Giants offseason preview: Will Carlos Rodon return as Logan Webb's co-ace?

How Giants can build rotation with expected Rodón opt out originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Knowing that most of an offseason would be crammed into just a few days by the lockout, the Giants went into scramble mode last November.

On Nov. 22, they announced a three-year deal with Anthony DeSclafani. Alex Cobb had agreed to terms around the same time, and on Nov. 30, his two-year deal was made official. A day later, Alex Wood signed a two-year deal.

The Giants locked up 60 percent of a rotation before business froze for three months, and when the lockout lifted, one of their first calls was to Carlos Rodón. That heavy lifting made life easier in 2022, and the same will hold true this offseason. As the Giants once again enter the open market, they have just one glaring hole to fill this time around.

This week we've looked at how the front office may attack the offseason when it comes to upgrading the infield and the outfield, but there's not as much work to be done on pitching. Farhan Zaidi said last month that he anticipates adding one starter, possibly two, but that's it. Here's a look at what's ahead:

Season Recap

One of the most disappointing aspects of 2022 was the fact that a league-worst defense crushed what should have been the most effective starting staff in baseball.

Paced by Rodón, an All-Star, and Logan Webb, who could have been one, the Giants led the Majors in starting pitching FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and it wasn't particularly close. They finished at 3.10 as a group, well ahead of No. 2 Houston (3.41). Among starters who threw 100 innings, the Giants had the guys ranked second (Rodón), 10th (Cobb) and 19th (Webb) in FIP.

FIP is not perfect, but in 2022, it sure was predictive. Of the top nine teams in FIP, the Giants were the only one not to make the postseason.

Had the Giants gotten there, they might have had as good a 1-2-3 as anybody. Rodón, Webb and Cobb combined for 13.8 Wins Above Replacement, which was the most of any trio in baseball according to Sports Info Solutions.

In his first season in San Francisco, Rodón took the ball every fifth day and posted a 2.88 ERA with 237 strikeouts. He set a franchise record with 11 double-digit strikeout games, including seven in the second half.

Webb followed his breakout season by setting career highs in innings (192 1/3), wins (15), strikeouts (163) and ERA (2.90). He became the first Giants righty since Tim Lincecum in 2009 to win at least 15 games.

Cobb had brutal luck early on, but once the Giants started playing better defense behind him, he more than lived up to the hype. With the best velocity of his career, the 35-year-old made more than 20 starts for the first time since 2018 and finished with a 3.73 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 149 2/3 innings. Cobb allowed just nine homers, and over the past two seasons he has the lowest rate in the Majors.

Wood joined those three to make the Giants one of just six teams to get 25-plus starts from four different pitchers. He had a 5.10 ERA and 3.76 FIP before a shoulder impingement ended his season in early September.

DeSclafani's second season in orange and black was a huge disappointment. His ankle was never right and he made just five starts before having season-ending surgery. Jakob Junis initially proved to be a great fill-in, posting a 2.78 ERA in his first 12 appearances, but it was 6.20 over his final 11 outings.

Will They Be Back?

The only doubt here is with Rodón, as the other three veterans are under contract and Webb is entering his first year of arbitration. Junis is also arbitration-eligible and Zaidi made it clear last month that he would like to see him back, just in a different role.

Rodón was available on a two-year deal because the industry had concerns about his shoulder, and to get him to San Francisco the Giants had to give him an opt-out after one season. He will take the exit ramp and looks to be in line for at least $110-120 million this offseason.

The biggest deal the Giants have given a pitcher under Zaidi is the three-year, $36 million contract for DeSclafani, and they didn't make much of an effort to bring Kevin Gausman back, offering him a small short-term deal before watching him head to the Blue Jays for $110 million.

Zaidi has said repeatedly that there are no organizational rules about long-term deals for pitchers, but still, they would have to dramatically change their approach to bring Rodón back for a second year, and people within the organization don't expect that to happen.

Biggest Offseason Question

The Giants need to ask themselves if they trust what they have.

They're the only team to have four pitchers make 25-plus starts in each of the last two seasons, and that's not a path you want to bet on. Perhaps Andrew Bailey, Brian Bannister, J.P. Martinez, Dave Groeschner and the rest know something that the industry doesn't, but the rotation is still filled with guys with long injury histories and other question marks.

The Giants are optimistic DeSclafani will be 100 percent next season, but they can't be sure the 2021 version will ever return. Wood's season was ended by an injury, but he also gave up a .283 average against righties and a .326 average the third time through the order; is he a locked-in starter moving forward or a swingman?

Cobb was excellent, but he turned 35 after the season. The Giants prefer Junis to be a long reliever type.

So, the question is, how many starters do the Giants truly need? They can sign a replacement for Rodón and feel like they're done, but that's taking the risk of the 2023 season being undone by starting pitching injuries and ineffectiveness.

The Future

The solution to the problem in that previous paragraph may come from within. Kyle Harrison was one of the best pitchers in the minors in 2022 and will start next year in Triple-A.

"We expect him to be in our rotation at some point next year," Zaidi said last month. "It could even be relatively early in the season."

Harrison, a 21-year-old lefty, had a 2.71 ERA in 113 innings with an astounding 186 strikeouts. He was second in the minors in strikeouts and finished the year as the top-ranked left-handed pitching prospect in baseball.

Harrison looks like a future star and should spend most of 2023 at Oracle Park, but the Giants will have to be a bit careful with him. Harrison has thrown just 211 professional innings, so if the Giants want him fresh for September -- and October -- they'll likely need to hold him back a bit early in the year.

Free Agents To Watch

In a year in which the Giants have a lot of money to spend and have said they plan to do it, the best pitcher on the market may be their own. Rodón had one of the best walk years imaginable, and while the Giants say there's interest in a return, there won't be a hometown discount for the Scott Boras client who spends his offseasons 2,000 miles away.

If Rodón ends up elsewhere, there are some very appealing options to fill that rotation hole.

Jacob deGrom comes with more injury concerns than just about any starter in baseball, but also more upside. The three-year, $130 million deal Max Scherzer signed last offseason seems like a likely target. The Giants prefer short-term deals, but deGrom would be a huge risk. He also could give them the best one-two punch in baseball.

Justin Verlander is about to turn 40 but just posted a 1.75 ERA in his return from Tommy John surgery. If he has forgiven the Giants for 2012, he would make a lot of sense on a one- or two-year deal at a massive number.

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If the Giants want to go the "huge talent but needs to stay healthy and make adjustments" path again, Jameson Taillon could be an appealing fill-in for Rodón. The rest of the market includes plenty of second-tier guys like Taijuan Walker, Martin Perez, Chris Bassitt and former Giant Tyler Anderson, along with fifth-starter candidates like Corey Kluber and Michael Wacha.

Finally, it should be noted that Clayton Kershaw may again hit free agency. As funny as that addition would be, if he leaves the Dodgers, it likely would be to go home and play for Bruce Bochy's Texas Rangers.

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