This was a column I hoped I wouldn’t be writing until November, but oh, well, here we are. Greek Giant did a masterful job of describing the end to the Giants’ magical run of 2021 and reviewing what went well and what didn’t in their NLDS series with the D*dgers.
So it’s left to me today to do a bit of retrospective musing about the season just past and some speculating about what may lie ahead in the near future.
What Went Well
OK…almost everything went well. When you set a franchise record with 107 wins, break your franchise home run record, break the major league record for pinch-hit home runs, and win the NL West after eight years of dominance by that other team…well, a lot of things have gone well. Let’s start with the obvious: Gabe Kapler and his staff did a masterful job of coaching, game planning, and game management, and if Kapler doesn’t win NL Manager of the Year, they should get rid of the award. Many players had great years as well, but here were the particular standouts:
- Kevin Gausman: Gausman had signed a middling one-year deal with the Giants before 2020 to try to rebuild his career as a starter. By the end of a solid 2020 campaign, the Giants were so impressed with him that they made him a qualifying offer just short of $20 million for the 2021 season. Gausman was so impressed with the Giants that he took the money and stayed put rather than going on the market. The Giants were rewarded with a stellar season from Gausman, one that got him an All-Star nod and will certainly lead to down-ballot Cy Young votes. Even though Gausman’s second half was not as transcendent as the first, he still finished in the top 5-7 in the NL in ERA, strikeouts, innings, WHIP, and batting average against. Mr. Gausman is about to become an extremely wealthy young man.
- Logan Webb: Webb will be 25 next month. He was drafted out of high school from Rocklin, CA, in 2014 in the fourth round. After debuting in the majors in late 2019 and bouncing through a poor-to-mediocre 2020 (largely because the Giants really had no better options), he was no sure thing to even make the Giants’ 2021 rotation out of camp. In fact, he would have started the season in the bullpen had Alex Wood not suffered a back injury. The rest is history. Webb went on to have a remarkable season, capped with impressive wins in Game 162 to clinch the NL West, in Game 1 of the NLDS, and a fantastic seven-inning outing in Game 5. The problem turned out to be that Webb couldn’t win the NLDS all by himself, but he certainly gave the Giants everything they could have asked for and then some.
- Buster Posey: Before spring training, what were we expecting from Posey? He hadn’t had a good season offensively since 2017, before the hip injury that led to surgery in late 2018 and sitting out the 2020 season to protect his premature newborn twins from possible COVID exposure. I expected Posey to come back and be a a great defensive catcher and a calm, wise leader, mentoring the pitchers and young Joey Bart. I did not expect him to have his best season at the plate since his MVP season of 2012 and become so indispensable that Bart was buried in AAA all year. Now the question–assuming Posey doesn’t want to retire right now–is whether the Giants will pick up their 2022 team option on Posey or negotiate a longer extension with him. (It also raises questions about what will happen with Bart, but I’ll get to that.)
- Tyler Rogers: Rogers is a great homegrown story for the Giants, a guy who toiled in AAA for years under the previous regime, watching his identical twin brother get his opportunity with the Minnesota Twins, but who was finally given his shot by new sheriff Farhan Zaidi in 2019. Rogers finished second in the NL with 81 innings pitched and a record of 7-1, 13 saves, an ERA of 2.22, and a WHIP of 1.07. Reliever numbers can be hard to compare because their roles and innings are variable, but Rogers also allowed only 5 homers and 13 walks in those 81 innings, and both of those numbers were way better than a lot of other top relievers. Many thought that Rogers was robbed by not making the All-Star team this year, but there is no question that he had a great season.
- Camilo Doval: Speaking of relievers, what a wild year Doval had. Before 2021, he had never pitched above High A, unless you want to count his work at the Alternate Site last year. He was rushed up to make his major league debut in April when the Giants’ bullpen was a weak spot, and it didn’t go especially well. He went back to AAA and was briefly back up in the majors a couple of times before returning to stay on September 4. On September 5, he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to earn the win in the final game against the Dodgers that won the season series for the Giants. He then went the rest of the regular season without allowing a run, and when Jake McGee went down with an injury in September, Doval was promoted to closer in the last week of the season, as the Giants were desperately trying to hold off the Dodgers and win the West, and he earned three saves in three opportunities. He then pitched brilliantly in the Giants’ two wins in the NLDS, including a heart-stopping two-inning effort to nail down the Giants’ 1-0 win in Game 3. The fact that he gave up the losing run in the ninth inning of Game 5 should not change our impression of him. He will go into the 2022 season as the Giants’ presumptive closer. Posey was asked, after Game 5, what he would say to Doval, who was obviously crushed to be the losing pitcher in a heartbreaker: “He should feel proud that they trusted him enough to put him out there for that spot,” Posey said. “It’s no secret he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
- Brandon Crawford: I saved the best for last. Brandon Crawford had the best offensive season of his career, and after a year or two of looking like he’d lost a step on defense, was routinely making highlight plays like in his Gold Glove years, including a leaping catch in Game 3 that preserved the lead for Jake McGee and was reminiscent of a very similar play he made in Game 7 of the 2012 NLCS…when he was 25 years old. Crawford ended the 2019 season as a platoon player, and you wondered if he might be DFA’d before his contract was up. He ended the 2021 season as a legitimate MVP contender who already has a new contract that will keep him in a Giants uniform through his age-36 season.
Honorable mentions: Brandon Belt, Kris Bryant, Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade, Jr., Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Jake McGee.
What Didn’t Go Well
Not much, but a trio of 2019-2020 heroes–Donovan Solano, Alex Dickerson, and Mike Yastrzemski–had disappointing down years, and it would be surprising if either Solano or Dickerson is back next year. Free agent pitchers Matt Wisler, Aaron Sanchez, and John Brebbia didn’t work out well, either. You could quibble about the Giants losing their season series to the Pirates (!!!), but since they finished with the best record in MLB anyway, I guess we’ll let that one go.
If there’s any bright spot about the Giants’ early exit from the postseason, it’s that the front office has extra time to prepare for what will be a busy and crucial offseason. The Giants have big decisions to make about their free agents, about next year’s rotation, and about their (many) players who are eligible for arbitration. We’ll take those one at a time.
Team Options/Free Agents
The first number to focus on is $100 million. That’s the difference between the Giants’ 2021 payroll ($149 million) and their commitments for 2022 ($49 million). In addition, the Giants’ 2021 payroll was well under the luxury tax line (which is over $200 mil this year). We don’t know what that tax line will look like in the new CBA yet, but suffice it to say that the Giants have both cap room from this year and money clearing off the books for next year. They can spend if they want to. And they’ll need to.
- The Giants have team options on Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, and Wilmer Flores. It seems certain that they will pick up Flores’s modest $3 mil option and that they will either pick up Posey’s option or extend him (assuming he wants to keep playing). There is no chance they will pick up Cueto’s $21 mil option for next year, and they will have to pay him a $5 mil. buyout. Let’s take a moment to thank Johnny for his six years of service as a Giant. Though injuries slowed him down and he mostly pitched in a down era for the Giants, he had some great moments and was fun to watch. He also reportedly was a wonderful mentor to younger Latin pitchers, Doval in particular.
- The free agents are Brandon Belt, Kris Bryant, Anthony DeSclafani, Kevin Gausman, Donovan Solano, Tony Watson, and Alex Wood. Lesser free agents include Dominic Leone, Scott Kazmir, and Jose Quintana. The Giants will surely take a run at signing back Belt, Bryant, and Gausman and perhaps a less pricey run at DeSclafani and Wood. It’s easy to see them trying to bring back Leone and Watson, too.
This is where things get tricky. Another thing you could argue didn’t go well for the Giants this year is that they basically have no real rotation options in AAA ready for the 2022 season. Tyler Beede? Sammy Long? Sean Hjelle? Well, you never know, but none of them did well enough this year to be counted on for the Opening Day roster. Could one or more of them turn things around and provide some depth later in the season? Sure–maybe.
Anyway, the only starting pitcher sure to be back next year is Logan Webb, who conveniently also happens to be their best pitcher. Cueto is not likely to be back. Will the Giants put all the eggs into the basket of signing back the guys they had this year (Gausman, DeSclafani, and Wood), or will they also go after other big-name free agent pitchers, who at this moment include Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, and yes, Clayton Kershaw? It’s a huge list. My guess is that the Giants will go hard after Gausman, for whom I’ll admit I have a soft spot. He’s fun to watch and seems like a great team guy who loves being a Giant. But I also guess they’ll take some of the freed-up money they’ll have and go after at least one other big name on the list.
This is also a huge list this year. In alphabetical order: Tyler Beede, John Brebbia, Curt Casali, Alex Dickerson, Steven Duggar, Jarlin Garcia, Austin Slater, and Mike Yastrzemski. (If you look at the Cot’s Contracts list, you’ll also see Reyes Moronta and Mike Tauchman, but they have both already elected free agency.) That’s a long list that includes players who were key components of this year’s team but others who were less so. People thinking the Giants are going to DFA or non-tender Mike Yastrzemski need to get a grip. I don’t care what his batting average was or that he went 0-for-the-NLDS. He was second on the team in home runs and RBIs, played Gold Glove caliber defense in the outfield, and he’s not going to cost that much as a first-year arb player. Yaz will be back.
The other interesting name there is Casali, and that brings us to the big Joey Bart question. Bart was the #2 pick in the 2018 draft. The Giants gave him the biggest bonus since Buster Posey in 2008. He will be 25 in December. Bart is a valuable asset, and you can’t keep him in AAA forever. Bart hit .294 with a .831 OPS and 10 homers in 276 plate appearances for Sacramento this year. That doesn’t scream “instant superstar,” but it also suggests he’s as ready for the majors as he’s going to be. So…do the Giants bring Casali back to be Buster’s backup next year–a role at which he absolutely excelled–or do they promote Bart and let Buster work with him next year? If they do decide to keep going with what worked so well this year (Posey/Casali), is Bart trade bait? This may be the most interesting off-season question after the free agents listed above. A lesser question is what they’ll do with Tyler Beede, another (so-far disappointing) first-rounder who’s eligible for arbitration (not sure how that happened already, but yeah–Beede made his debut in 2018, so I guess it is time).
There will be more to discuss in the coming weeks as the relevant dates for team options, free agency, and tendering arbitration offers get closer. But this is the general landscape that we are looking at right now.
I guess the good news is that I wasn’t writing this kind of column two weeks ago right after the season ended. For the first time in five years, the Giants made the playoffs! And it really was a great year. Once the shock and sting of the early exit wears off a bit, we’ll be able to focus on the happier memories and the bright future the team has. Chin up, TWGers! Lefty out.