The financial picture is an unknown, as will be the COVID-19 landscape in the upcoming months, the Giants unsure about next season’s fan capacity and what that will mean for the bottom line.
The Giants, like every club, don’t know yet what the financial hits will mean for their 2021 payroll. Although Farhan Zaidi knows the holes he and the front office want to fill.
After a heartbreaking end to the 2020 season, in which the Giants dropped their final three games when winning one would have propelled them into the postseason, the team’s president of baseball operations identified needs in the rotation as well as a middle-of-the-order lefty bat and a veteran leader out of the bullpen. He also would like to bring in another catcher, even with Buster Posey returning, which would mean Joey Bart starts the 2021 season in the minors.
The rotation, though, is the biggest concern because Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, their best two options this year, are both free agents. Both have expressed public interest in reupping with San Francisco, and Zaidi confirmed that interest is mutual.
“Obviously we have interest in bringing both of those guys back,” Zaidi said at an end-of-season Zoom news conference on Tuesday morning.
Trevor Cahill also will be hitting the market and Jeff Samardzija is already gone, returning just Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson.
“If you look at our team, we have some starting pitching that we’re excited about,” Zaidi said. “We’re obviously going to be hoping to get Tyler Beede back [from Tommy John surgery] next year, but I think it’s fair to say we’re going to be shopping for some starting pitching this offseason. Having guys who’ve been here who are excited to be here and have an interest in coming back, I would imagine that’d be at the top of our list.”
Next on the list will be a bat they never uncovered this season. Joe McCarthy was their Opening Day right fielder, the first of many lefties to come through without making an impact. They got little from Steven Duggar and Pablo Sandoval and kept searching for another bat to stack against righty pitching, with players such as Wilmer Flores and Mauricio Dubon seeing more righties than expected.
They took a late flier on Justin Smoak, but injuries to their outfield canceled their last tryout after just six at-bats.
“There were certainly times when we faced a tough righty that it felt like we were maybe a left-handed bat short,” Zaidi said.
The Giants’ bullpen went from one of the worst in July to one of the best in September mostly through steps from young relievers, many of whom were former minor league starters. Pitchers like Caleb Baragar and Sam Selman became weapons, Tyler Rogers and Wandy Peralta were solid while more-established guys like Jarlin Garcia and Tony Watson were nearly perfect.
Watson will be a free agent, the 35-year-old veteran the undisputed leader of the group. Watson could be a target, and if not the Giants will be seeking a similar type.
“I think we’ll look to maybe add a veteran to that mix and create some leadership for that group down there, even though I think they’ve come together really well,” said Zaidi, who added he expected to be “active” this offseason, to the surprise of no one.
What may have surprised some is the notion of bringing in extra catcher depth. Posey will be back and could form the catcher complement with Bart that has been presumed to be inevitable since Bart was drafted in 2018. But Bart, upon finally getting his callup midway through the year, showed holes in his swing that led to far too many strikeouts (41) and not enough walks (three) while slashing .233/.288/.320.
The tools were there, but his having played just 22 games at Double-A Richmond and none above that was evident. Bringing in another catcher to pair with Posey would allow Bart to develop in Triple-A. Zaidi also mentioned Aramis Garcia, Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp as possibilities.
“It’s going to be a deep catching depth chart when you have a future Hall of Famer coming back,” Zaidi said of Posey, who will be 34 in March and entering the final year of his pact. “But I think what it allows us to do is, it gives us the luxury of doing what we think is right for Joey in the long run. There’s not going to be pressure on him certainly to carry the load.”
What this all will hinge on, of course, is what the club’s payroll can be. Zaidi said they have had a “super supportive ownership group,” but that doesn’t guarantee anything during a pandemic.
“No teams know what the revenue picture is going to look like in 2021,” Zaidi said. “It’s going to depend on social-distancing scenarios, what percent capacity are allowed in our stadiums, and so it’s really hard to put stakes in the ground in terms of payroll and how that might impact your strategy.”