Fans are like, ‘OK, we get it, we understand now… I get it. You did a lot of moves that added up.’ The lightbulb went on, but the lightbulb didn’t go on immediately. So it’s been a little bit of a lag effect.”–Larry Baer (again), March 2023
Good morning and happy second weekend of January (we’re past Larry David’s statutory limits for “Happy New Year” now). Today I’m feeling grateful that I don’t have to watch a football game in the stands in Kansas City, where the wind chill factor is expected to be between -20 and -30 tonight for the Chiefs/Dolphins playoff game. I bet there are NFC teams feeling grateful that the 49ers won the #1 seed so that if they have to go play them, they get to go to California. The weather’s icky here, too, but…not -20 degrees.
For the second Friday in a row, Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi has done me a solid by giving me Giants news to write about on Saturday morning. Both of these moves have been out-of-the-box off-the-radar kinds of developments. Who had “trade Mitch Haniger/Anthony de Sclafani for Robbie Ray” on their bingo card? Who had “sign Jordan Hicks and then announce he’ll be a starter”? Liars.
So the trade for Ray was pretty easy to analyze. The acquisition of Hicks is tougher because how we’re going to feel about it really depends on other moves that haven’t been made yet. Or, if there are no other moves, that will also affect how we feel about it. Grant Brisbee had a pretty good analysis of the risks/rewards of this signing in the Athletic yesterday, but let’s keep things simple:
- If we’d just heard that the Giants signed Hicks to bolster their bullpen, we’d be all in. Surprised and maybe confused because they already have a closer that hits triple-digits, but certainly not unhappy. You can’t have too much nastiness at the back of a bullpen, right? It shortens games and gives you a competitive advantage.
- Of course, that is not what we heard. Instead, we heard that the Giants plan to use him as a starter. Now, there are several problems with that. First, Hicks has never thrown more than 77 innings in a major league season. That was in 2018, and all as a reliever. Someone asked former Giants pitcher George Kontos on Twitter how quickly someone could ramp up their innings, and he said that you can’t double someone’s innings in one year no matter how much you build them up in the offseason. Just can’t be done. Hicks pitched 65.2 innings in 2023, so you figure at most he could throw…100? You just bought him for four years and you certainly don’t want to break him right out of the box. Second, Hicks has only made eight major league starts, in 2022 for the Cardinals, and it didn’t go well. He pitched 26.1 innings and had a 5.47 ERA before the Cardinals moved him back to the bullpen.
- It’s fair to note that the Giants have had some pretty good success in the past few years with turning relievers back into starters (examples include Kevin Gausman in 2020 and DeSclafani in 2021) and with keeping oft-injured pitchers healthy and productive (Alex Cobb in 2022-23, Carlos Rodón in 2022).
- It’s not too hard to see the plan (the “light bulb went on”) where Hicks bolsters the rotation until Cobb and Ray are back from injuries later in the season and then slides into the bullpen. It’s not a terrible plan, but…
OK, here’s what we’re all worried about. If this is it for the Giants’ rotation, it does seem like a terrible plan. As of today, the rotation looks like this:
- Logan Webb
- Kyle Harrison(?)
- Ross Stripling(?)
The Giants have a number of major-league-ready or at least near-ready arms in Keaton Winn, Tristan Beck, Kai-Wei Teng, Sean Hjelle, Mason Black, and several guys who finished last year in AA (Carson Whisenhunt, Landon Roupp, Hayden Birdsong). But even if you can imagine one of those guys filling the #5 spot above, please look again at #2-4. Harrison is still a rookie, and no matter how much we might believe in him (and I absolutely do), he’d be best served by being maybe the #4 starter to take the pressure off him. Stripling was dreadful for the Giants last year (89 innings divided between 11 starts and 11 relief appearances, 5.36 ERA, 1.348 WHIP, 20 homers allowed), so counting on him to be in one of the top-three spots in a rotation seems…risky, at best. And as for Hicks, see above. And yes, Cobb and Ray should be good additions later in the season but (a) you never know when someone is coming back from injury and surgery how they’re going to progress and (b) it might be too late by then to salvage the season, even for a wild card spot.
Meanwhile, during this past week three mid-to-back rotation types (Shota Imanaga, Marcus Stroman, and #ForeverGiant Sean Manaea) came off the board at reasonable price tags. Still available are two top free-agent targets, NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and World Series champion Jordan Montgomery, but will the Giants really pay up for one of those guys, and if even if they wanted to, do they want to sign with the Giants? Regarding Snell, it was “out there” this week that the Yankees offered Snell something along the lines of five years/$155 mil, but he wants six years and $200 million. Is he worth that? Seems like a strange question to ask about a guy who’s won Cys in both leagues now, but his entire body of work makes it a fair question. Trade targets such as Corbin Burnes, Dylan Cease, and Shane Bieber are still out there, and the Giants gave up zero prospects to get Ray, but it takes (at least) two teams to make a trade.
So, in sum, I would love the Hicks signing if he were going to be exclusively in the bullpen, am very dubious about them converting him to a starter, and am really worried if this is all there is for the Giants’ 2024 rotation.
- A Twitter account known as “the Ghost of Bay Area Bob” said last night that the Giants are in negotiations with Matt Chapman and have recently increased their offer. He wants six years; they only want to give him five. According to “Bob,” the offer is currently around five years/$90 mil. “Bob” has been right about things before, so we’ll see if his “sources” are accurate this time. Sorry, Greek Giant!
- The buzz from Giants beat writers, in their articles and podcasts, is that the Giants are really looking hard for a shortstop. Putting all of their eggs in the Marco Luciano basket–a 22-year-old rookie with 45 major league plate appearances–seems risky, considering (a) scouts have said for years that Luciano wouldn’t stick at shortstop (b) Luciano has had recurring back problems and (c) he hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire in winter ball this year. On this week’s Giants Talk, Duane Kuiper made the comment that the coaches think Tyler Fitzgerald is a better shortstop than he is a centerfielder–and he’s a pretty good CF. So Fitzgerald could be an internal solution, as could Casey Schmitt. But they’re both as unproven at the major league level as Luciano is. I don’t know if the Padres would do it, but I’d love to see the Giants figure out a way to get Ha Seong Kim, who got along well with Melvin and is good buddies with Jung Hoo Lee. A left side of the infield that has Chapman and Kim sounds pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good to me.
- Beyond the above-discussed need for rotation help and rumors about Chapman and shortstops, will the Giants sign another bat, someone like Rhys Hoskins or Jorge Soler? Cody Bellinger is still out there, of course.
Chronicle columnist Ann Killion tweeted, in response to the Hicks news, that “this is really feeling like a rerun of last season.” Maybe. Like last year, the Giants missed on their superstar targets, and like last year, they’re pivoting. One difference I see is that Ray and Hicks are proven high-level major league performers. Ray’s won a Cy Young Award in the not-too-distant past. Hicks was good last year–out of the bullpen. Yes, Ray is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but that doesn’t seem like the kind of deterrent it was 10-20 years ago (see Ohtani, Shohei), and Hicks is 27 years old and healthy for the moment. Maybe I’m just trying hard to find the glass-half-full perspective, but these two moves seem better to me than signing two outfielders coming off major injuries and two mediocre starting pitchers, one coming off a bad season (Manaea) and the other a journeyman swingman (Stripling).
I guess what I think is “so far, so good.” I didn’t really love any of last offseason’s signings with the exception of Taylor Rogers, and that was mostly because it was a nice story because of the twin brother thing, not because he was coming off a good season (he wasn’t). But when I look at the acquisitions of Lee, Tom Murphy, Ray, and now Hicks, I really can’t criticize any of the moves from here. It really does come down to what the Giants do next–or if they do nothing more.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. Stay warm and dry if you can. Lefty out.