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Zaidi explains why Giants were drawn to signing DeSclafani

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When he took over as president of baseball operations two years ago, Farhan Zaidi talked of more aggressively pursuing players who had grown up in Northern California. That lifelong connection to the Giants might make the difference with a free agent, or it might pave a smoother road when it comes time to sign a highly-touted prospect, as they did with De La Salle's Kyle Harrison this summer. 

Anthony DeSclafani, a right-hander signed to a one-year deal on Wednesday, grew up in Colts Neck, N.J., a small township about 90 minutes south of Manhattan. He was a Florida Gator in college and has pitched professionally for the Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds organizations.

DeSclafani has no obvious connections to Northern California, but he still was drawn to Oracle Park as a free agent, and that mattered. The Giants liked his pedigree and pitch characteristics, but Zaidi also appreciated the fact that DeSclafani, an early target for the front office this winter, really wanted to be part of what the Giants are putting together. 

"As much as anything, he was really enthusiastic about the opportunity to become a Giant," Zaidi said. "We certainly are looking for players in free agency who are really eager to join what we're trying to build here, so it wound up being a great fit."

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If all goes according to plan, that mutual admiration could come into play a year from now at this time. The Giants hit it off with Kevin Gausman last offseason and Gausman, also a former Reds pitcher, talked glowingly of the organization all season, even saying he didn't want to get dealt before the deadline. In November he surprised some around the industry by accepting the one-year qualifying offer to return

The Giants and DeSclafani are a long way from that point, but it's easy to make the comparison. Like Gausman, DeSclafani is a right-hander who has battled inconsistency at times but pairs a mid-90s fastball and go-to secondary pitch. For Gausman it's the splitter, for DeSclafani it's the slider. 

"He's got really good stuff, good velocity on his fastball, a lot of characteristics that we look for," Zaidi said. "Obviously he didn't have his best season in 2020, but in 2019 he really had a nice year. That would be a great outcome for us if he can get back to that level from as recently as 2019, and we think there's even upside beyond that."

DeSclafani had a 7.22 ERA in 2020, but that's a number the Giants moved past pretty quickly. The overall numbers were skewed by two August starts where he gave up 16 earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. DeSclafani finished the season pitching out of the bullpen, but the Giants are giving him $6 million, plus incentives for innings pitched, to help anchor a rotation that desperately needs some stability.

It's a commitment that came after the front office turned over all available rocks. Zaidi noted that the Giants are pretty familiar with Reds players, with Gausman atop their rotation and former Reds coach Donnie Ecker now serving as their hitting coach. There are some adjustments the Giants have already identified that they think can help DeSclafani mimic his 2019 season, when he had a 3.89 ERA in 31 starts and struck out a batter per inning, and even take a step beyond that.

The numbers say DeSclafani shied away from his fastball and curveball a bit and relied much more heavily on his slider, and perhaps there's a tweak Andrew Bailey and Brian Bannister can make to that mix. But some of this, again, is simply going to come down to location. 

DeSclafani is a flyball pitcher who has traditionally been hit hard by lefties. Many of the balls that found the right field bleachers at Great American Ball Park should settle into gloves at Oracle Park. 

"I don't think a lot of this is rocket science," Zaidi said. "First of all, he's a guy with pedigree. He was a sixth-round pick out of college and was a really well-regarded prospect. He had a couple of injuries but also had a couple of really nice seasons with the Reds.

"That's a known tough ballpark, especially for right-handed pitchers, with some of the ballpark dimensions and how the ball flies there, especially for a flyball pitcher like Anthony."

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DeSclafani gave up 29 homers in 2019 and seven in just 33 2/3 innings last season, and in this way he might closely resemble the other success story in the rotation last season. Drew Smyly allowed 2.5 homers-per-nine in 2019 but cut that to 0.7 as a Giant while having a bounceback year. With a tweak here or there, the Giants are hoping DeSclafani is the next to join a growing group of pitchers who got back on track in San Francisco.

"Our pitching group -- Andrew Bailey, Brian Bannister, that entire group -- I think has looked really carefully at him," Zaidi said. "And I think they're excited to work with Anthony on some of the adjustments we think he can make."