Farhan Zaidi did not directly say the Giants would be again shopping in the bargain aisle. But he made it clear that while the expectations have changed from progress to playoffs, the offseason strategy of prioritizing deals and fits over splashes has not.
Barring a particularly unforeseen market, there won’t be George Springer, Marcell Ozuna or Trevor Bauer. The big-ticket items on the shelves will be plucked by other teams after surveying the 2020 damage, many clubs laying off some after an abbreviated season in which no gate fees were collected. The Giants have said they don’t know what to expect with their payroll yet, and the 2021 landscape will help decide the parameters.
It does not sound as if a few stars will stretch those parameters.
“Our mantra has been maintain flexibility, prioritize development of younger players and giving those guys opportunities,” Farhan Zaidi said at the end-of-season Zoom conference. “But also supplement with veterans that we thought could help our team be competitive and give the players a chance to compete and be in a position to support them if and when that happens.”
Those veterans in 2020 included Wilmer Flores (who’ll return), Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly (who they hope will return). Those were cost-effective, high-upside, mitigated risks who panned out and helped the Giants reach Game 60 with a shot at the playoffs that they would miss. The Giants again will be seeking help from this bin of players, which might not be tapped into until January or February.
“The one thing we continue to say is we’re going to try to put together a competitive club every year and see what happens and maintain flexibility to add to that as the situation warrants,” Zaidi said.
The pitching side will need work, with much of a rotation and righty veteran bullpen arm(s) needed. The position-player side is a bit more focused, as Zaidi has pegged a catcher and lefty bat as useful. The Giants never found the middle-of-the-order lefty who could mash righties, which pushed Mauricio Dubon, Flores and Donovan Solano into everyday rather than platoon roles.
Where could they look in free agency?
Catchers: With the holes in Joey Bart’s offensive game obvious, Zaidi left open the possibility (probability?) that the top-rated catcher could begin 2021 in Triple-A, as a returning Buster Posey would get the lion’s share of reps. While Zaidi cited Aramis Garcia, Chadwick Tromp and Tyler Heineman (a switch-hitter) as depth pieces, a veteran lefty bat to complement Posey’s would be welcomed.
Alex Avila: The 33-year-old had a poor 2020 with Minnesota, yet still posted a .355 OBP. He would bring a career .240/.357/.416 slashline against righties that includes 94 home runs.
Jason Castro: The Giants could bring the Castro Valley native home. The 10-year vet split this campaign between the Angels and Padres and could seek a third California stop. Castro has a strong defensive reputation and hits righties far better than lefties (.242/.328/.421).
Matt Wieters: Perhaps the once-futures of the Orioles, Wieters and Gausman, can reunite in the Bay. The 34-year-old has never fulfilled the hype as a top-flight prospect, but is a serviceable catcher who is a switch-hitter.
Infield: A lefty bat who could spell both Evan Longoria and whoever the second baseman becomes (Solano, Flores, Dubon) would be best.
Tommy La Stella: This would be an investment, but one the Giants would not need to look too far to investigate. The 31-year-old starred with Oakland in 27 games this season and batted a tidy .296/.333/.667 in seven games against the Giants. The lefty hitter crushed righties (.303/.393/.510) and developed power that will land him a multiyear deal.
Kolten Wong: Adding Kolten would block his own brother, Kean, who’s already with the Giants and is a lefty hitter with a flexible infield glove. Kolten is established, a solid hitter would won a 2019 Gold Glove with the Cardinals and who does damage against righties (.261/.339/.397).
Outfielders: The Giants have a strong future growing in the minors, with Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop and Alexander Canario tempting options in the next few years. But the Giants have a center-field hole now. The Billy Hamilton experiment never even began, and Mike Yastrzemski is far better suited for right. Dubon handled the position nicely, but a lefty with a bat, legs and a glove would be useful.
Jackie Bradley Jr.: The Glove Glove outfielder with Boston just had the best offensive campaign of his career, which should net him a good payday. In other years, he would have assuredly solidified a healthy multiyear pact; perhaps this offseason can see a team like the Giants get a one-year bargain.
Jarrod Dyson: Closer to the Hamilton thought process, Dyson would be a low-cost solid defender who hits righties better (.248/.318/.346) and could be a speed threat off the bench (256 career steals).