SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After watching the bullpen lay waste to what should have been one of the best nights of his life, Matt Moore came back in 2017 and led the National League in losses. The Giants traded him to the Rangers that offseason, and after a rough year there and another one in Detroit that was wrecked by injuries, Moore has signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan.
You would not expect Moore to be on a list of players who view San Francisco as a stepping stone to greater success, but Drew Smyly turned to Moore as he sorted through free-agent offers. The two played together in Tampa Bay and became friends, and Moore helped nudge Smyly to the Giants.
"He loved the organization, he loved what they brought to the table," Smyly said. "He loved it. He loved playing for them, he loved the city, he loved going to the park every day. He had a lot of good things to say."
A lot has changed in San Francisco since Moore was brought over in the blockbuster deal. There is a new president and a new general manager, and Gabe Kapler has replaced Bruce Bochy and brought a dozen coaches along. But much of what Moore loved about the organization remains, and now it's supplemented by a focus on analytics and more modern methods. Smyly has mentioned a couple of times this spring that the emphasis on analytics played a part in his signing a one-year, $4 million deal. That surely brought a smile to Farhan Zaidi's face.
When Zaidi was hired, he talked of making San Francisco a destination for free-agent pitchers. The Giants know that -- even with new dimensions -- they never will be all that appealing to position players, but the ballpark should be a draw for any pitcher, along with catcher Buster Posey and, down the line, Joey Bart. The front office hopes that Andrew Bailey, Ethan Katz and Brian Bannister can boost that effort.
When the Giants signed Kevin Gausman and Smyly, so much of the attention was on what they could mean to the rebuild. They are potentially Drew Pomeranz 2.0, veterans with good stuff who can bring back a nice young piece -- another Mauricio Dubon, perhaps -- on July 31. But there's a flip side to all that. Pomeranz turned his career around when the Giants put him in the bullpen and he kept that going in Milwaukee, leading to a $34 million deal with the Padres. The Giants believe they've put a staff in place that can help veterans find a second life, and Gausman and Smyly stood out as two who certainly have the pedigree to once again become consistent starters.
"You have communications with (the coaches) about how they see you, how they evaluate you, how they see you getting better," Smyly said. "They don't give you the complete spill, but they tell you how they think you can improve, what you're really good at, what you might be slacking at and you just go from there."
Smyly met with Kapler, Bailey and Bannister before he signed and got a rundown of how the Giants could help him turn back the clock. The Giants did not have their staff in place by the time they signed Gausman to a $9 million deal in December, but he arrived at camp and found a group with plenty of fresh ideas.
"I've been really impressed with Bailey and Bannister and Katz. They all seem like they really want to get the best out of you and they have a method to all the madness," Gausman said. "You feel pretty confident that every day they're going to put you in a good spot."
Gausman has been in the big leagues since 2013 but said he wasn't all that familiar with the newest analytics until he went through a full spring with the Braves last year. Sometimes the adjustments are simple, like pitching exclusively out of the stretch, as Gausman did last season and has continued to do.
Sometimes it's more complicated, and the Giants have installed their own pitch lab to allow their pitchers to alter grips and arm slots. They are changing repertoires left and right. It's a common thing in camp to hear a pitcher say Bannister gave him a new pitch after showing him another big leaguer with a similar arm slot.
"They are very analytically based," Gausman said. "To see it over here was pretty comforting."
Then there are the more obvious comforts for free-agent pitchers. Gausman, a Colorado native, is looking forward to playing in front of family and friends three times a year and starting at Coors Field for the first time. Smyly smiled and admitted it doesn't hurt to face a pitcher instead of the DH, and he liked his first taste of National League life last season. It was his first time regularly hitting himself.
"I wasn't any good at it, but I really enjoyed being in the lineup," he said. "It takes you back to Little League."
Smyly will take those hacks for a team that isn't projected to be very good, but that was another factor the Giants used to their advantage. During both pursuits, they were able to truthfully tell a veteran that he would be in the Opening Day rotation.
"More than anything, it was about where I thought they would give me the best chance to re-establish myself as a starter," Gausman said.
That's what every pitcher like Gausman or Smyly wants, and while the Giants hope to build a young and deep rotation, you can bet they will always leave a little wiggle room. The organization learned an expensive lesson when the prior regime spent heavily on free agent pitching. It's not a bad idea to leave some spots open for veterans who need a fresh start, and it should be easy to sell them on coming to Oracle Park.
"It's no secret that the way I pitch I get a lot of fly balls, so I think the park only helps," Smyly said. "The West Coast, the air, I think it's definitely going to save a few home runs versus playing in Philly where the ball flies, and in Texas. It can only help, but you still have to go out there and make good pitches."
For Smyly, the ballpark was the cherry on top. The Giants may not be an appealing home for hitters in a similar boat, but they offered everything the lefty was looking for.
"I wanted to stay starting," he said. "I feel like I could easily transition into a bullpen role like Pomeranz did last year -- I know that's a possibility -- but right now I feel I can still go down and have a starting role."