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Giants 2023 season preview

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San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Giants offseason seemed defined more by players they didn’t add, but after the smoke cleared there are still plenty of new faces on a San Francisco team that wants to return to the up part of its recent-year rollercoaster ride in 2023.

Carlos Correa was the main entree in the disappointment meal for the Giants this offseason, but we’ll get to him in a second. First came the un-appetizer of the club narrowly missing out on Aaron Judge.

One could make a very plausible argument that Judge expertly used San Francisco to get a bigger deal to remain with the Yankees, and $360 million over nine years certainly qualifies. The (staged?) video of Judge in the San Francisco airport about to meet with the Giants provided smoke to the fire of Jon Heyman’s iconic Arson Judge appears headed to the Giants” tweet (since deleted) only served as a gut punch to a Giants fanbase that was desperate to welcome a big star.

That thirst appeared to be quenched only a week later, when Correa agreed to terms with the Giants for a record 13 years and $350 million guaranteed. The shortstop was dressed and ready to attend the introductory press conference in San Francisco on December 20, only to have it postponed due to an issue with Correa’s physical.

Less than a day later, Correa agreed to terms with the Mets, which only served to antagonize Giants fans even more. But the team became less of a punchline over the holiday break when the Mets backed out of their Correa deal as well. Ultimately, Correa returned to the Twins for six years and $200 million.

It’s not necessarily a one-to-one replacement by any means, but the Giants’ big-ticket position player ended up being two years and $36 million for outfielder Michael Conforto, who missed the entire 2022 season after shoulder surgery. Prior to the Correa fiasco, San Francisco also signed another oft-injured outfileder in Mitch Haniger for $43.5 million over three years.

Haniger was incredibly productive with the Mariners, with a 124 wRC+ since the start of 2017. But he’s also only played 530 games over those six seasons. He had three surgeries — to repair a ruptured testicle, a torn adductor muscle, and a herniated disc in his back —then last year missed over three months with a right ankle sprain.

Old friend Joc Pederson had arguably his finest offensive season in 2022, setting career highs in batting average (.274), on-base percentage (.353), and wRC+ (144) for his near-hometown team while hitting 23 home runs and starting his second All-Star Game.

The Giants used Pederson more like his peak Dodgers days, with only eight of his 105 starts coming against a left-handed pitcher. Eighty-seven percent of his plate appearances came versus right-handers, against whom Pederson hit .278/.356/.538 with a 149 wRC+.

Pederson accepted the qualifying offer from the Giants in November, which brings a $19.65-million salary for 2023 that is almost as much as his combined salaries for the previous three years ($20.75 million), and more than in 2020-22 ($15.87 million) when accounting for the pandemic-truncated season.

It takes a village

San Francisco’s rotation was a strength last season, ranking third among team starting pitcher FanGraphs WAR (17.2, just ahead of the Dodgers), thanks to an MLB-best 3.10 FIP to go along with a 3.68 ERA. However, they lost their best pitcher when Carlos Rodón declined his qualifying offer, unlike Pederson. Rodón had good reason to hit the market, as his six-year, $162-million deal with the Yankees was the longest free agent pitcher contract in the last three offseasons.

The Giants did add to their pitching depth, with nearly identical two-year, $25-million deals for Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea. Stripling had his best year since leaving the Dodgers, with a 3.01 ERA and 3.57 xERA in a career-high 134⅓ innings with Toronto. Manaea was fairly effective with the Padres last year when he wasn’t getting pasted by the Dodgers, with a 4.10 ERA against everyone else.

Alex Wood, Alex Cobb, and Anthony DeSclafani signed similar deals last year, with that quintet lining up behind Logan Webb. DeSclafani is coming off ankle surgery after making only five starts last season. They have left-hander Kyle Harrison — rated between the 12th and 38th-best prospect in baseball entering 2023 — waiting in the minors as well possibly to provide more depth.

Having more starting options could help the Giants take the load off of a bullpen that pitched the fifth-most innings in MLB last season, averaging over four relief innings per game. It might even mean a six-man rotation at times, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told Alex Pavlovic at NBC Sports Bay Area in January:

“That’s something we’ve heard a lot from our relievers over the last couple of years is there’s just a lot of value — and it’s kind of intuitive — in games where pretty much the entire ‘pen has the day off. If you can have a guy throw five innings and then a guy come in behind him and throw the final four, that’s huge, that’s huge for the entire bullpen. This isn’t a strategy or matching up type of thing as much as it is a load management thing, and a way to keep everybody healthy.”

Also helping the bullpen is the Giants completing the twin set, getting left-hander Taylor Rogers to team with his brother Tyler, the funky-throwing right-hander. Taylor signed for $33 million over three years, capitalizing on his two 30-save seasons in the last four years. San Francisco also added right-hander Luke Jackson, formerly of Atlanta, on a two-year, $11.5-million free agent deal as he returns from Tommy John surgery.

2023 outlook

Expecting the Giants to repeat its 107-win campaign was a fool’s errand, though they are probably also better than the 2022 team that languished for most of the summer before rallying to finish .500. Though they didn’t add either of the big stars they pursued this offseason, the Giants did augment their depth both among position players and pitchers.

San Francisco should be competitive in 2023, but are still a good bit behind the Dodgers and Padres within the National League West.