The SF Giants and their $60 million mistake

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

After a 107-win season in 2021, the SF Giants had three pitchers who were set to hit free agency in Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Kevin Gausman. After such a successful campaign, there is a tendency to bring the band back together again. The Giants almost did that, but the one who did not return continues to be a miss by the front office.

The SF Giants and their $60 million mistake

Wood was coming off of a solid 2021 season in which he recorded a 3.83 ERA in 26 starts. He had a track record of success but there was plenty of injury risk as well. On a different note, the left-handed hurler struggled to pitch deep into games, usually being limited to two turns through the rotation. Nonetheless, he was a competitor.

DeSclafani had his best year yet that season as he had a 3.17 ERA in 31 starts. He did not necessarily have as good of a track record as Wood and carried a similar level of injury risk. On the other hand, Gausman was excellent with the Giants as he tallied a 3.00 ERA in 45 appearances across two seasons in San Francisco.

The Giants went on to re-sign Wood (two years, $25 million) and DeSclafani (three years, $36 million). However, Gausman signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for five years and $110 million. And, to make matters worse, the Giants did not put in a competitive offer for the veteran pitcher.

Gausman had rejuvenated his career in San Francisco. Not only that, he and his family were seemingly an excellent cultural fit for the community. In his brief time with the Giants, he quickly became a very popular player, so it was a bitter pill to swallow when the Giants did not make an effort to re-sign him.

And, it is hard to blame anyone but the Giants' front office. It is not that Wood and DeSclafani were better fits, it is their expected contracts fit within the team's risk tolerance. If a deal like Wood's underperformed, it was only two years and $25 million. That is A LOT of money, but it is what you typically pay for a mid-rotation arm.

On the other hand, Gausman was expected to command a deal for five years and in excess of $100 million. He was right to do so after two quality seasons in San Francisco and the market agreed.

I think what is tough about this is that the front office has no appetite for long-term contracts. I know they view contracts in terms of risk management, but it feels like avoiding all long-term contracts is not a risk-management strategy at all.

Perhaps, the organization is still reluctant to hand out long-term deals after being burned by the Jeff Samardzija (five years, $90 million), Johnny Cueto (six years, $126 million), and Mark Melancon (four years, $62 million) contracts. In a span of two offseasons, the Giants committed north of $250 million to three pitchers and realized very little benefit.

Most of these lucrative contracts do not pan out for the team. There are plenty of examples where this is the case. Kris Bryant signed a seven-year, $182 million deal with the Colorado Rockies two winters ago and has appeared in just 107 games since then. It happens all the time.

This is where an organization has to be really confident in its evaluation process. And, in the case of Gausman, the evidence was there to give him a long-term deal. Teams have strategies in terms of roster building, but you have to have the flexibility to make exceptions.

Two years later, the Wood contract is nearly extinguished from the books. He has posted a 4.81 ERA in 50 appearances (211.1 innings) while making several trips to the injured list and being relegated to the bullpen. When he was pitching out of the rotation, Wood struggled even worse to give them team length, usually going three or four innings.

On the other hand, DeSclafani's deal has one year remaining. The right-handed pitcher has struggled badly since inking his extension as he has a 5.16 ERA in 118.2 innings. This is the second straight year in which he will finish the season on the injured list. The Giants value pitching depth, so they may not cut ties with him in the offseason, but he will be on a very short leash if he remains with the team into next season.

Lastly, Gausman has been excellent since signing his new deal. It really has just been a continuation of his time with the Giants. In two seasons with Toronto, the 32-year-old has compiled a 3.33 ERA in 57 starts. He earned an All-Star nod in 2023 and received some down-ballot Cy Young votes last year. He will likely pick up some Cy Young votes again this year. Gausman has not only been effective, but he has been durable as well. That is a valuable combination.

Sure, there might be a time when that deal does not look as good, but Gausman is showing no signs of slowing down as has an 11.7 K/9 in 2023, which leads qualified starters in the American League.

In a sense, the Giants tried to outsmart the market by avoiding a long-term deal with Gausman. Instead, they committed $60 million to Wood and DeSclafani. Now, this was never an either/or contingency. Signing both of those pitchers did not preclude them from retaining Gausman, but that $60 million could have been better spent by just re-signing Gausman. Wood and DeSclafani's deals just fit better with the team's approach to spending. That approach has its flaws.

Ironically, and this is hard to exactly pinpoint, but the Giants will likely end up paying in the neighborhood of $60 million or more over the life of Gausman's contract in terms of replacement cost. Is the extra money that they saved worth the steep drop-off in production? That answer seems obvious.

For the second straight year, the Giants have a formidable front end of the rotation with Logan Webb and Alex Cobb. In 2022, Carlos Rodón was the ace of the rotation to go along with that duo. This year, the addition of Kyle Harrison could quickly change the dynamic.

Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore how much more compelling the front end of the rotation would look if they decided to spend on Gausman. Between Gausman, Webb, and Cobb, that is a trio that could pose a threat to teams in the postseason. We will never know, but it is a mistake that still haunts the Giants.