MLB

Spring Training: Plenty of Options, Variety as Giants Build Rotation

Depending on how the Diamondbacks line up their schedule, the Giants could face Madison Bumgarner twice over the first two weeks of the season, which certainly would qualify as a landmark moment for the franchise. 

There's no getting around it. It's going to be weird. For the first time since the start of 2005, the Giants don't have Bumgarner or Matt Cain in their rotation. An era is over, and it's unclear when anything close to that type of stability will exist at Oracle Park again. 

The Giants reported to spring training Wednesday with a somewhat set plan of what their rotation will look like in April, but there's a decent chance that the whole thing is blown up by August. At the very least, we figure to see plenty of different starters get a shot. Here's a look at the guys expected to report to camp ... 

The Holdovers 

Jeff Samardzija: The Shark had a sneaky-good year, posting a 3.52 ERA in 181 1/3 innings. Some other numbers -- a low strikeout rate, a 4.59 FIP -- aren't as kind, and perhaps that's why he's still here. In theory, Samardzija should be a decent trade chip. He has just $18 million left on his deal and could fit into the back end of a contender's rotation, and maybe that's where he'll be in August. For now, he's a candidate to start on Opening Day for Gabe Kapler. 

Johnny Cueto: If you're looking for reasons to be excited about the 2020 Giants, the return of a healthy Cueto should be near the top of the list. Cueto is now four years removed from that first season in San Francisco, when he was an All-Star and a Cy Young candidate, but he pitched well before succumbing to an elbow injury in 2018 and he showed flashes once he returned last year. 

Cueto gave up just four hits in his first two starts back but then got rocked by the Braves and Dodgers, two playoff teams. That was to be expected, and all that really mattered was that he sailed through the rehab process and made it back for some peace of mind. 

Cueto is as crafty as any pitcher in the game and will come into camp in tremendous shape. The Giants are hopeful he's ready to be an ace again, potentially starting on Opening Day and leading a rotation full of lottery tickets. If he can get there, he would make the 2020 team a lot more entertaining, and he might turn into Farhan Zaidi's best bargaining chip. 

The New Guys

Kevin Gausman: Yes, there's a theme here. Players don't love being viewed as trade chips, but given the hunt for starting pitching every July, there's no doubt that Zaidi and Scott Harris are hopeful they can dump veterans to jumpstart the rebuild. Gausman has a chance to be this year's Drew Pomeranz. 

The Giants signed him to a $9 million deal, the largest Zaidi has given out with the Giants, and will plug him right into the rotation. Gausman is less than two years removed from posting a 2.87 ERA with the Braves, but he had a 6.37 ERA in 17 starts last season. 

Once moved to the bullpen with the Reds, Gausman was much better. He had a 3.10 ERA and averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings. The Giants hope Gausman can stick in their rotation, but if he struggles, he may end up taking his quality stuff to the ninth inning. Closers have plenty of value in July, too. 

Drew Smyly: A 30-year-old lefty, Smyly got $4 million and a rotation spot, at least for now. He had a 8.42 ERA with the Rangers last year but was better for Kapler's Phillies, posting a 4.45 ERA that dropped to 3.65 in September. He struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings in his last five starts.

Smyly was viewed as a future star early in his career and had some strong seasons with the Tigers and Rays. The Giants are betting on that pedigree, and they could really use a left-hander breaking through. The rest of the rotation figures to be all right-handed. 

Tyler Anderson: The lefty had major knee surgery last June to correct a chondral defect in his left knee, and he's unlikely to be ready early in the season. With the depth they've built, the Giants can take it slow with Anderson, but at some point they'll take a look. 

Anderson has spent his career at Coors Field and led the league in homers allowed two years ago, but the Giants are eager to get him to a more forgiving park and let him work with their overhauled staff. There's no risk in this move, but there could be considerable upside with a 30-year-old who was once a first-round pick. 

The Young Guys

Tyler Beede: One of the best things Zaidi did last year was make an early commitment to Beede, who had struggled with injuries and his command and spent part of the previous year in the bullpen in Triple-A. 

Beede looked sharp in the spring, dominated early in the minors, and ended up making 24 appearances for the big league stuff. There was inconsistency, but also brilliance. On five different occasions, Beede went six-plus and allowed one run or fewer. He struck out seven Rockies over 3 1/3 in his final outing before being removed with a minor oblique injury. 

Beede is 26 and has top-of-the-rotation stuff. He's still refining his start-to-start gameplan, but he has the potential to be a rotation cornerstone. He should enter camp as the favorite for the No. 5 spot. 

Logan Webb: The Giants long viewed Webb as an underrated prospect, someone who should have been on Top 100 lists as he carved up much older minor leaguers. They put him in the Majors as a 22-year-old and he mixed four strong starts with four rockier ones. 

The problem for Webb is that he simply didn't pitch much last year. He missed most of the summer after testing positive for a banned substance -- a result he continues to fight -- and ended up throwing just 103 innings. By talent, Webb should be in the Opening Day rotation. But he will be on an innings count this year and it seems a good bet that he starts the year in extended spring and then spends some time in the minors, where the Giants can limit his workload. By the second half, Webb should be starting every five days. 

The Rest of the Field

Dereck Rodriguez was the Giants' best story of 2018, but he fell out of favor with the previous staff and was frustrated with the way the organization bounced him back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, and the Majors to Triple-A. Rodriguez certainly is doing all he can to get back on the map; he made three starts in the Puerto Rican Winter League, allowing just three runs. 

The Giants filled out their rotation ahead of Rodriguez and his best path to an Opening Day job may be as a long reliever, but you often need 10-12 starting options, and Rodriguez should be the next man up. With a strong spring, he could force his way into the April mix. 

Rodriguez is joined by others in the same boat. The Giants will let all their young pitchers get stretched out in camp, but Andrew Suarez and Conner Menez have much greater opportunities in a bullpen lacking left-handed arms. Suarez, in particular, intrigues the new regime as a versatile relief option. 

The Giants have said Shaun Anderson will enter camp as a starter, but there's no real path there, and he seems a much better bet to be the set-up man or closer by the time they leave Scottsdale. Burch Smith and Enderson Franco are two more potential starters on the 40-man roster who may be in the mix for bullpen jobs, along with a bunch of non-roster invitees. 

That group of invitees includes Sean Hjelle, who will be one of the most-watched players early in camp. The organization's top pitching prospect probably won't be in big league camp for long, but he could be up in the rotation later this year. The Giants moved Webb quickly, and Hjelle looks to be on the fast track. Beyond him, there's not much in the minor leagues in terms of 2020 options. 

No breakdown of starting pitchers would be complete without mentioning a modern possibility. Listen to Andrew Bailey talk about openers on the Giants Insider Podcast and it becomes pretty clear the Giants will use them this year; they did just once last year, but had a lot of conversations about doing it in other instances. 

The staff also has kicked around the idea of piggybacking starters, and this group seems well suited for experimentation. From Gausman and Smyly to Rodriguez and Suarez, and even Beede and Webb, the Giants have plenty of pitchers who may be able to be more dominant in three- or four-inning spurts. The organization has hired a lot of people fascinated by the way the Rays have put together a contender, and it seems likely that the Giants try something new at some point this season. 

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