The Giants are building a reputation within the game for their ability to coax the best out of starting pitchers who might have been considered damaged goods, but when he spoke with beat reporters last week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi smiled as he gently pushed back.
"It's not a prerequisite to be injured or coming off a down year for us to sign you," Zaidi said.
No, but it doesn't hurt either. This starting pitching market is starting to take on an identity, and it's an outlier in what has otherwise been a cold winter for free agents. Charlie Morton's one-year, $15 million deal with the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday was the latest piece of evidence that the high-end starters are going to be just fine this offseason, even as the sport in general cuts back on spending.
Before Morton signed, Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman took qualifying offers that will guarantee them $18.9 million. Robbie Ray got $8 million from the Blue Jays and Drew Smyly, a former Giant, got $11 million from the Braves, who are building a clear frontrunner in the NL East. Trevor Bauer has plenty of suitors. Even the trade market could be heating up, with The Athletic reporting that Sonny Gray might be available as the Reds look to take advantage of all the buyers out there in the starting pitching market.
The Giants, even after bringing Gausman back, remain one of them. Zaidi reiterated last week that the one-year deal allows him more flexibility moving forward. He could aim for more certainty, or he could go back to what has worked, taking a big swing on a pitcher looking to replicate what Gausman and Smyly did. The market is filled with those types.
"I think we can make a strong pitch to guys in that situation, with these examples of guys that came to us coming off of down seasons and seasons where they dealt with some injuries and did very well in the market this time around with the performance that they had," Zaidi said. "I just think we could make a strong pitch to that part of the market, but I wouldn't necessarily say that that's where we'll wind up. We're in a better position to roll the dice a little bit on some additional pitching moves now that we have Gausman in the fold, and he brings some veteran certainty to the front of our rotation. But I wouldn't limit our opportunities to just bounce back guys."
The market may end up doing that organically. After Bauer it's a steep drop off to guys like Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi, and once you get past that tier you're basically only looking at guys who are coming off injuries or disappointing performances. On Tuesday morning, MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported that the Giants are showing interest in Jon Lester. The Giants will continue to monitor the trade market, but if nothing materializes there, they should still be in decent shape.
Zaidi said it's hard to sum up the general pace of dealings, but he pointed out that free agency has moved slowly in most recent years, with a lot of additions coming in the new year. The Giants signed both Smyly and Drew Pomeranz in January. There could be another flood of those one-year deals around the game as spring training approaches and teams get more clarity about what 2021 will look like.
"I think when you look at the free agent market for starting pitchers there's a number of guys who have pretty significant injuries, who are coming off injuries or down seasons for whatever reason," Zaidi said. "It's going to be a market where a lot of players are looking to do kind of short-term make-good deals to reenter the market (next offseason)."