Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler reflected on how the 2021 season ended and also looked forward to a potentially frantic offseason.
Since the Giants lost in Game 5 of the NLDS to the Dodgers in heartbreaking fashion, Kapler said it’s been tough to watch baseball. The manager said he watched his first couple innings Sunday night, as Los Angeles lost its second consecutive NLCS game against the Braves.
Neither Kapler nor Zaidi were particularly surprised at LA’s slow start. The Dodgers and Giants pushed each other to the brink, and the Dodgers could be feeling the fatigue. Still, the Dodgers won the NLDS war of attrition.
“I don’t think we look back with any regret or bitterness at what was a great series,” Zaidi said. “I figured we’d be asked about how closely we’re watching the NLCS. It feels a little bit like I imagine what an actor feels like if they get beat out for a part, then they go to the movies and watch someone else on screen. That’s what it feels like for us. You’re watching that game, and it sort of feels like that should be us.”
But it’s the Dodgers, not the Giants, playing the Braves for a chance at the National League pennant. San Francisco has to turn to 2022.
It’s too early to comment on specific free agents with conviction, but Zaidi expressed interest in “keeping as much of this group together as we can” in 2022. When a team wins a franchise-record 107 games, that’s a natural temptation. An additional consideration is how well the clubhouse meshed.
“Beyond the kind of motivation to keep the team together that performed as well as it did, it adds an extra layer of motivation because you know these guys all get along so well and bring out the best of each other,” Zaidi said.
“Really have this whole is greater than the sum of the parts dynamic.”
But bringing the entire team back is likely impossible. Pending free agents include every starting pitcher not named Logan Webb, Brandon Belt, and Kris Bryant.
Buster Posey also has a $22 million club option. Zaidi called Posey the best catcher in baseball in 2021, and said he feels much better about the position now than he did when Posey opted out of the 2020 season. Zaidi added
Prospect Joey Bart is more major league ready now and bringing back Posey is a “high priority.”
The free agents though will likely garner robust interest from around the league. Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani both vastly outperformed their expectations, with the former pitching at a Cy Young level for the majority of the season. Alex Wood also thrived in a full-time starter role, going 10-4 with a 3.83 ERA and rising to the occasion against Max Scherzer in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Zaidi said SF has interest in retaining each free agent in the rotation, but added every team needs starting pitching so that area can be the hardest to predict. There are other avenues, such as trades and minor league deals, that could help bolster the rotation. But it all adds up to “the number one priority for us,” Zaidi said.
Belt, whose OPS over the past two years trails only Juan Soto, Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuña Jr., has expressed interest in returning next season. Negotiations with his representation have been ongoing, Zaidi said. Belt is a candidate for a qualifying offer of a reported $18.4 million. If he accepted that, he’d return to the Giants for one year. If he signs elsewhere, SF would receive draft pick compensation.
Zaidi said “we have to think more about” the qualifying offer decision.
“He’s happy here,” Zaidi said of Belt. “I think he feels really appreciated. We appreciate him. He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last couple years. He’s a big part of this team, and we certainly hope that those are productive dialogues.”
Bryant could be the most interesting case. San Francisco will have money to spend — Zaidi noted ownership’s support — but there will be a myriad of competition for Bryant. His superstar talent was “evident at every turn,” Kapler said.
SF loves Bryant’s positional versatility and his win-first mentality. Zaidi said his ups and downs were the product of a small sample size. His NLDS performance, when he led San Francisco with a 1.147 OPS, is “what we got him for,” Zaidi added.
“For us, the move at the deadline was really about pushing chips in with this team, which we thought was a really special team,” Zaidi said. “And had a chance to do some special things, and did. But we recognize that he’s a superstar talent and it’s going to be a really competitive market for his services. I’m sure we’ll have conversations there, but he’s going to have a long line of suitors. So we’ll just have to see how that develops.”
Another area San Francisco could have work to do this winter is with the coaching staff. SF put together the biggest staff in MLB last season, and other teams notice how much success the organization had. Kapler expects other organizations to call and ask to interview members of his staff.
Long-time third base coach Ron Wotus is also retiring. Kapler said he hopes to fill Wotus’ position internally but could also interview outside candidates as well.
However the Giants rebuild for next year, there’s reason for optimism. The organization has proven its propensity for roster building, both with big names and on the margins.
The Giants had the best record in baseball with the 10th highest payroll. Los Angeles had the highest payroll by over $60 million. Will SF look to split that difference?
“They don’t award the trophy based on challenging the Dodgers on payroll,” Zaidi said. “That doesn’t matter to us at all…we don’t pull up that chart and be like ‘we’re going to catch the Dodgers if it’s the last thing we do.’ We’re trying to build the best team we can. There are times when spending is a really good way to do that, and there are times when going out and acquiring guys that are blocked in Triple-A with other teams that don’t carry the same payroll number but can be just as impactful is the way to do it.”