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Giants have big questions to answer at start of offseason

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Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- With one extra big hit, or perhaps a break or two, the Giants would be in Atlanta to start this week, taking on a Braves team that has a lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Instead, they're on the couch binging Netflix, or on the golf course, or putting together vacations that arrived earlier than hoped. 

There's not a lot of time to sit back, though, especially for the people who put a 107-win team together. 

Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have a roster full of veteran free agents, some big-name arbitration-eligible players, and huge early decisions to make on guys like Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto and Brandon Belt. Posey will be back in some form, Cueto is expected to have his 2022 team option bought out and Belt is a prime candidate for a qualifying offer, but those moves are just the beginning. 

As the Giants start thinking about what their next ring-chasing roster will look like, here are three questions they have to answer pretty quickly: 

When Do They Mix In Youth?

Perhaps the biggest question hanging over the front office at this point is a philosophical one. They were the oldest team in the big leagues in 2021, and it worked beautifully, but a consequence of that push for the NL West title was that they never got a chance to let Heliot Ramos get a taste of big league life. Joey Bart was mostly seen while doing pre-game workouts as a member of the postseason taxi squad.

 

Zaidi wants the roster to get more athletic and that goes beyond top prospects. Do the Giants break up the Alex Dickerson-Mike Yastrzemski-LaMonte Wade Jr. left-handed trio so that Steven Duggar, their fastest player and best defensive outfielder, can get more playing time? Do they part ways with Austin Slater or Darin Ruf to clear the way for Ramos? Do they let Donovan Solano walk and give all those at-bats to Thairo Estrada? Do they non-tender Curt Casali, who was 42-13 as the starting catcher, and pair Bart with Posey?

Some of those moves seem obvious. The Giants should shake things up in their outfield, perhaps trading from a position of depth and adding more pitching. Estrada needs to be a bigger part of the puzzle in 2022. A decision needs to be made with Bart one way or the other, either to finally bring him up for good or to use him as the centerpiece in a blockbuster deal this winter. 

This will all be a much bigger deal next offseason as guys like Marco Luciano and Luis Matos start to get close, but the Giants do need to start making decisions on prospects this winter. That's exciting, but it's also difficult.  

Bryant, Belt, Both or Neither?

The first no-brainer of the offseason is putting the qualifying offer on Belt, who had a breakout 2021 season and has been one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball over the last two years. Seriously, he ranks third in the NL in wRC+ the last two seasons, trailing just Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. The Giants had a different look without him over their final 11 games.

The organization can easily afford to bring both Belt and Kris Bryant back, but that might not be the best roster construction. Bryant is versatile and the Giants moved him around in the postseason, but he struggled defensively at third base and in right field. He seems like he'll need more time at first base and in left field as he gets into his thirties. 

If you listened closely to Zaidi on Monday, it seemed this won't be a difficult decision for the front office. He said the Bryant trade was about "pushing the chips in" for 2021 and noted he'll have a long line of suitors. When asked about Belt, Zaidi said "he feels really appreciated and we appreciate him."

The Giants and Belt spoke about an extension during the season but talks didn't go anywhere. Both sides want a reunion, though, and it shouldn't be too difficult to find common ground. The Giants might decide early on this winter that their best path is to bring Belt back, let Bryant and Scott Boras wait out the market, and use their leftover resources to bolster the pitching staff. 

How Will They Fill the Rotation?

The current rotation is Logan Webb and ...

Well, that's it. Although that's a pretty good start

 

The Giants have their ace and Opening Day starter, but the other four members of the 2021 rotation are hitting free agency. This is nothing new for Zaidi and Scott Harris, who have churned through starters on one-year deals and had tremendous success doing so. Veterans want to come here and work with Andrew Bailey, Brian Bannister and J.P. Martinez before going back out on the market in better shape to cash in, and that'll certainly be the case for Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. 

The Giants cannot put the qualifying offer on Gausman a second time. He loves San Francisco and would like to stay, but this is one that's hard to predict. With the season he just had, Gausman could get absolutely blown away by offers in a pitching-starved market. 

DeSclafani and Wood both came to San Francisco to rebuild value, and both did. Will the Giants bring one or both back, seeking familiarity, or will they repeat last offseason, when they watched Drew Smyly take a big offer from the Braves and then just pivoted to other veterans? 

It's tempting to just say "go find four more dudes on one-year deals and send them to Bannister's lab," but Aaron Sanchez was a reminder that it doesn't always work. The Giants are also in a much different position than they were a year ago. They are now expected to compete for championships, and they can't do that without stability alongside Webb. Bringing Gausman back would go a long way, although the Giants could pivot to a Max Scherzer or Robbie Ray as their co-ace. 

RELATED: Zaidi, Kapler reflect on 2021 season

Regardless, this is the area that will be the most time-consuming for Zaidi and Harris. 

"It's a need every team has and every team tries to address pretty aggressively. there's a lot of conversation," Zaidi said. "It's probably obvious looking at where our roster is on paper, but that's going to be the No. 1 priority for us."

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