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Giants' rotation still has holes after bringing Gausman back

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On Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Gausman broke a mark that was held by ... Kevin Gausman.

By agreeing to take the one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer to return to the Giants, Gausman more than doubled the previous high in terms of a contract handed out by the Farhan Zaidi regime, breaking his own mark of $9 million on a one-year deal signed at the Winter Meetings last offseason.

To outsiders, this second deal might have looked like a bit of an overpay. For the Giants it was necessary, in part because of what's still to come. 

Even after locking up Gausman, their main target heading into the offseason, the Giants still should view starting pitching as their greatest need. Gausman appears the likely opening day choice next season, but behind him the Giants have just Johnny Cueto, who had the worst ERA (5.40) among qualified starters in the National League, and Logan Webb, who didn't go deep enough into games to qualify for leaderboards and had a 5.47 ERA in his first full season.

The club also has Tyler Anderson, who is arbitration-eligible and seems likely to be brought back given the lack of starting pitching on the market. Tyler Beede, who had Tommy John surgery last March, is doing well in the rehab process, but he won't be ready at the start of the season and the Giants will want to ease one of their best young pitching assets into the rotation when he's cleared. 


There is work to be done, and that could include circling back to Gausman. The sides discussed a multi-year contract in recent weeks, and locking Gausman in for 2022 would give the rotation a solid base for future years, with Beede and Webb -- who just turned 23 -- backed by Sean Hjelle, Seth Corry, Tristan Beck and others moving forward. 

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In the meantime, there is a bridge to be built. The Giants need at least two more starting options for 2021 given the current question marks behind Gausman, and they could start by trying to bring Drew Smyly back, as well. Smyly was dominant when healthy in 2020, and Zaidi has said he would like a reunion.

Running the 2020 rotation back out there at increased prices might not be the sexiest option, but it could be the most realistic one. The starting pitching market was weak to begin with, and Gausman and Marcus Stroman -- who also took the qualifying offer -- got taken off the board on the same day.

That left Trevor Bauer light years ahead of the rest of the market, but there's been no indication yet that the Giants are chasing the NL Cy Young Award winner, who could command a nine-figure deal if he comes off his previous plan to only sign one-year contracts. 

The best plan for the Giants could be to stay with methods that have already worked for them. They showed last year with the Zack Cozart trade that they're not afraid to take on money when another team is hurting financially, and they could find that as an option this year, with most organizations looking to shed payroll due to the pandemic.

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Then, there's the bargain bin, which has been good to the Giants. They have hit on Gausman, Smyly and even Drew Pomeranz to an extent, and this year's class is loaded with similar pitchers -- guys who have the talent to provide plenty of value but come with question marks that will limit their contracts. Smyly -- who has always had trouble with health -- would fit into that pool, along with guys like Taijuan Walker, Chris Archer, Corey Kluber, James Paxton and Jose Quintana.

If the Giants want to maintain payroll flexibility, this might be their best bet in an offseason where teams are not expected to be all that aggressive.