In November of 2018, when he was introduced as president of baseball operations for the Giants, Farhan Zaidi did not present a dramatic three- or five-year plan, preferring instead to talk about how he hoped the team would be competitive the very next season while incrementally improving the roster across the board. But in the offices at Third and King, Giants officials have always had an eye on the winter of 2021.
The Giants have viewed the upcoming offseason as their opportunity to accelerate a rebuild that they don't really refer to as a rebuild. It's the winter when the budget, which repeatedly veered into tax territory for much of the last decade, will be just about completely cleared, allowing for maximum roster flexibility and, potentially, a return to big spending.
After this upcoming season, the Giants have just one guaranteed contract on the books, the final year of Evan Longoria's deal. That's generally a good thing, but there's another way to look at it.
As they've continued to hand out nothing but one-year deals, the Giants have put themselves in a situation where they're going to have an incredible number of holes to fill next winter. Zaidi smiled recently when asked if he thinks about how much work will need to get done in 10 months.
"Things can happen during the season, obviously," he said. "We've been very focused on the 2021 roster and evaluating the opportunities that have presented themselves this offseason."
Those opportunities happened to line up with the long-term approach. The Giants have long known they would have Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and likely Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto (expensive team options for 22) expiring at the same time, creating tremendous financial flexibility.
This offseason, as they have filled out the roster, they have signed players who now will be on the same timeline. Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Curt Casali came in on one-year deals, and Kevin Gausman signed the one-year qualifying offer instead of agreeing to a multi-year contract.
The end result is that, if the Giants turn down all the club options (Wilmer Flores has one, too) and watch all their recent additions go back onto the market, they will have few locked-in starters next November. It's possible the Giants will go into next offseason without their 2021 starting catcher (and backup), first baseman (and backup), second baseman (and backup), shortstop, and 80 percent of the rotation.
The outfield is a different story, with Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson, Austin Slater and Mauricio Dubon under team control.
Zaidi said it wasn't the plan to have this offseason's additions line up with the Posey/Belt/Crawford/Cueto class. The Giants just found as they entered the market that most of the pitchers they liked were looking to do one-year deals and get back into free agency in 10 months when conditions should be better for veterans.
"It happens that some of the pitchers that we thought were good fits were guys looking for one-year contracts," Zaidi said. "It hasn't been a priority for us to focus on one-year contracts, that's where we've matched up. We're focused on 2021 and certainly, it'll be an interesting offseason for us next offseason.
"I think it's been an interesting offseason for us this year, too. But I think we'll learn a lot more about not just our major league roster but the upper levels of the minor leagues over the course of the season."
That last part is key, as the Giants expect to have most of these holes filled internally, either next year or in 2023. Joey Bart should be back up this year and Heliot Ramos should join him. The Giants are hopeful that by the end of this season they're preparing for Marco Luciano and Will Wilson to join the infield mix and have Sean Hjelle as a rotation option, along with Logan Webb and a healthy Tyler Beede.
There's a good argument to be made that the Giants should have used the past three months to supplement what's on the way, but this actually wasn't a great year for them to do that. The best free-agent hitter, catcher J.T. Realmuto, obviously doesn't fill a need. There was no need to pay George Springer $150 million when the outfield is the one group that includes cost-controlled contributors and that's where the strength of the farm system is. Infielder DJ LeMahieu turns 33 this year and was always headed back to New York. Trevor Bauer could top the rotation this year and then lead future groups, but the Giants don't seem all that interested.
At some point, though, they will have to commit to pitchers on more than one-year deals. Starting pitching is not an area of depth in the farm system, which is why Zaidi and Harris have had to consistently add to that group through free agency.
They tried to sign Gausman to a multi-year deal, although Zaidi said that's now "a backburner item" that may be revisited at some point. The rest of the pitchers the Giants chased preferred deals that lined up with a roster that already was full of guys who will be free agents after this upcoming season.
"They want to bet on themselves and re-enter the market a year from now, and that market could certainly include us if they perform the way we think they can and they're hoping to," Zaidi said. "In this pitching market, in particular, there are a lot of guys that really want one-year deals, and for our group that's actually something that inspires confidence, when you have guys that are looking to bet on themselves."