2021 MLB free agency: Breaking down Giants' arbitration decisions

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Breaking down Giants' upcoming arbitration decisions originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players might be the sneakiest of the offseason. 

It can be a defining moment, as it was in 2019 when Farhan Zaidi decided not to bring Kevin Pillar back, which certainly ended up being the right decision for the Giants. The weeks leading up to it also can be extremely stressful, with difficult decisions on big-name players. 

The Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, have 19 arb-eligible players, and they could end up sending a few of them out on the open market because of their usual financial crunch. Cody Bellinger is owed more than $16 million, per projections, which makes sense after his postseason but is still a tough pill to swallow for a Los Angeles Dodgers front office that just watched him hit .165 for an entire season. 

The Giants have some pretty important players eligible, too, although the dollar figures are so low that the decisions won't really be made based on money. They have to decide if some veterans still fit going forward, and it's possible a big bat is cut loose. 

Here's a look at the players the Giants have to make decisions on by Dec. 1, which also happens to be the day the CBA expires, which will overshadow everything else going on. The salary projections for 2022 come from MLB Trade Rumors, which is usually extremely accurate with this stuff. 

Mike Yastrzemski: $3.1 million projection

It was an odd year for Yastrzemski. After two seasons as the newest star in San Francisco, he went through some prolonged slumps that led to questions about his playing time and he was hitless in 13 postseason at-bats. At the same time, he had an OPS+ of 106, hit 25 homers, was a Gold Glove finalist and posted a 2.5 bWAR season. That seems to be his level in an odd way. 

Yastrzemski wasn't a full-time player until the second half of 2019 and he was worth 2.6 WAR that season. He also was at 2.6 in 2020 in just 54 games, which earned him down-ballot MVP support. Even spread over a full season, that's great production for someone just starting his arb years. Throw in the fact that Yastrzemski proved he can play a solid center field and this is an easy decision. 

The only question is whether the Giants negotiate a two- or three-year deal, which could potentially be a bargain if Yastrzemski finds his 2020 form and also gives the 31-year-old more security moving forward. 

Alex Dickerson: $3 million

Like Yastrzemski, Dickerson took advantage of consistent playing time in 2019 to hit his way into the heart of the order. He was even better the next year, but in 2021 he had an OPS+ that put him five points below league-average as a hitter and he didn't really crush righties, which is the main reason he's on the roster. 

The staff remained confident and kept feeling Dickerson's big moment was coming, but he never found his old swing. Looking back, the Giants probably wish they had kept Thairo Estrada on the postseason roster. Dickerson struck out in three of his four postseason at-bats. 

This is not an organization that likes giving up an asset, so perhaps a trade is in the works. Otherwise, it's a little hard to see the fit. The Giants will have Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr. back as left-handed-hitting outfielders and want to give Steven Duggar more playing time. They also could seek an outfield upgrade in free agency. 

Darin Ruf: $2.6 million

Among hitters with 300 plate appearances, Ruf ranked 12th in OBP and average exit velocity. His wRC+ of 144 ranked 16th, just ahead of Trea Turner, Buster Posey, Joey Votto and Nick Castellanos. He had an OPS above 1.000 against lefties and led an extremely patient lineup in pitches per plate appearance. 

There's nothing to really discuss about Ruf's 2022 status. This is all just to point out that he's a steal and is a much, much better hitter than most realize. 

Curt Casali: $2 million

Even before Posey retired, the Giants seemed to be leaning toward bringing Casali back for a second season, keeping their depth intact. Now he's the safety net if Joey Bart isn't ready for a full-time role, and he's a pretty solid one. 

Casali had a .210/.313/.350 slash line and five homers, but there's reason to believe there's more in there. He got off to an extremely slow start as he recovered from wrist surgery and he was an above-average hitter two of the previous three seasons with the Reds. 

The Giants were 42-13 in Casali's starts and he caught nine of their 16 shutouts, including five straight at some point. He has the complete trust of the staff and there's not much else you need from your backup catcher. If the Giants have to hit Casali eighth in his starts, that's fine. They have enough firepower to make up for it elsewhere. 

Austin Slater: $2 million

Has any Giant in recent memory had quieter longevity than Slater? He just finished his fifth season in the big leagues, although 2021 was his first with more than 100 games played or 225 plate appearances. Gabe Kapler likes to say that Slater is on the roster to mainly do one thing: Crush lefties. He does it well, with a .894 OPS and a homer every 17 at-bats. 

Slater really bought into the platoon system and was a nice complement to Wade, but he also runs well and was a revelation in center field. He had four pinch-hit homers, helping the Giants set an MLB record. At some point the Giants might prefer someone who can be optioned back and forth, but Slater is still a really good fit for this roster. 

Jarlin Garcia: $1.8 million

Scooped up from the Marlins two springs ago, Garcia has a 2.27 ERA in 77 appearances for the Giants. He even fixed an issue from his earlier years, raising his strikeout rate in 2021 to the point that he was getting about one per inning. 

Garcia is not just extremely dependable, he's also flexible. He recorded more than three outs in 20 of his appearances and went at least two full innings 10 times. On Aug. 30, he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings as the bulk man in a bullpen game. 

Having Garcia, Jose Alvarez and Jake McGee locked in for under $6 million total is one of the savvier things Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have done. 

Dominic Leone: $1.5 million

The veteran right-hander had a 1.51 ERA after getting called up at the start of June, the third-lowest among NL relievers behind Aaron Loup (0.41; he was ridiculous aside from one Brandon Crawford double) and his teammate Alvarez (1.50). Leone gave up just two homers all year and allowed a .140 average with runners in scoring position. He also proved he can be an opener during bullpen games. 

Leone is a strong option to have leading up to the Camilo Doval, McGee, Tyler Rogers trio. Plus, the Giants intend to win another NL West title and they really need Leone back in the middle of those clubhouse celebrations.

RELATED: Examining Giants' sizable class of potential free agents

 

John Brebbia: $1 million

It's hard to find people on this list who don't fit in 2022 because so many bring value for such a light price. Brebbia could very easily do the same, but he might get pushed out by a roster crunch. 

Brebbia gave up 12 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings, but you can throw a lot of that out. He came back from Tommy John surgery extremely quickly and predictably struggled a bit with his command. The Giants really like him, but they also have Doval, Rogers, McGee, Alvarez and likely Garcia and Leone already locked into their bullpen. They picked up Jay Jackson's option and Kervin Castro is ready for his shot. You can never have too many relief options, but there also is a point where you stop guaranteeing roster spots and contracts, especially when you're as good at finding undervalued pitchers as the Giants are.

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