Baseball is back! Those words feel awesome to type and it is great to get back in the driver's seat to see what the SF Giants still need. The starting rotation remains in need of an upgrade and there is one way that they can quickly make to address that need.
How the SF Giants can strike quickly to address a pressing need
Prior to the lockout, many of the top starting pitchers latched on with new teams, leaving Carlos Rodón and Yusei Kikuchi as two of the better arms in free agency. However, the Giants can shore up the rotation without going through free agency.
The Cincinnati Reds are believed to be dangling many of their starting pitchers including right-handed hurler Sonny Gray. In an odd move earlier in the offseason, the Chicago Cubs scooped Wade Miley off of waivers from the Reds in exchange for cost savings.
Miley had a stellar season in 2021, registering a 3.37 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 1.32 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, and a 2.50 SO/W ratio in 163 innings for the Reds. He had a $10 million club option that the Reds did not want to pay, so they placed him on waivers. This proved that the Reds are in cost-cutting mode and the Giants could take advantage of this.
Gray has one year remaining on a four-year, $38 million pact that he signed with the Reds prior to the 2019 season. This includes a $12 million club option for 2023.
He has a $10.5 million salary cap hit for next season and is coming off of a nice 2021 campaign. In 135.1 innings, the 32-year-old pitcher posted a 4.19 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, and a strong 3.10 SO/W ratio to go along with a 47.2 percent ground ball rate.
Not surprisingly, he fared much better on the road (3.44 ERA) than he did at the Great American Ball Park (4.89 ERA). He struggled to keep the ball in the ball park at home as he yielded 13 home runs in 70 innings (1.7 HR/9) compared to 6 home runs in 65.1 innings on the road (0.8 HR/9).
The Giants have a blue print for what they went in starting pitchers and Gray checks off a lot of those boxes. He pitches effectively in the strike zone (3.10 SO/W ratio), induces plenty of weak contact (47.2 percent ground ball rate), and generally limits homeruns in more pitcher-friendly parks like Oracle Park.
The next question is cost. The Giants have a projected payroll of $126 million for 2022, meaning that they are approximately $104 million below the 2022 Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) of $230 million. They could easily absorb Gray's contract.
In terms of prospect capital, the Reds set an extremely low precedent earlier in the offseason for trading away quality starters. They may not make that type of move again, but they are not necessarily in a position of leverage if they want to continue to cut costs.
San Francisco needs another durable arm and Gray has typically been the type of pitcher that you can pencil in for 20-25 starts a year. Their rotation currently consists of Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Alex Cobb. Wood and Cobb both have struggled to remain on the mound in the past, so it is fair to expect in the neighborhood of 25 starts from each pitcher.
Adding an arm like Gray quickly addresses the rotation with less than four weeks to go before the season begins and at a reasonable cost. Free agency does not have many options remaining, but the trade market is a robust avenue for the Giants to consider.