Throughout any given winter, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what certain MLB front offices are trying to accomplish. The San Francisco Giants were definitely not one of them this past offseason.
After all, it’s an even year. They have a reputation to uphold. Following an 84-78 record in 2015, San Francisco was one of the winter’s biggest spenders, which doesn’t happen very often.
We knew they meant business thanks to a very serious pursuit of free-agent starter Zack Greinke. Once he was whisked away by the Arizona Diamondbacks, they opted to fill the rotation behind Madison Bumgarner with long-term commitments to Johnny Cueto (six years, $130 million) and Jeff Samardzija (five years, $90 million).
Both have had ups and downs recently, but many people immediately pushed the Giants back into the NL West race, and some even put them at the top. Plus, they got two pitchers for about the same price it would’ve taken to land Greinke.
While they technically could’ve pursued either Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, big spending on the rotation meant they had to go a different route to upgrade the outfield. Like, a much more affordable one. So they did, inking Denard Span to a three-year, $31 million deal.
With so many major acquisitions made by the Giants, Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, the NL West was undoubtedly one of baseball’s busiest divisions this past winter. On paper, the Giants are a favorite to return to the postseason and keep the even-year trend alive. However, these moves are the epitome of high risk, high reward.
Now, let me preface this by saying that all major player acquisitions involve a fair amount of risk, whether it’s related to performance, injury or a combination of both. Some just have more risk than others.
Spring Training stats should be taken with a grain of salt – especially for established pitchers – but seeing a the Giants’ pitchers yield a bunch of crooked numbers isn’t fun, either. Zachary Rymer of Bleacher Report notes that we shouldn’t judge them by their ERA, but rather how these hurlers arrived to them. These inflated stats haven’t been produced because they’re simply “working on things.”
Most would like to have an uneventful spring in anticipation of the regular season, but that hasn’t been the case for San Francisco. Here’s the current status of the projected rotation, in a nutshell:
- Bumgarner has missed time because of foot and ribcage issues. It’s said to not be serious, but you have to wonder if his incredible workload is catching up to him. He gets the benefit of the doubt thanks to his durability, though.
- Concerns about Cueto’s workload led to him getting eased into spring himself. Plus, getting hit on the head by a line drive never helps, even if he appears to be OK.
- Jake Peavy is not getting any younger, and neither is his back.
- Matt Cain used to be as durable as Bumgarner, but has only started 26 games over the past two seasons. He also hasn’t produced an ERA under 4.00 since 2012.
- Samardzija’s velocity appears to be on a downward trend. It’s not at a Jered Weaver level yet, but still something to keep an eye on, as Eno Sarris points out. It’s just the spring, but it’s not like this occurrence is an outlier, either.
“All these guys, we think we’ll have them ready. At the same time, the margin of error is getting cut back a little bit.”
Basically, Bochy said his hurlers are experienced and he’s confident they’ll be fine. BUT, the lack of results isn’t all that fun to watch and has to stop kind of soon.
San Francisco was well aware that production from Peavy and/or Cain was far from a sure thing this season. That’s why they went out and spent big on Samardzija and Cueto… because they’re a sure thing behind Bumgarner. It’s ironic that some people are throwing out those thoughts already because of what’s happening this month.
Despite posting a career-high 4.96 ERA and 4.31 xFIP as a starter last year with the Chicago White Sox, it was easy to see why the Giants pursued Samardzija. He takes the ball every fifth day (three straight years of 200-plus innings and 30-plus starts) and isn’t far removed from a breakout 2014 campaign. Plus, rejoining the National League and being in a pitcher’s park should also make people lean toward last year being an aberration.
For Cueto, this was a much riskier move – even though he has an opt-out after his second season. He’s never had a serious arm injury, but he’s come close on a few occasions. The Giants felt comfortable signing him to a substantial deal, but their approach with him this spring potentially says otherwise.
We all know how great he was in 7.5 years with the Cincinnati Reds, but we also saw how inconsistent he was with the Kansas City Royals. He posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 81.1 regular-season innings, followed by very hit-or-miss postseason outings. Also, Ned Yost lining up his World Series rotation last fall to make sure Cueto didn’t pitch on the road is a huge red flag.
These are all valid reasons as to why paying him $130 million (if he doesn’t opt out) is too much, but what Yost did took the cake for me.
For that amount of money, Cueto is getting paid to be the second ace and part of a lethal one-two punch with Bumgarner. If I’m paying him this kind of money, I shouldn’t have to worry about the environment he’s pitching in. True aces don’t care where they pitch; they perform no matter what (i.e. Bumgarner in the ’14 postseason).
There’s cause for concern by the Bay, but it may not even matter. The beauty of baseball is that once games start to count, this all could very well be a moot point. Bumgarner could be Bumgarner, Cueto could be the pitcher he was in Cincy, Samardzija could channel the ’14 version of himself, Peavy could continue his strong performance from last year’s second half and Cain may actually stay healthy.
But as much as we don’t want to care about Spring Training stats, none of these hurlers have proved this can be the case yet.
San Francisco has some security with depth on the mound in guys like Chris Heston, Ty Blach, Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Crick, along with others either ready to contribute now or in the near future. Depth is wonderful, but if the Giants were confident in what their depth could produce in the near-term, they also wouldn’t have dropped over $200 million on a pair of arms.
Fans can take some solace in the fact that Bumgarner has led this team to the Promised Land as their only great starting pitcher before. However, NL West competition is as tough as ever this season and these moves were supposed to give him some well-deserved support.
If everything goes as planned, the Giants could have it all and continue winning World Series titles in even years. But if not, they could end up with nothing at all, except large future payroll commitments to underachieving pitchers.
Only time will tell which way this will go. After all, that’s why they play the game.
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