O. and negotiated, the dollars and years probably would have lined up in about the same place," Zaidi said.
Zaidi said the Giants would happily take three more years like the one DeSclafani just gave them: 31 starts, a 3.17 ERA, a 3.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.1 Wins Above Replacement. But the Giants are also betting that there's more in there.
DeSclafani is 31 years old and coming off his best season after changing his pitch mix. He increased the use of his slider in 2021, and Zaidi said that the staff sees other tweaks that can improve DeSclafani's approach, particularly against left-handed hitters. DeSclafani said working with the Giants' pitching coaches again was a big factor in his return.
"I still think I have another notch in my game and I'm always striving to get better every year," he said. "You learn little things every year that you can build off of. I think I set a good foundation last year and I think there's still some things that I can do better in my game, and that's a group that can for sure help unlock it."
The work won't be focused on just one opponent, but more than most free agents, DeSclafani may be judged on how he fares against one team he'll see often the next three years. DeSclafani faced the Dodgers six times during the regular season and allowed 22 earned runs in 27 innings. In Game 4 of the NLDS, he recorded just five outs at Dodger Stadium.
Over the next three years, DeSclafani could face the Dodgers as many as 18 times, not counting the postseason. Zaidi has no concern about the 2021 numbers, which did include six shutout innings in a huge win when the Dodgers visited Oracle Park in September.
"I know there's been discussion about his performance against the Dodgers. First of all, the Dodgers are a really good offensive team," Zaidi said. "And secondly, there are plenty of examples of guys that have four or five bad starts against a team one year and then the next year have four or five really good starts. Some of it is just the ebb and flow of season to season, and I'm sure he's going to get plenty of cracks at them over the next few years."
DeSclafani is eager for that challenge. He said there's some unfinished business for all of the Giants after the abrupt end to their season, and he's hopeful that other Giants free agents are brought back to take another run at winning the NL West and once again toppling the Dodgers.
"I think from the outside looking in, the numbers look glaring, but from my perspective, there's confidence going into every game no matter what team it is," he said. "I think maybe it's just making sure I have a little bit of a different game plan going against the Dodgers or switching it up more or whatnot, but my confidence going into these next three years and having to face the Dodgers is high just like every other game.
"It might be more challenging, but I'm up for that challenge. I'm looking forward to those series, for sure."