The Giants did not have many stumbles in their meteoric rise from hopeless to 107 wins, but early in the 2021 season, team officials knew they would regret a move they failed to make over the winter.
The Giants placed a qualifying offer on Kevin Gausman last November and the two sides discussed a multi-year deal, but when Gausman opted to accept the one-year contract any long-term talks went on the back burner as the front office looked to fill other roster holes. Pretty quickly in 2021, it became clear they probably should have given Gausman whatever he wanted.
The right-hander was the Giants' opening day starter and one of the game's best pitchers, particularly in the first half, setting himself up for the massive payday he envisioned when he came to San Francisco in 2019 looking for help and a chance to prove himself. On Wednesday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced a five-year, $110 million deal with Gausman, and in listening to the pitcher discuss it, it became clear it was an offer the Giants never came close to matching.
Gausman said during a Zoom press conference that it was "very difficult" to leave the Giants.
"I really enjoyed my time there," Gausman said. "Unfortunately I only spent one season there with the great fan base that they have in San Francisco, and their fans are some of the best in baseball. They're really locked in on the game and it was great to have them in the stands this year. I thought they had a lot to do with why we were so good. We were especially great at home and I think that had something to do with it.
"As for me not going back, it's a business and I understand that. I really wanted to come back but at the same time I understand there are a lot of things that you can't control."
Gausman said he wanted to be with a contender after going through a 107-win season with the Giants, and in the Blue Jays, he has found a team that's hoping to upend more traditional powers in the AL East. The Blue Jays have a deep, young lineup led by MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Gausman joins Jose Berrios at the top of a good rotation.
Across the continent, Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have thus far preferred smaller deals for pitchers. They have guaranteed less to Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Alex Cobb combined than the Blue Jays did to Gausman, and only DeSclafani got a guaranteed third year. It's possible Gausman would have signed a shorter deal last offseason, but once he took off in the first half, it was clear he was going to be one of the most popular players on the open market.
Zaidi said the Giants had contract talks with Gausman and his agent during the season and they talked again when free agency started. He called it a "tough loss" for the rotation but added that he's happy for Gausman, who was a very popular teammate and a leader in the clubhouse.
"He obviously did very well financially," Zaidi said. "I know I, personally, and a lot of our players are happy for him. On the baseball field it's a tough loss, but we're excited about some of the pitchers we brought back and we have a lot of offseason left to continue to improve our team."
When the lockout ends, Zaidi can continue to present Gausman as an example of what the Giants can do for a veteran pitcher. He said Gausman is featured prominently in recruiting videos the Giants share with free agents, and that should continue for years to come given how Gausman went from a $9 million deal to $110 million in just 45 appearances.
Asked Wednesday if he had any favorite memories from San Francisco, Gausman pointed to the fact that he got to play with Buster Posey and was the last pitcher Posey caught in the big leagues.
"It's kind of crazy for me," he said. "I played with him but I was still a fan of his."
Gausman came out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the NLDS, finishing off the top of the ninth inning. It turned out that was Posey's last big league inning, and this week it officially became Gausman's final inning in orange and black.
"It was unfortunate that we lost," Gausman said. "We would have loved to have gone on and we felt like we matched up really well with just about any team. I thought we really had something special there to maybe make a run at it, but it is what it is and sometimes that happens. Now I'm just looking forward to the next chapter and hopefully winning a division and winning a championship in Toronto."
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