The opener officially came to San Francisco last year, but the implementation was short-lived.
Nick Vincent got shelled in one start, and the Giants didn’t use the strategy again, but that doesn’t mean they’re done with it.
Whether it’s an opener, piggybacking starters, or some new model the game hasn’t seen yet, you can bet the Giants are discussing creative ways to use their young pitching staff in 2020.
One year after he made waves at the Winter Meetings by mentioning the positives of an opener, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi brought up another possibility when asked about MLB adding a 26th player to rosters and enforcing a three-batter minimum.
“I think pitchers are understanding the rules are changing. They’re more open to less conventional roles and they’re understanding that strategies may evolve,” Zaidi said.
“Obviously we did a little bit of that last year and had some conversations with guys. There’s always been a notion that the kind of hybrid starter-reliever -- the 100-, 120-inning guy who maybe goes three innings 30 or 40 times a year -- as the game evolves, that might become more of a niche. I think with some of these rule changes you might see more of that.
“That’s a nice role for young starters to get their feet wet in the big leagues but it also might be a nice long-term role for some of these guys to have that skill set.”
The Giants seem well-positioned to experiment, and the organization actually has had plenty of previous conversations about a hybrid. When Tim Lincecum started to struggle late in his career, there was talk that he could excel as a 120-inning reliever. Last year, the Giants discussed using Drew Pomeranz after an opener. He ultimately was moved to the bullpen and found success in shorter stints.
The current roster has plenty of options.
Logan Webb has the potential to be at the top of a rotation, but the Giants will limit his innings after a suspension wiped out much of his 2019. If Webb is in the opening day rotation, he could be set for shorter starts.
In Andrew Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez and Conner Menez, the Giants have three young pitchers who have experience starting and relieving. Newcomer Trevor Oaks, a 26-year-old claimed off waivers, also has been a starter in the minors.
The most interesting case might be right-hander Shaun Anderson, who a year ago at this time was the organization’s top pitching prospect.
As a rookie, Anderson had trouble getting deep into games. He eventually was moved to the bullpen, where he showed some flashes of being a potential closer. But the Giants aren’t committing just yet to putting Anderson in the late innings full time.
“I met with him at the end of the season and he expressed his willingness to do either,” Zaidi said. “He’s obviously got experience doing both. Our plan is probably going to be to stretch him out early in spring training and then make an assessment on how the rotation is stacking up.”
That’s traditionally how teams handle all potential starters in spring training, and you can expect Anderson and others to train for lengthier outings. Ultimately, given the state of the franchise and the desire to experiment, they might be headed for new roles.