by DrLefty

When I woke up yesterday, I was positively dreading writing Out of Left Field today. Nothing, and I mean really nothing, had happened in Giantsville since my last column was published. I half-considered begging off entirely. I’ve already used the 49ers as an angle. What was left?

Well, Farhan Zaidi once again came through for me on a Friday, though not in exactly the way I was expecting or hoping. But we’ll get to that. Right-handed pitcher Ross Stripling and a bit of cash were shipped off to the Oakland A’s in exchange for a minor leaguer named…give me a sec…Jonah Cox. He and lefty Alex Wood, who signed a one-year deal with the A’s this week, will reunite on their third team and head up the A’s rotation and…bwahahahaha.

 

Addition by Subtraction

A number of Giants-focused pundits are giving Zaidi “credit” (or at least mentions) for basically unwinding his past bad decisions. As Andrew Baggarly put it in a Tweet: “…the great undoing of last year’s disappointing offseason is almost complete.” Let’s review. Last year the Giants tried and failed to sign Aaron Judge and then tried and succeeded in signing Carlos Correa but then pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute due to medical concerns. There was a fantastic group of free agents in 2022, but by the time the Giants had finished messing with Judge and Correa, they’d pretty much all signed elsewhere. So Zaidi pivoted in several ways:

  1. Gave “OF” Joc Pederson a qualifying offer*, which Pederson not surprisingly accepted. That $19.65 mil salary made Joc the highest-paid Giant last year. He “rewarded” their investment with 0.6 WAR and 15 homers and 37 outfield appearances that were the stuff nightmares are made of. (I still have PTSD over the game we saw in Wrigley in early September.) In addition, because Joc accepted the QO, Zaidi cut bait on homegrown Giant Brandon Belt, who went on to have a productive season for Toronto for less than half the money the Giants paid Pederson.
  2. Signed OF Mitch Haniger to a three-year deal (includes an opt-out after 2024). This deal was announced at the exact same time that all the fake news about “Arson” Judge signing with the Giants was leaking, and when it turned out Judge was, as everyone expected, actually going back to the Yankees, the Giants’ addition of Haniger was cold comfort. The Judge thing is hardly Haniger’s “fault,” but he’d only played 57 games in the previous (2022) season with the Mariners, and he ended up only playing 61 games in 2023 with the Giants (-0.3 bWAR). Haniger was traded back to the Mariners in early January along with Anthony DeSclafani in exchange for another injured player (Robbie Ray).
  3. Signed RHP Ross Stripling to a two-year $25 mil deal with a player opt-out after the first year. To say it didn’t go well is understating things. He was so bad that he quickly was demoted from the starting rotation and then he had the nerve to complain to reporters about it and then announce that he was opting in for the 2024 season.
  4. Signed LHP Sean Manaea to a contract identical to Stripling’s. Manaea similarly was dropped from the rotation for quite awhile but turned his season around pitching out of the bullpen, made a few starts late in the season, and opted out of his deal, signing a new one with the Mets. Stripling’s and Manaea’s deals were announced right around the time that the Correa deal blew up.
  5. Signed OF Michael Conforto to a two-year deal with an opt-out after 2023, but like Stripling, Conforto opted in, not out. Conforto earned $18 mil in 2023 (to produce 0.7 bWAR with 15 homers) and is due to make another $18 mil in 2024. Pending further shoes to drop (we’ll get to that), he’d be the third-highest paid Giant after Ray and new outfielder Jung Hoo Lee. As of this writing, Conforto is still a Giant and indeed scheduled to be at the Napa version of the “FanFest Tour” later this morning.
  6. Signed LHP Taylor Rogers to a three-year $33 mil deal. This deal was mainly fun because it reunited Taylor and his identical twin brother Tyler on the Giants, but the truth is that Tyler was much better than Taylor was last year (1.7 bWAR for Tyler and 0.4 for Taylor) and might feel justified being a little bitter about the disparity in their salaries. (Tyler, who’s a second-year arbitration player, will make $3.2 mil in 2024.)  Both Rogers twins will be free agents after the 2025 season, if you’re keeping track. (Fangraphs Roster Resource can help with this.)

*The QO happened before the Judge/Correa debacles, but it’s part of the whole landscape.

 

So to review, Zaidi added six free agents last offseason at a price tag of just under $80 mil–and that’s their actual salaries for 2023. As I noted in a column a few weeks ago, those six free agents produced a whopping 1.8 bWAR combined.

Four of those six “additions” have now been subtracted with Manaea opting out and signing elsewhere, Pederson signing elsewhere, and Haniger and Stripling being traded. I still kind of feel like Conforto could be traded before all the shoes have finished dropping, but hopefully he and the fans will have a nice time in Napa today first. In addition to last year’s offseason being mostly unwound, two of the bad decisions before the 2022 season, Wood and DeSclafani, are also elsewhere now. In fact, DeSclafani has already been traded again, from the Mariners to the Twins. I feel a little bad about him. He had a nice year for the Giants in 2021.

Further, relievers John Brebbia, Scott Alexander, and Jakob Junis, all of whom spent parts of at least two seasons as Giants, are either elsewhere (Brebbia with the White Sox) or still languishing on the free agent market. Finally, last season’s longest-tenured Giant, Brandon Crawford, is still a free agent and hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to retire–but it was reiterated in articles just this week that if Crawford continues his career, it will not be as a Giant. Crawford turned 37 in January and is coming off the worst year of his career. I’m guessing that whatever offers he may have out there are along the lines of a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, so he’s weighing whether he wants to leave his growing family for that. (He, his wife Jalynne, and baby #5, Jazlyn, have been spotted at 49ers games since the Giants’ season ended.)

Even without considering additions the Giants have made–and ones they still might make–the 2024 Giants will look dramatically different from the team that ended 2023 with a whimper. The manager and much of the coaching staff have changed. Ten major players are gone (Alexander, Brebbia, Crawford, DeSclafani, Haniger, Junis, Manaea, Pederson, Stripling, Wood). I’m not even counting “barely knew ya” types like Roberto Perez, either. (Remember him? He was the Giants’ Opening Day catcher.)

The Giants’ offseason is still incomplete, and without knowing exactly what the 2024 team will look like, it’s hard to say whether the team will be better off without all those guys. But I will say that it feels better to see this dead weight off the roster. Clearly changes were needed, and whatever else happens from here, change has happened and will happen.

 

The Other Shoe

Even as bad as Stripling was last year, the news that he was traded came as a bit of a surprise yesterday. Why? Because, believe it or not, he was presumed to be maybe the #2 starter in the Giants’ rotation when the season kicks off on March 28 in San Diego. It’s hard to imagine that the Giants really intend to roll into the season with a rotation of Logan Webb, a reliever trying to convert back to a starter (Jordan Hicks), and a bunch of rookies (Kyle Harrison and Keaton Winn), near-rookies (Tristan Beck and Sean Hjelle), and wannabe rookies (Kai-Wei Teng, Mason Black, Carson Whisenhunt, etc.). And yes, I know that Ray and Alex Cobb are under contract, but at best they’ll get Cobb back in June and Ray in July.

They’ve got to add one more starter, right? They just have to. The question now is whether the Giants will re-invest some of their savings from offloading Stripling into a major deal (such as with LHPs Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery) or whether they’ll continue nibbling around the edges with someone like Michael Lorenzen. Now, Lorenzen was an All-Star with the Tigers last season and ended up with a 2.0 bWAR, so he’d be an upgrade over Stripling. But he’s still on the market because after a nice first half with Detroit, he was traded to the Phillies and fell off a cliff (5.51 ERA). The only other starting pitchers on the top-50 free agents list (not counting Snell and Montgomery) are Clayton Kershaw (who had surgery and wouldn’t sign with the Giants anyway) and Hyun Jin Ryu. (uh…maybe? He’s 37 and only appeared in 11 games last year.) And I guess there still are a couple of trade possibilities out there even after coming up short for Corbin Burnes, who was traded to the Orioles a couple of days ago.

Besides the gaping hole(s) in the rotation, the Giants could still use some reinforcements on the position player side. Andrew Baggarly had an article a couple of days ago arguing that the Giants were leaning into pitching and defense for next year, to which I reacted “Great idea–but are they?” We don’t know who will be in their rotation from March until June. The bullpen has at least three openings. (I count Camilo Doval, the Rogerses, Luke Jackson, Ryan Walker, and ???.)

As for defense, it would seem that Lee will be an upgrade in CF, and just having Pederson and Haniger gone and hopefully Conforto mostly DHing should help, but… So far the infield looks mostly the same as it did when the season ended. Thairo Estrada was very good defensively at 2B last year, and so was Patrick Bailey behind the plate, and they’ve added a veteran backup catcher in Tom Murphy who should be a defensive upgrade over last year’s primary backup, Blake Sabol. First base is still going to be manned by LaMonte Wade Jr. and either Wilmer Flores or J.D. Davis. By the various Fangraphs defensive metrics, Wade Jr. was terrible, Flores was bad, and Davis was OK.  But that leaves question marks at 3B and SS. Crawford, last year’s primary SS, was not good defensively, but it’s hard to imagine that Marco Luciano is going to be a defensive upgrade, though we hope he’s an offensive one. And as for 3B, right now it’s Davis or Casey Schmitt unless the Giants sign AL Gold Glover Matt Chapman. Anyway, I’m squinting hard but not seeing a lot of “pitching and defense” upgrades–at least not yet.

One could argue that for the money and years they’d have to give Chapman, they might as well park Schmitt at 3B and in the nine-hole in the batting order and not worry about if he hits. Then sign J.D. Martinez to be the primary righty DH. Even though adding Martinez raises some awkward questions about Flores and/or Davis, he’d likely be a better offensive upgrade than Chapman would be, and if they handed the keys to 3B to Schmitt, the defense might be close to even, too.

For those of us who are cynical about the Zaidi regime’s approach to such matters–and I definitely include myself in that group–here is a breath of hope in quotes from Buster Posey and Greg Johnson, both playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament this week. Posey, asked whether the team might make more moves, said this: “I think it’s feasible, for sure…you just have to gauge the market and try to make a good decision. Those guys are great players and anybody would love to have them.” CEO Johnson was even more positive: “Yes, there are a lot of good players still out there. There’s definitely some people we’re still very interested in.”

 

Willie Mays Day

Tomorrow is 2/4/24, so of course it has been declared “Willie Mays Day” by San Francisco mayor London Breed. Glad Willie’s still around to celebrate with. When the Giants release “BREAKING NEWS” announcements on social media that include “Willie Mays” (Willie is 92), we all catch our breath for a minute. Anyway, happy Willie Mays Day tomorrow (until the next one on Willie’s birthday, May 6, which was officially declared “Willie Mays Day” by the California legislature some years ago).

 

Finally, in honor of the Day the Music Died, 65 years ago today, we’ll let Buddy Holly take us out. (I considered “I Guess it Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and decided it was too snarky. I also considered “It’s So Easy to Fall in Love” and decided it was too soon–we need that other shoe to drop.) There’s still time for the Giants to “not fade away” from relevance in the 2024 season–depending on how the shoe(s) drops. Lefty out.