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Giants could have an advantage as Gausman hits free agency

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For years, the Giants used Buster Posey as their top recruiter. He was brought in for meetings with high-level free agents in the offseason and made calls when asked, but as the Giants got used to coming in second during the hot stove season, Posey started joking that perhaps he wasn't the best closer. 

There will be no in-person meetings this offseason that require a player to be brought in as a recruiter, but Posey still might hold that role even after opting out of the 2020 season. The Giants' biggest free agent is right-hander Kevin Gausman, and he mentioned a player he never threw to in a game as a big reason he might return to San Francisco. 

"I would love to come back. I think I've made it pretty open that I feel good here," Gausman said after his final start. "I really like this club. I really like the team, and more than anything I really like the guys. I think the staples that we have in our lineup, the experience that they bring every day, and a big part of that is a guy that's not here, is Buster.

"Hopefully he's going to be back here next year. He was a big reason why I decided to sign here. Coming back and knowing that he's going to be here next year definitely adds another element to it. We'll see what happens."

Gausman didn't need a big group to show up to his home last December. He was a middle-tier free agent, but the Giants gave him $9 million -- the biggest annual salary handed out under Farhan Zaidi -- because they believed he had the tools to become a frontline starter. 

 

Gausman had a 3.62 ERA, 3.09 FIP and 1.11 WHIP in 12 appearances and struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings. When he was at his best, his fastball sat at 97 mph late in outings. His splitter was one of the most effective pitches in baseball, with opposing hitters slugging just .202 against it. Gausman felt good coming into the spring and carried that through a hiatus, throwing to LSU's catcher in bullpen sessions to stay sharp. 

Gausman turns 30 in January, and certainly has the raw stuff to develop into an ace late in his career. At the very least, he's a strong addition to any rotation, and he'll find a much healthier market this time around. It's unclear how much teams will be willing to spend given the unexpected losses in 2020 and uncertainty about fans returning in 2021, but the floor for someone like Gausman should be a three-year deal with an uptick in average annual salary. 

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Zaidi indicated the Giants will be involved, saying he would like Gausman and Drew Smyly to return. Gausman has been consistent in his praise of the organization, even saying at the trade deadline that he hoped to stay and would consider coming back even if the Giants sent him elsewhere. The Giants would seem to have the leg up, not just because of Gausman's 2020 experience and Posey's return, but because of a coaching staff that helped him reach his potential. Gausman gave credit to pitching coaches Andrew Bailey and Ethan Katz in his final media Zoom call of the year. 

"We have a good group of people here and they let me do my thing, but at the same time came to me with some information that they thought would help," he said. 

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