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Why Zaidi is optimistic Wood will have success in 2021

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Alex Wood
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When Farhan Zaidi, then the general manager of the Dodgers, acquired southpaw Alex Wood from the Braves in 2015, the deal ended up being one of the most complicated in MLB history. It was a three-team trade that included 13 players, including Michael Morse, and a competitive balance pick. The deal included $62.5-million bust Hector Olivera, a lot of salary relief for the Marlins and even an appearance by Mat Latos. 

On Thursday, Zaidi acquired Wood again, this time with a one-year, $3 million contract offer. 

"I'm glad that this time the acquisition was a little simpler," the Giants president of baseball operations said as he laughed on a Zoom call.

The contract actually includes some complications. Wood can make up to $3 million in bonuses via escalating incentives for outings that include 10 or more outs. The provision is designed to protect him against the possibility of being used behind an opener. But even those bonuses aren't ultimately that complex.

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The Giants signed the 30-year-old to be in their rotation, and if he pitches the way he has in the past and stays healthy, he's likely to make $6 million by the end of the year. Health has been an issue the past two years, but when Zaidi watched Wood pitch for the Dodgers in October, he didn't see any problems with performance.

"He pitched incredibly well in the playoffs, including in the World Series. For me, watching him pitch in the playoffs was really reminiscent of when I've seen him at his best," Zaidi said. "As a group we just felt like the trend line for him from a health and performance standpoint and the way he finished the year, we have a lot of optimism that he can carry that into 2021 and be a really important part of our rotation next year."

 

The Wood signing technically fills out the rotation, although Zaidi wouldn't rule out another addition. For now, it's Wood, Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Anthony Desclafani, Logan Webb and eventually Tyler Beede. It's a solid group on paper, with Wood adding another high-upside arm. 

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Wood will enter his ninth big league season with a 3.45 ERA, 3.51 FIP and 1.23 WHIP. While he was an All-Star in 2017 and got some down-ballot Cy Young Award support, he has for the most part been one of the more underrated pitchers in the National League. Wood never had an ERA above 3.84 for the Braves and Dodgers from 2013-18, but he struggled in 2019 after being dealt to the Reds in a trade that also included Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, making just seven starts because of a back injury. 

A year ago at this time, Wood signed a one-year, $4 million deal to return to Los Angeles. Shoulder inflammation put him on the IL early in the season and when he returned he pitched in relief, but that allowed him to shine in October. Wood made four appearances en route to a World Series title, allowing one run and striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings. After a couple of years of battling injuries, Wood got his fastball velocity back in the 92-93 mph range in the postseason.

While the stuff has always been good for a left-handed starter, Wood succeeds in large part because of his deceptive three-quarters delivery.

"There's a lot of funk," Zaidi said. That makes him a bit of an outlier in today's game, which more and more is filled with hard-throwing pitchers trying to blow you away up in the zone. 

"He's got an unusual delivery, a deceptive delivery, and I think a type of pitching style that's becoming a little bit less common, and I think all those things really work to his favor," Zaidi said. "I also, just knowing Alex and being around him, he's just a really intense contributor and I think that's contributed to some of the positive playoff moments he had in L.A. I think that combination of sort of funk, deceptiveness and competitiveness, when he's been at his best he has all that working."