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Giants could still add starter, but Webb in 'driver's seat'

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As Giants president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi sat on a Zoom call with reporters for nearly an hour Friday, he occasionally glanced at a second screen.

Perhaps at some point, Zaidi saw that the Cubs had just reached an agreement with Jake Arrieta, a reminder that even as teams prepare to open camp next week, there are still plenty of veteran starters looking for jobs. 

The Giants are also still looking, but when pitchers and catchers take the field Wednesday they'll have four starters -- Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani -- locked into the rotation and it sounds like the fifth spot won't be decided by a very heated competition. Asked about Logan Webb and others vying for that job, manager Gabe Kapler had a clear answer.

"He's in the driver's seat right now," Kapler said of Webb. "He's in a very good spot."

How long will he have the keys, though? Zaidi said the Giants are "pretty settled" on the position player side and with their bullpen options, but the rotation is still an area where they can add.

"Adding another experienced starting pitcher, whether it's on (a non-roster deal) or potentially a major league deal or trade is something we're still looking at," Zaidi said. 

That doesn't mean anyone will necessarily leapfrog Webb, though. The right-hander had a 5.47 ERA last season but has had a good winter, team officials say, and there are plenty of reasons for the Giants to stick with Webb even as this front office forever searches for depth. 

 

Webb is just 24 years old and right now has as good a shot as any Giant to establish himself as a starter for 2022 and beyond. The conventional wisdom is that some of Zaidi's one-year additions will turn into trade chips in July, but there's more value in getting a longer look at Webb than in a veteran you might be able to flip for a lower-tier prospect. 

That's not to say the Giants should sit back, though. They'll need more -- probably a lot more -- than five starters to get through the year, and right now the sixth appears to be Conner Menez, who has just three big league starts. Tyler Beede is throwing bullpen sessions at Scottsdale Stadium but won't get into a game this spring. The Giants expect him back in May, although it's unclear if he'll be built up to start in the big leagues that soon.

Zaidi said he's excited to see Tristan Beck, Sean Hjelle, Matt Frisbee and Kai-Wei Teng this spring, but the four right-handed prospects have combined for five starts above A-ball. 

The Giants are also going from 60 games to 162, and that presents challenges. Kapler said the staff has talked about using a six-man rotation at times to ease the workloads, although right now that's not in the cards for the start of the year. The Giants also could use openers. 

"A little bit like last year -- it was easier to do this with a 60-game season -- but we may have to patch together nine innings on certain days and in certain stretches," Zaidi said. "I think that's going to be something you see around the league."

The Giants were able to do that in part because they had guys like Tyler Anderson and Trevor Cahill who were versatile, and they still could go in that direction before Opening Day given how much roster flexibility there is with the bullpen. Right now, though, they have their four veterans and the young, intriguing right-hander. 

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Webb has never thrown more than 105 innings in a calendar year and was supposed to be on a limit last season. The 60-game schedule made that unnecessary, but even if Webb is able to keep the keys to that fifth spot, he'll have to be watched closely. Webb threw more than 5 1/3 innings just once last year. 

"He doesn't have that much experience getting through a longer season and throwing 100-plus innings, so you may see us being a little bit more conservative, less with his season-long innings count but maybe more with how deep he works into games early and (we'll) allow him to build over the course of the season," Zaidi said.