Because nothing in the 2020 baseball season was traditional, it follows that building a roster for 2021 will follow a path not ever taken.
Sure, you always need pitching, but not like this. Regardless of the depth a system has, every team will need more for 2021.
The only facet of the free-agency market that has been moving is with starting pitchers, the Giants re-signing Kevin Gausman, adding Anthony DeSclafani and still searching for more help to fill out their rotation.
They aren’t alone. According to Farhan Zaidi, it’s not just the deals that have indicated the urgency to get pitching help, but the amount of talks with pitchers has been plentiful.
“I think a lot of teams are looking at this the same way,” the Giants president of baseball operations said this week over Zoom. “That after a year where even guys starting every fifth day maybe threw 70 innings, it’s going to be more important than ever to have really good starting-pitching depth.”
No Giants hit that baseline, Johnny Cueto leading the staff with 63 1/3 innings in the truncated season. A starter who didn’t approach triple-digit innings would normally be curtailed the following season, teams wary of arm injuries that pop up after accelerated usage. The Giants (and every team in baseball) cannot afford to restrict the innings of their entire rotation.
The Giants found their likely No. 3 starter in DeSclafani, but it might be as important to find their Nos. 7, 8 and 9 starters. In 2019, they used 11 non-opener starting pitchers, five starts total from call-ups Conner Menez and Andrew Suarez, who plugged holes. There will be a lot more holes to plug in 2021.
Suarez likely will not be around to help, reportedly nearing a deal to pitch in the KBO. After their top three, the Giants have Logan Webb and Tyler Beede, whom they hope can be ready by May. Beyond that, it’s Menez and maybe Shaun Anderson, with prospects like Sean Hjelle perhaps in the mix as the season goes on.
Zaidi acknowledged there’s another rotation spot they need to fill, but there should be plenty of fliers that follow.
“I don’t think that you can ever have enough depth,” Gabe Kapler said this week. “…Generally speaking in a normal season, you might count on a small bump in innings from a pitcher from the year before. And in this case, nobody had big workloads.
“It might work in the favor of the industry, to some degree … it’s almost like a breather, in some ways, relative to what their normal workloads were like. So potentially, we might see guys bounce back a little bit stronger. At the same time, I think depth is really important.”
The non-roster invites to camp so far have been heavy on relievers and light on pitchers with major league starting experience. Experienced starters who sit unsigned into January and February — perhaps names like Tyson Ross (in last season’s Giants camp), Gio Gonzalez or Homer Bailey — will be commodities for teams contemplating how many arms they will have to churn through.
The impact of no minor league season in 2020 is still unknown. Will this delay the timeframes for Hjelle, Seth Corry and Tristan Beck, none of whom was included in the alternate site? There will be a greater need for pitching next season than ever before and very little is known about the in-house pitching the Giants can turn to.
It all adds up to the Giants needing more pitching. And yes, they always do, but the pandemic had a way of multiplying just about every need.