The biggest weakness for the San Francisco Giants in 2020 was their starting pitching. This is definitely an area that must be improved if the Giants have any hope of contending for a playoff berth next season. There were far too many times the starters did not make it to the fifth inning and that overly taxed the bullpen. Having starting pitchers that can consistently get to the sixth inning or more eases the strain on the bullpen. This will be a key to the Giants’ success moving forward.
San Francisco Giants Have Only Two Proven Starting Pitchers
Currently, the San Francisco Giants have only two proven starters, Johnny Cueto and Kevin Gausman. However, Cueto is coming off a mediocre year and will be 35 years of age when the 2021 season starts. He also is trying to make a full return to top form after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018. One must wonder how much he has left, after having an ERA of 5.40 in 2020, which the worst of his career.
Gausman accepted the Giants’ $18.9 million qualifying offer which is great news, as he was their top pitcher in 2020. Gausman threw 59 and two-thirds innings, allowed only 50 hits, and walked 16. He also struck out 79 batters and had an excellent WHIP ratio of 1.106. The Giants will try to sign Gausman to a longer-term deal, but at least he is locked up for the 2021 season.
The San Francisco Giants will use Tyler Anderson, a southpaw, in one of their rotation spots. He did a decent job in 2020 but is ideally suited as a fourth or fifth starter. Logan Webb started 11 games last year, but his 5.47 ERA and 1.564 WHIP were way too high. Tyler Beede will also try to come back from arm surgery in 2021, but, like Webb, he is a big question mark.
In order to be successful over the course of a long season, you typically will need six or seven starting pitchers, as injuries typically crop up. With this in mind, the Giants would be wise to acquire at least two starters. Here are 10 starters the Giants should take a strong look at.
# 10 – Anthony DeSclafani
Anthony DeSclafani battled injuries in 2020, but nothing that required surgery. He was admittedly terrible this past year, with an ERA of 7.22 and a WHIP of 1.693. However, DeSclafani was very good in 2019, where he had a 3.89 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in 166 and two-thirds innings. This is even more noteworthy because he pitched half of his games in Cincinnati, a notorious hitter park.
DeSclafani made $5.9 million in 2020 and after pitching so poorly, is not primed for a large raise. A move to San Francisco and pitching half of his games in the more pitcher-friendly Oracle Park could be just what DeSClafani needs to get back on track.
# 9 – Chase Anderson
The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Chase Anderson via trade, following the 2019 season. To say that he did not fare well in the American League would be an understatement. Anderson would likely welcome a move back to the NL. In 2020, Anderson had an ERA of 7.22 and a WHIP of 1.634. He also allowed 11 home runs in only 33 innings.
However, in his three prior years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Anderson was very good. From 2017 through 2019, Anderson had a record of 29-16 and a cumulative ERA below 3.70.
Anderson’s 2020 salary was $8.5 million and after a poor season, will not be overly expensive. An incentive-laden deal, based on innings pitched might be an excellent way for the Giants to secure Anderson.
# 8 – Mike Minor
Mike Minor is coming off a poor year, as he split the season with the Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. He won only one game, while losing six, with an ERA of 5.56. However, he is just one year removed from an All-Star year in 2019, where he threw 208 innings, allowing only 190 hits and walking 68 while striking out 200.
Minor made $9.5 million this past season and after his poor showing, his price tag should be reasonable. There is plenty of upside for both Minor and the Giants if he can come close to duplicating his 2019 performance.
# 7 – Jake Odorizzi
Jake Odorizzi had an injury-plagued 2020 season. He was on the Injured List three separate times, but none were because of elbow or shoulder issues. Odorizzi missed time at the beginning of the season, with an intercostal strain, then after returning, he was hit by a line drive in the chest, sending back to the IL. In September Odorizzi went on the IL again with a blister on his right middle finger. 2020 was a lost year for Odorizzi, as he threw just 13 and two-thirds innings for the Minnesota Twins.
Odorizzi was coming off his best year in 2019, as he made the American League All-Star team. He went 15-7, with an ERA of 3,51 and WHIP of 1.208. In 159 innings, Odorizzi allowed only 139 hits and walked 53, while striking out a career-high of 178.
Odorizzi will be 31 years of age when the 2021 season begins. His 2020 contract was for $17.8 million and if he returns to his 2019 form, that’s a bargain.
# 6 – Jose Quintana
2010 was a lost year for Jose Quintana. He sustained a thumb injury in a dishwashing incident that required surgery just before the season was to begin. When Quintana returned, he suffered inflammation in his left lat area that put him back on the IL. He only threw 10 innings in 2020 and his injuries had nothing to do with his arm, which bodes well for the upcoming season.
Quintana had two-and-a-half solid seasons with the Chicago Cubs, prior to 2020. He went 33-23 over that span and threw over 171 innings in each of those years. Quintana was under contract for $11.5 million in 2020 and will be 32 years of age when the 2021 season begins. As a left-hander, he would balance out the Giants starting rotation and be a welcome addition.
# 5 – James Paxton
James Paxton sustained a flexor strain in his pitching arm in 2020, which did not require surgery, but was season-ending. He threw only 20 and one-third innings this past year for the New York Yankees. Paxton has also battled knee issues throughout his career but has generally been able to pitch through that.
Paxton is a top of the rotation pitcher when healthy, as his 2019 season indicates. He went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.281 WHIP. Paxton also struck out 186 hitters in 150 and two-thirds innings pitched. Durability has been an issue for Paxton, however, as he has never thrown over 161 innings in his career.
Paxton was on a one-year deal for $12.5 million in 2020. Due to his injury-plagued 2020 season, it’s unlikely he will get much of a raise if any. When he’s right, Paxton can be a dominant pitcher and if the Giants can sign him to a reasonable deal, it should be a good investment.
# 4 – Corey Kluber
Corey Kluber is a two-time Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star, most recently in 2018. Kluber, who will be 35 years of age in April, has suffered through injuries in each of the last two seasons. In 2019, he was hit by a line drive and suffered a broken forearm and in 2020, he suffered a shoulder injury in his first start of the season. Kluber’s injury did not require surgery and he has been cleared to proceed with his normal offseason routine.
Signing Kluber would be a risk, considering his age and recent injury history, however, the upside is tremendous. In 2018, his last full season, Kluber went 20-7, with a 2.70 ERA and an incredible WHIP of 0.991. He led the league with 215 innings pitched and had 222 strikeouts. Kluber’s 2017 season was even better as he had a record of 18-4, with an ERA of 2.25 and WHIP of 0.869. Kluber’s win total, winning percentage, and five complete games led the league. In 203 and two-thirds innings, he struck out 265 batters and earned his second Cy Young Award.
The Texas Rangers declined Kluber’s $18 million option and paid him a $1 million buyout. A one-year, incentive-laden deal based on performance and innings pitched will not handcuff the Giants in the future. That would give Kluber a chance to cash in if he does well, but also not lock the Giants into a long-term contract in the event Kluber suffers through another injury-plagued year.
# 3 – Taijuan Walker
Taijuan Walker had Tommy John surgery in April of 2018. He missed the rest of that season and only returned for a cameo appearance in late 2019. However, Walker pitched very well in 2020, as he started the year with the Seattle Mariners, but was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline and helped the Jays make the playoffs.
Walker threw a total of 53 and one-third innings in 2020, allowed only 43 hits while walking 19 and striking out 50. His 2.70 ERA and 1.163 WHIP were both stellar.
Walker looks healthy and at the age of 28, would be worthy of a longer-term deal than many of the other free-agent starting pitchers on the market. Since he was coming off an injury, Walker was under contract for only $2 million in 2020. After compiling a very good season, he is due a raise.
# 2 – Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka came to the United States and signed a seven-year $155 million deal with the New York Yankees in 2014. He has more than lived up to that contract as he fashioned a 78-46 record and 3.74 ERA over those seven seasons. Tanaka has never had a losing season with the Yankees.
Tanaka is a two-time All-Star, most recently in 2019. In 2020, he threw 48 innings, with an ERA of 3.56 and WHIP of 1.167. Tanaka is 32 years of age and will likely want a long-term deal. It would be surprising if the Yankees did not resign him, as he has proven to be extremely reliable for them. Nevertheless, Tanaka is a quality pitcher and someone the Giants should definitely look into.
# 1 – Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer won the National League Cy Young Award in 2020, as his ERA of 1.73 and WHIP of 0.795 led the league. In 73 innings Bauer also struck out 100 batters.
Bauer was under contract for $17.5 million in 2020 and turned down the Cincinnati Reds $18.9 million qualifying offer for 2021. If the Giants offer him a one-year deal or a multi-year contract, getting Bauer would be a huge step towards solidifying the rotation. Bauer is the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market and would give the Giants’ pitching staff immediate credibility.
Will The Giants Be Aggressive Now or Will They Wait?
It is incumbent upon the San Francisco Giants to bolster their starting pitching or they will have no chance to compete in the NL West. The Giants’ will have to battle their arch-rival and World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers or the vastly improved San Diego Padres. The Giants have not made the playoffs since 2016 and their loyal fan base is getting restless.
This will be a very interesting winter for the San Francisco Giants, as they also have several large contracts coming off the books after the 2021 season. However, with no certainty that fans will be at the games, it remains to be seen if Zaidi will be aggressive and jump headfirst into the market now. Alternatively, he may prefer to go with bargain-basement options and wait until the next offseason to spend the big money.
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