SAN FRANCISCO — A few weeks ago, there was a rumor connecting the Giants to Patrick Corbin. It didn’t make sense for one significant reason.
The Giants did not have a head of baseball operations at the time. In fact, they had not even interviewed Farhan Zaidi yet. But they’re a big-market team, one that has spent handsomely on pitching in the past, so you can’t blame an agent or someone connected to Corbin for trying to get another team in the mix.
We now know that Zaidi will be making the decisions at AT&T Park. On his first day in the job, he talked about bringing meaningful baseball back to the ballpark.
“I’ve had the good fortune of being in the playoffs the last few years,” Zaidi said. “The thing I appreciated most about that was playing meaningful baseball day in and day out and how energizing that is for the fans and the players. Playing out the string when you’re totally out of the playoff race, it takes a toll on the fans and the players and the organization. Our goal is to play meaningful baseball deep into the season, and as soon as we can.”
At AT&T Park, there’s always been one clear way to get to that point: Pitching. The Giants once again have the makings of a strong rotation, with Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez behind Madison Bumgarner, and the hope that Jeff Samardzija can return to form. Perhaps they bring Derek Holland back as a solid contributor.
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But what if they were to really go big?
Per sources, there is a lot of interest in the organization in continuing to spend on the starting staff, regardless of the fact that hitting is a bigger need. Zaidi has always been a creative thinker, and he may look at this situation and realize that doubling down on pitching is an easier way back to contention, even as everyone on the outside connects the Giants to hitters.
Could that lead the Giants right to the top of the market, to Corbin, as previously rumored? It’s unlikely for a number of reasons, including a big one: Madison Bumgarner.
Zaidi is open to moving Bumgarner, but if the Giants instead want to extend their ace at some point, they can’t afford to have another massive deal on the books. Johnny Cueto is in the middle of a $130 million contract, Samardzija is owed $36 million more, and MLB Trade Rumors projects that Corbin will get somewhere in the neighborhood of $130 million himself.
It’s reasonable for the Giants to always spend on pitching, knowing that’s the easiest way to be dominant given their ballpark. Cueto and Samardzija did, after all, help lead the team back to the postseason in 2016. But it's unreasonable for them to hand out another $100 million deal to a starter when Bumgarner will want the same in a year.
Corbin is outstanding. The Giants know that better than most. He faced them six times last year — The Clayton Kershaw Schedule, you might call it — and posted a 2.27 ERA. Giants hitters helped Corbin put up the career year that will likely get him the biggest contract handed out to a starter this winter, but the Giants should avoid this mix.
The best thing the Giants can do at this point is sit back, look for cheaper starters, and hope that Corbin ends up somewhere like New York or Philadelphia, further weakening the Diamondbacks. A division rival losing an ace would be one small step towards meaningful baseball at AT&T Park.
Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Thursday is dedicated to free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin.