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How Giants can fill out their rotation once lockout ends

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Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris were busy in the days before the lockout started, filling three of the remaining four spots in their rotation. But that's not necessarily how they viewed the work they had done. 

"I know I sound like a broken record -- we just don't think of it as these are our five starters," Zaidi said back then. "When you go around baseball, if you ask the question of what percentage of a team's starts were made by the five guys who were in the 'opening day rotation,' that number varies pretty widely."

The Giants technically entered the offseason with four open rotation spots, but they viewed it more as filling the 130-or-so starts that won't be made by Logan Webb. Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Alex Cobb should take care of most of that gap, but the Giants know it's unlikely that they'll get 32 starts from each of them, so the remaining work involves a lot more than just adding a fifth starter. 

You can expect the Giants to add multiple veteran options once the lockout ends -- it doesn't look like that's happening anytime soon -- and keep accruing depth from there. While we wait for the action to resume, here are some paths the Giants can take to fill out those remaining open starts: 

The High-Upside Choice

There were 20 pitchers across both leagues who got Cy Young votes last year, including the AL winner (Robbie Ray) and two of the top six (Max Scherzer and Kevin Gausman) in the NL. A lot of those 20 pitchers did hit the market this offseason, but only one is still out there. 

 

Carlos Rodon finished fifth in AL voting and made his first All-Star team, and there are a lot of reasons to believe he can be a top-of-the-rotation arm for a contender. Rodon, a former No. 3 overall pick, had a 2.37 ERA and 2.65 FIP, and he struck out 12.6 batters per nine innings. He's just 29 years old and he throws left-handed. So, why isn't he going to get the Gausman deal or something similar?

Well, Rodon made just 24 starts last year and that was still his most since 2016. He has thrown more than 140 innings just once in the big leagues, and other than last year, his numbers have more often resembled a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. Rodon missed time last August with shoulder fatigue and his velocity was down once he returned.

There are red flags, but they also make him a potential fit for a team that hasn't spent big in free agency since Zaidi took over. The Giants don't care if a guy makes 33 starts; they'd much rather get 23 really good ones and figure out the rest using other arms, and they're not shy about giving veterans rest days or weeks so they can be at their best. Rodon also seems likely to get a high salary but only for a year or two, and that's the kind of deal the Giants are more willing to swallow. 

The Hilarious Choice

Clayton Kershaw would be a perfect fit for a lot of reasons, but you just can't avoid the fact that it would be an absolutely hilarious story if the Giants were able to lure the face of the Dodgers franchise up the coast. Putting Kershaw in orange and black would qualify as a bigger blow to Dodgers fans than last year's shocking NL West result. Oh, and he's still an elite pitcher when healthy enough to start. 

Kershaw will wait until he's healthy to make a decision, and you won't find many people around the game who think he'll do anything but retire as a Dodger. The only other option that's even been rumored is Kershaw pitching for his hometown Rangers. He won't be switching sides in the rivalry and he really shouldn't even consider it, but the Giants should still make the phone call, if only to make the Dodgers sweat a little. 

The Other Hall of Famer

Years ago, before they splurged on Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, the Giants pushed to bring Zack Greinke to San Francisco. A lot of the people involved in those conversations thought Greinke was going to be a Giant, only to watch him take a massive deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the last second. 

Greinke is now 38 years old with an 89 mph fastball, and he had a 4.16 ERA last year for the Astros. But he's also the most creative pitcher of his generation, and it's not hard to picture him finding a way to be a solid contributor if a team puts a good defense behind him. The front office that chased Greinke so hard six years ago is gone, but he pitched for Zaidi in Los Angeles and pitched with Giants director of pitching Brian Bannister in Kansas City, so there are still plenty of connections. 

 

The One-Year Options

This is the path Zaidi and Harris have taken for the most part, and it's worked out brilliantly. Whenever the lockout ends, they should have their pick of veterans looking for a one-year deal to better set themselves up for the 2022-23 offseason.

Yusei Kikuchi boasts a 95 mph fastball and had a 3.48 ERA in the first half, but he dropped to 5.98 after the All-Star break. The 30-year-old lefty could be a steal or could be pitching out of a bullpen in May; the Giants have been pretty good at figuring it out with those types. 

Danny Duffy is targeting a summer return from injury and fits the "injured but worth the wait" mold. Matthew Boyd is another lefty with success in his past, but an injury that will keep him out at the start of the year. The Giants thought they were onto something with Tyler Anderson two years ago, and he's still out there. Veteran right-handers like Zach Davies and Michael Pineda are also still out there. The Giants could also sign Kwang Hyun Kim just so they don't have to face him anymore. 

The Trade Options

The A's were quiet before the lockout started, but they're expected to have a frantic couple of weeks whenever moves are allowed. The two front offices have joked about making trades together since Zaidi came back to the Bay Area, and there really will never be a better time than this offseason. 

The A's need to slash payroll and have Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas all projected to make more than $5 million next year, with Manaea up near $10 million. Montas, who ranked among the AL leaders in groundball rate, would be a particularly good fit. 

The Giants finally have a farm system deep enough to make this kind of trade and not feel it too much. The Reds would also be a good partner, and not just because the Giants are already overflowing with guys who used to live in Cincinnati. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle would all be upgrades for the Giants. 

The In-House Options

The Giants left some pretty good prospects -- including Seth Corry -- off their 40-man roster when it came time to protect guys for a Rule 5 Draft and they're about to be short on roster spots in general, but they kept Tyler Beede around, a sign that they're hopeful he can put a rough 2021 season behind him. Beede looked poised for a breakout before the 2020 season but Tommy John surgery set him back. The big-time stuff is still there, and the hope is that his command will improve as he gets further away from surgery. 

 
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It was just 11 months ago that Sammy Long was turning into one of the stars of camp, and his seven-strikeout debut last June was tantalizing. Long had a 5.53 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 12 appearances, but he's a 26-year-old with good stuff who has barely pitched above A-ball. A breakout in 2022 wouldn't be a surprise at all. 

Sean Hjelle reached Triple-A last season and is now on the 40-man, so he's a good bet to make his MLB debut this summer. The Giants have hinted that they'll stretch some former starters back out, with Kervin Castro and Caleb Baragar being the two most obvious candidates. 

The Giants won't go into 2022 with any of these young guys as the fifth starter, but it's worth remembering what happened last spring, when Webb initially appeared blocked by the Aaron Sanchez signing. The Giants will add depth in front of their prospects, but you can always pitch your way to the front of the line, as Webb proved. 

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