It bodes well for what the Giants hope to build, even if if bodes immediately poorly for the 2021 Giants.
It’s rare losing a top pitcher can be construed in any way positively, but there is a bright side for the Giants to Drew Smyly leaving for Atlanta on a one-year, $11 million contract Monday.
Smyly signed with San Francisco on a base pact of $4 million last offseason, seeking a way to elevate his value before he hit the free-agent market again. Just as Drew Pomeranz had done the same a year prior, when he agreed to a $1.5 million deal — which turned into a four-year, $34 million deal with San Diego after he converted to a big-time reliever, first with the Giants and then Brewers. Just as Kevin Gausman had signed for one year and $9 million last offseason, only to pitch well this year and accept the $18.9 million qualifying offer from the Giants.
The reclamation projections Farhan Zaidi signed last offseason gained about $17 million in value this offseason, while Pomeranz earned himself a stunning deal.
The hitting coaches are a nice lure, to which Darin Ruf can attest, and the Giants have begun making inroads toward becoming a destination for hitters. What is clear, though, is Oracle Park and the organization are making pitchers a lot of money, which is great news for a team that needs more pitchers.
What is good for Smyly, who cashed in on a nice, if short, deal after just 26 1/3 excellent innings last season, can be good for the Giants, too. Zaidi said there was interest in bringing back Smyly, though apparently not enough at that price. Smyly said he wanted to return, too, but now lands with a team built to win immediately.
“This is an upside play, no doubt about it,” Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters, per MLB.com. “We’ll obviously find out eight months from now, 10 months from now how that worked out. But we think Drew has tremendous upside. We think he’s only starting to scratch the surface.”
Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, Smyly’s stuff excelled in his brief time, the lefty throwing his curveball more and gaining some speed on his fastball, which averaged a career-best 93.8 mph as a 31-year-old. He struck out 14.35 batters per nine, easily tops in his career, similar to Gausman’s uptick in effectiveness. The focus on analytics and the Giants’ belief they can grow players, whether rookies or veterans, is working on an individual basis; it will not continue with Smyly, but the organization must feel confident it can continue elsewhere.
So, with whom? At the moment, the only rotation members returning are Gausman, Johnny Cueto and Logan Webb, who struggled last season. Tyler Beede should return at some point, while Tyler Anderson — the only southpaw listed here — will be an arbitration decision. Who else is on the market who could attract the Giants? Let’s list eight options.
Trevor Bauer: Hey, why not? He would help! The best pitcher on the market and Cy Young winner should fetch in the $150 million range, though, the type of deal Zaidi is resistant to.
Trevor Cahill: The 33-year-old righty was quietly effective both as a starter and reliever last season for the Giants, finishing with a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings, in which he struck out 31.
Mike Foltynewicz: The 29-year-old righty was an All-Star as recently as 2018 but has plunged the last two seasons, to the point he was an eye-opening DFA from Atlanta last season. His stuff disappeared, his fastball velocity going from 96.4 to 94.9 to 90.5 the last three seasons. The Giants could bet their staff could help him rediscover his form.
Rich Hill: Zaidi’s a fan, having acquired the lefty with the Dodgers. The curveball-loving Hill is 40 and is far better used in bursts, his left arm having maxed out at 135 2/3 innings in one season since 2008. But with Gausman back, perhaps the Giants can afford to take a chance on someone who can be excellent but perhaps not relied upon — another version of Smyly.
Mike Minor: It wouldn’t be a far transition for the 32-year-old, who finished last season with the A’s. He threw his fastball, which has been declining, more than ever last season, struggling both with Texas and Oakland. Perhaps the Giants will be curious if they can help him become the 2019 pitcher he was, when he was an All-Star.
Jake Odorizzi: There has been reported interest in Odorizzi, who was an All-Star with the Twins in 2019 before a string of injuries limited his 2020 to 13 2/3 innings. The Giants could buy low — although plenty of teams are expected to try as well for the 30-year-old righty.
James Paxton: The high-upside lefty might be the best on the market not named Trevor Bauer. Forever an injury risk, his 2020 was his most troubling, early February back surgery postponing his start before a strained left flexor tendon ended his campaign after 20 1/3 innings. But the 32-year-old lefty has great stuff and could follow in Gausman’s and Smyly’s footsteps in building his value in the Giants’ pitcher-friendly park.
Taijuan Walker: Speaking of great stuff, Walker was a top prospect for the Mariners who has pitched well in his eight pro years, but not reached the heights once hoped for. Last year the righty was solid for Seattle, pitching to a 4.00 ERA in five starts, before excelling with Toronto in six outings (1.37 ERA).