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Why Giants and free-agent pitchers can gamble on each other



Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Farhan Zaidi believes the Giants are in a position to “roll the dice a little bit” after re-signing Kevin Gausman, their best and most consistent starter adding some stability to the 2021 rotation.

Free-agent starters have good reason to gamble on the Giants, too.

Gausman, Drew Smyly and Drew Pomeranz have cashed in after pillow contracts with San Francisco the past two seasons, coming to the Giants with stuff that intrigued the team, which helped maximize that stuff.

Gausman, the fourth-overall pick in 2012, had the best FIP of his career by throwing his fastball less frequently than ever, his changeup more than ever and relying upon his splitter to put hitters away. Smyly also eased up on fastballs — which were the hardest of his career — and threw more curveballs. Pomeranz found his ceiling as a reliever, the Giants seeing his arm play up in bursts.

The Giants, under this regime, have shown a capacity to turn stuff into results. How?

“I think we try to look for not just guys with ability, but guys that have the aptitude and motivation to make adjustments,” Farhan Zaidi said over Zoom last week. “That’s what everybody’s looking for. We’ve been fortunate to find guys that have been able to execute at a level that’s put them in a much better position from a market standpoint. We feel really good about the pitching infrastructure that we have in place.”

In place is a system for which Zaidi has praised manager Gabe Kapler. Andrew Bailey is the top pitching coach, but the organization has non-uniformed pitching minds like Brian Bannister (director of pitching) and Matt Daniels (coordinator of pitching sciences). Below Bailey was assistant pitching coach Ethan Katz, who has been poached and installed as the pitching coach of the White Sox.

Zaidi called Katz a “big loss” and said the team isn’t sure yet on replacing him. Bannister, meanwhile, who came over from the Red Sox, is “one of the most knowledge pitching minds I’ve been around” and someone who is helping with filling the rotation.

“We have him involved in our conversations with free-agent pitchers to talk about what he sees with them, what our pitch would be to them on how we could help them achieve their potential, and he’s very good at that,” Zaidi said of Boston’s former vice president of pitching development. “And having seen him in action this year with our guys in camp and even during the season, I do think that’s a big competitive advantage we have.”

Perhaps the staff in place can take the recruiting place of a park that could continue to play less favorably to pitchers. The Giants have not announced whether the right-field arches will be closed next season, but after a 60-game campaign in which the ball flew better in Oracle Park that has helped the club lure free-agent hitters, it will be interesting to see if the park is as attractive as it was to Smyly a year ago.

Smyly has left for Atlanta, while the Giants will return Gausman and Johnny Cueto. Logan Webb will be back, Tyler Beede should at some point, while Tyler Anderson is TBD (arbitration). Because the Giants believe they can count on Gausman to anchor the rotation, the dice-rolling can begin with starters with upside if reliability concerns. They don’t need to find a pitcher who can eat 200 innings.

“I wouldn’t limit our opportunity set to just bounce-back guys,” Zaidi said, with Trevor Bauer at the top of the market followed (distantly behind) by names like Charlie Morton and James Paxton.

But still, the bounce-back market, with pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz and Michael Wacha, should intrigue them, too.

“I think we can make a strong pitch to guys in that situation,” Zaidi said. “With these examples of guys that came to us coming off of down seasons and seasons where they dealt with some injuries and [then] did very well in the market this time around.”