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Is five-time All-Star pitcher the right gamble for Giants?


Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports


Different regime, different circumstances. But six years later, could it be the same interest between the Giants and Jon Lester?

After San Francisco whiffed on the veteran starter before the 2015 season, his first of six he would play on a $155 million deal with the Cubs, there is a report that the Farhan Zaidi/Scott Harris Giants could be aiming for the same path the Bobby Evans Giants missed on.

MLB Network reported Tuesday the Giants are interested in the five-time All-Star, who will be 37 in January. The Giants are still searching for starting pitching, having lost Drew Smyly and Jeff Samardzija and facing an arbitration decision with Tyler Anderson. Only Kevin Gausman and Johnny Cueto, who struggled much of last season, can be penciled into the rotation, with Logan Webb and a sometime-returning Tyler Beede also options — and all righties.

The Giants are awfully appealing to starters looking for a platform to elevate their value; Smyly and Gausman made about $17 million more this year than in pacts last offseason with the Giants, while the year prior Drew Pomeranz cashed in following the Giants and Brewers converting him to relief.

It makes some sense for the lefty Lester, who would like to rebuild value after a down (5.16 ERA) season in his last year with Chicago, who has a home in Georgia but is from Washington and likely is open to a West Coast destination.

“There’s a number of guys who have pretty significant pedigree who are coming off injuries or down seasons for whatever reason,” Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations, said last week. “It’s going to be a market where a lot of players are going to be looking to do short-term, make-good deals to reenter the market. I think for us, the cases of the guys we signed last year and the pitching infrastructure that we’ve built up over the last couple years will be a strong selling point with us for those kinds of targets.”

Lester one day will have a Hall of Fame case, a three-time World Series champion (’07, ’13 and ’16), nearing 200 wins with a 3.60 lifetime ERA. Perhaps he wants to maximize his late-career performance to boost his resume.

But does he make sense for the Giants? Though he was an excellent signing by the Cubs, his stuff has been on a downward trajectory the last five seasons (his average fastball since ’16: 92.1, 91.1, 91.0, 90.3, 89.2). He’s responded by throwing his fastball less, which the Giants should like, and threw his changeup more than ever last season, in which he was inconsistent. He had five starts in which he allowed at least five earned runs and six in which he allowed zero or one.

San Francisco would like a southpaw after losing Smyly, and signing Lester could mean Anderson is not brought back. Harris, the GM, came from the Cubs. Pitching coach Andrew Bailey pitched alongside Lester with Boston in 2012 and ’13. Even manager Gabe Kapler caught the beginning of Lester’s career with the Red Sox, 2006 teammates with each other.

The Giants could believe they can take Lester’s stuff and the knowledge he brings and bring him closer to his 2018 version, in which he posted a league-high 18 wins with a 3.32 ERA. They wouldn’t have to send Buster Posey to persuade him this time, as they did six years ago, as he’s not the must-have attraction he once was.

What he is another flier the Giants may hope to spin into something much better, at which this regime has proven adept. After signing Gausman, Zaidi said the Giants could afford to “roll the dice a little bit” with additional pitchers because they are returning a top-of-the-rotation arm. Could Lester be that gamble?

“I think we try to look for not just guys with ability but guys that have the aptitude and motivation to make adjustments,” Zaidi said, which has been true for Lester’s 15-year career.

 

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