SF Giants: The Case for Keeping Kevin Gausman Beyond 2020

SF Giants, Kevin Gausman

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 07: Kevin Gausman #34 of the SF Giants pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the first inning at Oracle Park on September 07, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The SF Giants do not have a whole lot of pitching options heading into 2021, but Kevin Gausman is making a case to stay.

As currently constructed, the SF Giants 2021 starting rotation will be anchored by Johnny Cueto and Logan Webb. The Giants also have team control over Tyler Anderson and Tyler Beede, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

Cueto will be entering his age-35 season and Beede will need to be eased back into the fold. Webb should be able to stretch out his arm more next year. That said, the Giants will need to find a lot of innings on the free-agent market since they are thin on internal depth. While Anderson has been useful in 2020, it’s a recipe for trouble if the Giants are reliant on him going into 2021.

Gausman was originally selected as the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Baltimore Orioles. He spent the first five and a half years of his career in Baltimore before being shipped off to the Atlanta Braves at the 2018 trade deadline.

Following that trade, the Colorado native posted an impressive 2.87 ERA across 59.2 frames down the stretch. The Braves snuck into the playoffs with a 90-72 record, but they were knocked out of the NLDS by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Gausman returned to the Braves rotation in 2019 but struggled to the tune of a 6.19 ERA in 16 starts before being placed on waivers. The Cincinnati Reds claimed the hard-throwing hurler and non-tendered him after the offseason.

As a free agent, Gausman garnered plenty of interest before coming to terms with San Francisco on a one-year, $9 million pact. Given that it was a one-year deal, the thinking was that Gausman could quickly become a trade asset if he returned to his pre-2019 form. If not, the Giants didn’t lose long-term flexibility.

Despite this, Gausman was not moved at the deadline as the Giants remain in the thick of the playoff race. For what it is worth, Gausman was satisfied with the result.

The right-handed hurler has been a stable contributor in a starting rotation that has struggled to find consistency.

Across nine appearances, including eight starts, Gausman has posted a 4.05 ERA (3.54 FIP) with 62 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 46.2 innings. His ability to accumulate high strikeout totals has made him a fun pitcher to watch, and one of the reasons why the Giants may be interested in bringing him back.

Gausman has struck out 32 percent of opposing hitters to go along with a 15.4 percent swinging strikeout rate, which ranks as sixth-best among qualified pitchers. That mark is in the same neighborhood as Gerrit Cole (15.9%), Max Scherzer (15.2 %), and Luis Castillo (15.2%).

If I am buying property, I am definitely aiming for real estate in the Cole-Scherzer-Castillo neighborhood. That is a good neighborhood to invest in.

On top of this, Gausman has induced a ground ball in 41.2 percent of his batted ball events, which is in the top-20 in the National League. While hitters are trying to put the ball in the air, Gausman has done well at limiting this from happening.

Kevin Gausman’s arsenal mixes a mid-90’s fastball with a changeup, slider, and splitfinger. According to Fangraphs, the fastball and splitfinger are his best pitchers but he flashes a changeup and slider to keep hitters honest.

The changeup does not grade out as a plus pitch, but its usage has noticeably increased since joining San Francisco. The strategy behind this is that it allows the fastball and splitfinger to play up when he does use it.

While the 4.05 ERA is solid, Gausman’s underlying numbers are much more favorable and what the Giants would likely be banking on if they want to re-sign the right-hander.

San Francisco will look to make several additions to bolster the rotation’s depth, and at just 29 years of age, Gausman should still have several good years ahead of him.

The next question is what kind of contract would Gausman be seeking in free agency? It becomes a little complicated with Gausman because his surface-level stats are that of a mid-rotation arm, but his underlying numbers are that of a higher-end pitcher.

That said, the three-year, $30 million contract Lance Lynn received from the Texas Rangers before the 2019 season seems like a reasonable starting point. I think three years is about the limit for how long the Giants would want to go on a contract for any starting pitcher.

The financial part could increase quite a bit depending on the number of teams involved in the bidding. Given what we have seen from Gausman this season, I would expect him to have quite a few potential suitors. With that said, the financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic could limit the market as well.

Money should not get in the way of retaining Gausman as the Giants could have roughly $80 million to spend before hitting the Collective Bargaining Tax (CBT). Still, they do not want to be in a position to bid against themselves, and the Giants front office under Farhan Zaidi has proven to be stingy with its free-agent spending.

They shouldn’t be afraid to break their mold for Kevin Gausman. One way or another, the SF Giants will need to fill several holes in their rotation. They are thin on internal options and will need to rely on free agency to bolster rotation depth.

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Gausman has had a productive season so far, and he checks a lot of boxes for the SF Giants. The price has to be right, but the Giants will have plenty of reasons to consider retaining Kevin Gausman beyond 2020, especially as they begin to slowly build the roster toward competitiveness.