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Five free-agent pitchers who could bolster Giants' rotation

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Max Scherzer

There was doubt heading into the MLB offseason about how much work would get done before a possible work stoppage, but the first few weeks of free agency have actually included some noteworthy deals. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers struck early on Andrew Heaney, the Detroit Tigers gave Eduardo Rodriguez $77 million, and the Los Angeles Angels guaranteed $21 million to Noah Syndergaard, who has thrown just two innings the last two seasons. The early action is something the Giants saw coming. 

"It's a need every team has and every team tries to address pretty aggressively. There's a lot of conversation," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said a few weeks ago of starting pitching . "It's probably obvious looking at where our roster is on paper, but that's going to be the No. 1 priority for us."

The Giants are right there in line, and they probably have the greatest needs of any contender. They currently have just one pitcher -- Logan Webb -- locked into their rotation, with three key pieces of the 2021 club set to cash in. Kevin Gausman could get a nine-figure deal and Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood should have healthy multi-year offers to sort through after taking one-year deals last offseason. 

The Giants would like to bring all three back, although that's unlikely. They'll be busy on the trade market, and you can bet there's another round of incentive-filled deals coming late in the offseason. But they also plan to add more stability behind Webb, so here's a look at some guys who could fit in either at the top of the rotation or as reliable pieces. For the purposes of this list, we're ignoring the free agents rumored to get the lengthiest deals, simply because that's never been Zaidi's style. 


Max Scherzer

Might as well start with the man who ended the Giants season. The Giants had interest in Scherzer in July, and on top of watching the Dodgers scoop him up, they had to watch Scherzer come out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the NLDS to close out an intense series. That ninth inning took a lot out of Scherzer, and any team that signs him is going to want to take a close look at the 37-year-old's right arm to verify that it was just fatigue that got to him in the NLCS. 

Assuming he's healthy, Scherzer is a perfect fit in a lot of ways. He's an all-time competitor and pairing him with Webb would certainly give the Giants an edge, plus a mentor for a young pitcher trying to become an ace. Scherzer is still near the top of his game, having posted a 2.46 ERA and league-leading 0.864 WHIP. His strikeout rate was in line with his prime years and his walk rate was actually lower. A three-time Cy Young winner, Scherzer is going to finish in the top three this week and possibly win again.

On top of all that, Scherzer's contract will fit the Giants' preferences. He's said to be seeking a three-year deal, and while that could cost $35-40 million a year, the Giants would rather pay a high AAV than give out a six-year deal. Finally, there's the fact that the Dodgers want him back. Bringing Scherzer up the coast would be a huge win in the bid to take the NL West again. 

Justin Verlander

Editor's note: This story was published before Verlander reportedly agreed to re-sign with the Astros.

Hey, another Hall-of-Famer who is available on a short-term deal. Verlander turns 39 next February but nobody is going to bet against a man who won the Cy Young in 2019 before needing Tommy John surgery. Verlander will be nearly a year and a half removed from surgery next spring and he reportedly was sitting in the mid 90s during a showcase earlier this month. 

Verlander has been a lock for 200 innings, well over 200 strikeouts, a low ERA and a high Cy Young finish over the last decade, and you can bet he'll want to pitch on a contender this late in his career. The complication for the Giants and others could be that he's rumored to prefer the East Coast.

Verlander was given the qualifying offer so any team that signs him would lose a draft pick, but he's absolutely worth it. He had a 2.58 ERA and 300 strikeouts in 2019, and even if it takes him a while to knock the rust off, he'll still be one of the game's best pitchers. 


Jon Gray

This class is full of past Cy Young Award winners, but in Gray you're betting on potential. The former No. 3 pick is 30, but the tools are all there for the kind of late-career breakout the Giants coaxed out of Gausman. Gray's fastball averaged 95 mph last season and maxed out at 98. Opponents hit just .156 off his slider, which he threw nearly 40 percent of the time. Among NL pitchers who threw more than 140 innings, he ranked 12th in groundball rate and 13th in K/9.

Gray has pitched his entire career at Coors Field, although he strangely has a lower ERA there (4.54) than on the road (4.65). It's hard to know what the market will make of him, but given how many teams are now looking for pitchers they can "fix," Gray figures to be popular. He would be a very intriguing pitcher to put in Andrew Bailey, J.P. Martinez and Brian Bannister's lab if the price was right. 

Alex Cobb

The 34-year-old right-hander had a sneaky-good 2021 season, posting a 2.92 FIP and striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings while allowing just five homers in 18 starts. Cobb relies heavily on a splitter that he has thrown about a third of the time each of the last three seasons with good results. 

The upside here is not what it is with others, and Cobb has had durability issues, but he would be a reliable arm to throw somewhere in the mix behind Webb, and his 2021 season showed there's pretty good production there when Cobb is right. 

Yusei Kikuchi 

The Giants saw Kikuchi in his first start of the year and struck out 10 times, and the lefty ended up making his first All-Star team. But Kikuchi badly tailed off after the break with a 5.98 ERA and 5.02 FIP in 13 starts. Opponents hit .300 off him during that stretch and he ranked in the bottom one percent among MLB pitchers in exit velocity allowed. 

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On a positive note, Kikuchi has a 95 mph fastball from the left side and has averaged a strikeout per inning the last couple of seasons, and he's someone the Giants know well. They had interest in him when he was coming over from Japan after the 2018 season and at the time Kikuchi was said to view San Francisco as one of his top choices. 

Kikuchi is only 30 and will be intriguing to teams that don't want to spend what it will take for Robbie Ray, who could get the biggest deal this offseason, or Carlos Rodon. Most view him as in a class with Wood and Steven Matz, another veteran lefty who could end up with a two- or three-year deal. 

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