2021 MLB free agency: Examining Giants' sizable class of players

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Examining Giants' sizable class of potential free agents originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

For the entirety of the Farhan Zaidi Era at Oracle Park, an arrow has been pointed at the winter of 2021. 

Years ago, the plan was to seek payroll flexibility ahead of this offseason and ideally supplement a team on the rise, but a funny thing happened on the way to this point. The Giants won 107 games and contended for a World Series title earlier than most expected, and they also ended up with some marquee in-house free agents that they would really like to keep. 

Zaidi, Scott Harris and the rest of the front office aren't just seeking to supplement their core. They're trying to keep it together. Kevin Gausman is one of the best pitchers available and Brandon Belt is near the top of the list of impact hitters, along with Kris Bryant, a midseason acquisition who has displayed an interest in returning. 

Led by those three, the Giants are one of five teams with double-digit free agents. Here's a breakdown of the list, and a look at who might be returning:

Brandon Belt

The only NL players with a higher wRC+ than Belt the last two seasons: Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. And here's a complete list of Giants with more homers than Belt the last two seasons: _____. Despite what you might have heard during the Belt Wars, he has been very, very good while healthy. 

Aside from the numbers, Belt stands for just about everything this organization now preaches from the big leagues to rookie ball. Be passive on pitches you can't drive, try to do damage on ones that you can. He plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, helped keep the clubhouse light with his turn as The Captain, and is a homegrown player. Throw in the fact that the Giants really missed him in the NLDS and this one is a no-brainer. 

"You could talk about his value both in how he played down the stretch and how much we missed him once he went down," Zaidi said after the season. "So he's a really, really important part of this team."

The Giants put an $18.4 million qualifying offer on Belt and will try to negotiate a multi-year deal as they did with the other Brandon. They had talks during the season, but Belt caught fire down the stretch, which certainly helps his case. He likes being a Giant and wants to return, but he also has never been a free agent. For years, other teams tried to trade for Belt. It'll be interesting to see what the 33-year-old's market looks like. 

Kris Bryant

Bryant's free agency has been discussed basically since the moment he was called up to the big leagues -- late enough that the Cubs gained an extra year of service time. It's finally here, and as a former MVP who is versatile, hasn't turned 30 yet, and is a Scott Boras client, he figures to get one of the bigger deals this winter.

Bryant said all the right things after coming over, but his numbers didn't jump off the page until the NLDS. He's a good fit, but the Giants don't intend to wait around if Boras sticks with his usual approach. 

"We recognize that he's a superstar talent and it's going to be a really competitive market for his services," Zaidi said. "I'm sure we'll have conversations there, but he's going to have a long line of suitors, so we'll just have to see how that develops."

Bryant should be one of the more popular players on the market. He would make a ton of sense for the Mets and he has certainly left the door open to a return to Chicago. The rival Dodgers could be a fit if they lose Corey Seager and Chris Taylor, or perhaps an up-and-coming team views Bryant as the piece that puts them over the top. 

Kevin Gausman

Gausman was almost too good for the Giants after accepting the qualifying offer last November. The sides discussed a longer deal last offseason but never found common ground, and Gausman then went out and made his first All-Star team. 

Gausman is just 30 years old, has a two-pitch mix that is just about unhittable on good days, is durable, is athletic enough to age well, and is a good clubhouse presence. In short, Gausman, coming off a 2.81 ERA and 227 strikeouts, would fit at the top of any rotation. 

The Giants will try to keep him in San Francisco and pair him with close friend Logan Webb long term, but there's going to be a ton of competition. Gausman likes San Francisco and would like to stay, but there's a good chance he'll get the largest deal of any free agent pitcher. Will the Giants pay up after having so much success with one-year contracts? 

Alex Wood

The left-hander made just nine starts the previous two seasons, but his prior connection with Zaidi helped land him with the Giants. He was everything they could have asked for. Wood had a 3.83 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 26 starts and had a strong start in Game 3 of the NLDS. It would make a ton of sense to bring him back regardless of what the Giants do with Gausman. 

Wood turns 31 in January, but this time he won't be accepting a one-year deal. He rebuilt his value with the Giants and will do much better than the $3 million (plus incentives) that he got in January. 

Anthony DeSclafani

The right-hander had a rough 2020 and finished the season in the Reds bullpen, but he bet on himself in free agency and bet on the Giants' pitching infrastructure. The one-year, $6 million deal was a win-win. 

DeSclafani posted a 3.17 ERA in 26 starts and likely would have been an All-Star if you take his Dodgers games out of the picture. Of course, the Giants can't do that in this division, and they'll have to at least partly consider those in-season struggles and the five-out performance in Game 4 of the NLDS. 

DeSclafani was a workhorse and has the raw stuff to still get better, but he's also now in line for a big multi-year deal. 

Johnny Cueto 

One of the easiest decisions of the offseason was declining Cueto's $22 million option for 2022 and paying him a $5 million buyout, bringing to an end a six-year run that started with an All-Star start and Cy Young votes in 2016 but included Tommy John surgery and some down seasons. 

Cueto had a 4.08 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 22 appearances -- 21 of them starts -- last season, which is fine for the back end of a rotation. He turns 36 next spring, but given how desperate teams are for pitching he should be able to find a good shot at a starting job somewhere.

Donovan Solano 

One of Zaidi's best success stories, he came over from the Dodgers' minor league system and became a Silver Slugger Award winner for the Giants at second base. Solano's numbers dropped off in 2021, as he posted a .748 OPS. 

It's hard to see Solano back for a fourth season, although that's no knock on Donnie Barrels, a very popular teammate. The Giants already have Tommy La Stella and Wilmer Flores in the mix at second base and they want to -- and need to -- give Thairo Estrada a real shot. Mauricio Dubon is still on their 40-man roster and Will Wilson isn't too far away. A reunion doesn't really make sense for either side. 

Tony Watson

Had the Giants reached the NLCS, Watson was going to be ready to return from a shoulder injury. He would have been thrown back into high-leverage spots, too. Watson was acquired on deadline day and immediately went back to getting big outs for Kapler, who used him in the eighth and ninth a season earlier. He had a 2.96 ERA and 2.64 FIP in 26 appearances after the trade. 

Watson turns 37 next season and he didn't garner big-time interest last offseason, signing a minor league deal with the Phillies and then leaving at the end of camp to join the Angels. If he wants to keep pitching, though, there's a spot for him in the big leagues. The Giants adore him, but with Jake McGee, Jarlin Garcia, Jose Alvarez, Caleb Baragar and Sammy Long already on the 40-man roster they likely won't want to guarantee a spot to another lefty. 

RELATED: Zaidi meets with reps for Belt, DeSclafani at GM meetings

The Rest

It is here that we should stop and salute Mike Tauchman for his two game-saving catches, including the one at Dodger Stadium that might have been the difference in the NL West race. Good luck in your next stop, Mike. 

Reyes Moronta, like Tauchman, elected to become a free agent after the minor league season. He never reached his old form after a major shoulder injury. Trevor Gott elected free agency and quickly signed with the Brewers, who work magic with just about every reliever they add. Tyler Chatwood technically finished the season in the organization, which means he'll spend the offseason being listed between Bryant and Cueto on the MLB Network bottom line. 

Scott Kazmir and Jose Quintana made five appearances each for the Giants, and either could make some sense as a non-roster invitee in spring training given that the Giants are likely to bring in a ton of pitching options once again. But they might prefer firmer opportunities. 

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