SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Giants officials have grumbled about the impact their home ballpark has on negotiations with free agents.
It’s no secret that sluggers do not want to play 81 games at Oracle Park, and the Giants have been kept from large portions of the position player market over the past decade.
Farhan Zaidi will have to figure out a way to build an offense for his new park, but when it comes to another set of free agents, he’s not shying away from the dimensions at Third and King.
Multiple agents for free agents pitchers have mentioned this winter that Zaidi is using the pitcher-friendly park as one of his main selling points, and Zaidi said that’ll be an emphasis going forward.
“Especially for guys looking for short-term deals, it’s very attractive,” Zaidi said at the Winter Meetings. “It’s a platform for guys coming off down years to come in and be productive, help us win games, and then also set themselves up well going forward.”
Giants pitchers had a 3.62 ERA at home last season but it jumped to 4.29 on the road. A year earlier, they were third in the NL with a 3.73 home ERA, but ranked 11th on the road at 5.34.
The ballpark can be a pitcher’s best friend, hiding issues for even the best on the staff. When the Giants engaged in trade talks about Madison Bumgarner this winter, you can bet executives on the other side of the table brought up the 4.97 ERA on the road last season, which was more than three runs above his home ERA of 1.63.
Tony Watson, another potential trade chip, saw his ERA jump 2.46 runs when he got away from Oracle Park.
Zaidi will have to deal with those issues when negotiating with other teams. But the flip side of that is an ability to use the park as a major selling point for free agents looking for a soft landing spot.
“We’ve found that, for players that have been in the National League West and have played a lot of games at (Oracle Park), it is a draw,” Zaidi said. “They know how energetic the crowd is and what a fun atmosphere it is. Any place you can look for an advantage in recruiting, you try to have that be part of your game plan. For pitchers looking to come here, to pitch in a friendly environment is certainly something we’re going to look to take advantage of.”
Zaidi hopes to add at least one more starter to the mix this offseason, perhaps another reclamation project like Derek Holland. While Holland’s ERA was virtually similar at home and on the road in his first season with the Giants, there were some big differences in the underlying numbers. His walk rate was far higher on the road and he allowed 14 homers in road games as opposed to just five at Oracle Park.
Holland also has given plenty of credit to pitching coaches Curt Young and Matt Herges and catcher Buster Posey, and the Giants use that as a draw, too. But the ballpark is the easiest sell, in part because it’s guaranteed to always be there. Lineups and coaching staffs will change, but the Giants have no plans to alter the dimensions of their outfield, making their permanent home an ideal spot for any type of pitcher.
Perhaps this will allow the Giants to stay away from the types of massive contracts they have given to the likes of Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Mark Melancon, knowing that lesser pitchers can take a massive step forward at Oracle Park. If the Giants are able to consistently do that, they’ll be able to save their resources, which will be needed.
They’ll always need to overpay to get the other half of the game’s best players — hitters — to Oracle Park, and you might see them going after a few more like Troy Tulowitzki, a Sunnyvale native who was a target but chose the Yankees.
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"I love hearing that a guy is a Bay Area native, and if not a Bay Area native, a California native," Zaidi said. "I think that’s a certain pull. California guys want to play in this state."