When Max Scherzer threw the pitch that ended a 107-win season, it was tempting to view him as the swing piece for future NL West races, too. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Giants could compete for his services in the offseason, just as they did in July, with the winner holding a huge edge heading into 2022.
Steve Cohen had other plans.
The New York Mets owner, the richest one in Major League Baseball, swooped in with a deal that didn't just break a record, it shattered it. Scherzer will make $130 million over three years, according to Jon Heyman, by far the highest average annual value in MLB history.
If he stays healthy -- a big if, given that he's 37 and admitted his arm was worn down after his Game 5 relief appearance against the Giants -- Scherzer will earn more than $1.3 million for every start he makes for the Mets, and the Giants were certainly not going to compete with that kind of contract.
They also were not going to blow past $100 million for Kevin Gausman, who has agreed to a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, but that leaves the NL West champions with a lot of work to do before pitchers and catchers report (hopefully) in early February. There is some good news for Giants fans, though: Scherzer did not end up back with the Dodgers, which was the industry prediction after a July trade.
The Giants went after Scherzer at the deadline, too, only to watch him land in Los Angeles with Trea Turner, another player they had some interest in. They were connected to him again this offseason, along with the Mets, Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels, who are desperately trying to put more pitching around Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
It was well known at the deadline that Scherzer preferred the West Coast, but free agency was a different story. Now, both NL West contenders are left searching for more high-end pitching, and the options are quickly coming off the board.
As the Scherzer sweepstakes heated up Sunday night, the Giants watched Gausman choose a $110 million deal with the Blue Jays. That leaves left-hander Robbie Ray, the AL Cy Young Award winner, as the clear best pitcher on the market, but he's likely to get a Gausman-ish deal, which is the type this front office has thus far avoided. Ray also has the qualifying offer attached, so he will cost his next team a draft pick.
Marcus Stroman, a durable right-hander who gets a ton of ground balls, could fill the void alongside Logan Webb, and he certainly would be a strong fit given how good the Giants are defensively on the infield. Carlos Rodon would be another high-end option, along with potentially taking a run at Clayton Kershaw, although the industry consensus is that he will either end up with the Dodgers or his hometown Texas Rangers.
There are two other paths to filling the rotation, including one that's very familiar to Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris. The Giants originally signed Gausman for $9 million and their pitching infrastructure turned the former No. 4 overall pick into a star. They helped Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood bounce back in 2020, and they very easily could target two or three -- remember, in 2021 they also brought in Aaron Sanchez -- similar pitchers and turn them over to Andrew Bailey, J.P. Martinez, Brian Bannister and the analytics department.
There is nobody who is better at that kind of work right now than the Giants, and they should have no shortage of options. For as much as Gausman's decision left a void, it also will serve as one hell of a recruiting tool moving forward. If you're a pitcher who is looking to break out, you should pretty clearly come to San Francisco on a one-year deal, and the Giants could add a couple of them late in the offseason while turning their financial resources toward the position player market.
The other path is the trade market, although thus far the prices have been high. The Cincinnati Reds have reportedly made Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle available, with Castillo -- a former Giants prospect -- having the potential to be one of the NL's best starters if he can make a few adjustments.
The A's also are ready to tear it down, and they have Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea, all of whom are due raises through arbitration. The Giants and A's haven't made a player-for-player trade in more than 30 years, but both sides have joked about it happening since Zaidi took over in San Francisco, and the timing has never been better given each team's current situation.