Predicting the 2022 San Francisco Giants’ rotation

Let’s be real. Coming into the season, next to no one predicted the 2021 San Francisco Giants to finish with 107 wins and the NL West crown. Even the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have seen such an impressive campaign coming. The lineup was a mixture of franchise stalwarts and mismatched veterans. Outside of a couple veterans, the bullpen was almost entirely new faces with little big league experience. The rotation was packed to the brim with solid fourth or fifth starters, but no aces. By all accounts, this team shouldn’t have found success. And yet, everything clicked.

In the lineup, numerous veterans either turned back the clock or broke out in unexpected ways. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford looked about ten years younger. Darin Ruf, Wilmer Flores and LaMonte Wade all flourished as oft-used utility men. Kris Bryant performed well after a mid-season trade. Each piece of the lineup meshed in ways that boosted ever other piece.

In the bullpen, countless faces exceeded expectations. Jake McGee developed into a dominant closer. Tony Watson continued his success in San Francisco. All of Tyler Rogers, Jarlin Garcia, Jose Alvarez, Zack Littell, Camilo Doval and Caleb Baragar enjoyed incredible seasons and developed into one of the best bullpens in the majors.

However, the starting rotation might have been the brightest spot of all. Each of the top four starters made at least 26 starts on the year, with Johnny Cueto making 21 starts as the fifth starter. The rotation’s durability was key, as each starter showed the potential to deal on any given night. Keeping them out there every chance was imperative, and the results speak for themselves.

Kevin Gausman signed a one-year deal with the Giants for the 2020 season, and performed well over 12 games. He returned for the 2021 season and became the ace of the rotation. Gausman totaled 14 wins and a 2.81 ERA over 33 starts on the year, not missing a single start in the process. Lofty expectations had always been on the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft since signing with Baltimore. Gausman had shown occasional brilliance but never put it together across a full season before the 2021 campaign.

Anthony DeSclafani had showed flashes of potential during a five-year run in Cincinnati, but after a nightmare 2020 season, he landed in San Francisco. How did he respond? With 13 wins and a 3.17 ERA over 31 starts of his own. DeSclafani also finished with a pair of complete game shutouts, doubling the amount he’d ever posted in six prior seasons.

Logan Webb had been an interesting prospect in the Giants’ system for a few years but hadn’t been able to translate minor league success to the majors. Webb earned a rotation spot out of spring training and finished with 11 wins and a 3.03 ERA over 27 games (26 starts). Even more impressively, Webb stifled the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers’ offense to just one earned run while striking out 17 batters over 14.2 innings across the 2021 NLDS. While the Dodgers won the series, Webb’s heroic efforts made for quite the show.

Much like DeSclafani, Alex Wood endured a trying 2020 season which led him to signing with the Giants in the offseason. As a proven veteran, Wood was expected to soak up innings in the back of the rotation for San Francisco. Wood finished with 10 wins and a 3.83 ERA over 26 starts, respectable numbers for a fourth starter.

Entering the 14th season of a solid career, Cueto had seen his numbers decline over recent seasons. Relegated to the fifth spot in the rotation, Cueto bounced back for seven wins and a 4.08 ERA over 22 games (21 starts). Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they are a far cry better than Cueto’s combined 5.23 ERA over the 2019 and 2020 campaigns.

The problem with signing veterans to one-year contracts is that they all expire at the same time. Only Webb is under contract for the 2022 season. Cueto has a club option for the 2022 season, but even with a bounceback campaign, a $5 million buyout seems more likely. And with Gausman, DeSclafani and Wood stringing together successful campaigns, each one is set up for a lucrative contract this offseason.

Fortunately for the Giants, this year’s free agent class is ripe with pitching. Gausman himself is a headliner in the class, but shares the top spots with known rivals Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. Other notable names include Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Rodon and Eduardo Rodriguez. Another plus for San Francisco is their current financial situation. Coming into the season, the Giants had positioned themselves with a lot of smaller, one-year contracts, leaving plenty of room for payroll expansion. Now that they’ve come off a very successful campaign, the payroll figures to open up substantially. San Francisco looks to be a competitive landing spot for several top free agent targets this coming offseason.

All that being said, is there any free agents we can safely eliminate from coming to San Francisco? Never say never, but Kershaw seems like a safe bet to remain with the Dodgers. Stroman has voiced his opinion on wishing to remain with the Mets so we’ll take him out of the running here. Everyone else mentioned will be fair game.

All that being said, I believe the 2022 San Francisco Giants rotation will look like this; Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, Logan Webb, Michael Pineda, and Alex Wood. With Gausman finding his first sustained success in San Francisco, it seems right the Giants open their wallets and give him a nice payday. The notion of Scherzer jumping ship to San Francisco seems tempting, but the seemingly high AAV it will take to sign him might scare the Giants away. Ray has earned a solid payday himself after a great campaign with the Blue Jays, and the Giants could pair him with Gausman for an imposing one-two punch.

Webb is under contract until after the 2026 season and he could slide into the ace role by then, but for now he’s an effective thirs stater. Pineda is a dark horse pick, but he’s coming off a quietly effective run in Minnesota, and a two to three year contract for him isn’t unreasonable. It would be nice to have DeSclafani back, but his probable price tag combined with the other names in this hypothetical rotation probably keep him from returning. Wood’s effective season gets lost in the shuffle with all the big names on the market, returning to San Francisco as an effective veteran might be his best course of action.

The San Francisco Giants are in a desirable position. Entering an offseason with momentum, an open wallet and an ocean’s worth of talented starting pitching. The sky is the limit for the Giants, and nailing this offseason is the first step in following up the success. The Padres will look to bounce back and the Dodgers are always a threat, but with this proposed rotation and a few other moves, the Giants are poised to compete for another NL West crown.

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