Three Underrated Free Agents the Giants Should Sign this Offseason
Zach Eflin warming up in the bullpen CC by 2.0 License
The San Francisco Giants had a disappointing season in 2022. Just one season ago, this team set the franchise record with 107 wins. The 2021 team also led the league in a ton of offensive categories, most impressively in the number of home runs. That success left Giants fans with an optimistic taste in their mouths about what was to come for this team in future seasons. Unfortunately, the Bay-Area team could not replicate their magical season from 2021.
The 2022 squad finished 81-81, having some extremely disappointing months following the All-Star break. They even spent some time in fourth place in the N.L. West behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. While finishing the season with a .500 win rate is not bad, the Giants are certainly aiming to have another ‘21-like season in 2023. Reaching that goal means that this team needs to be spending to land talent from the free-agent pool. Super-star names like Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, and Jacob DeGrom are all part of this offseason’s free-agent class. Rumors are swirling that the Giants will be big spenders, as they hope to land some firepower to create a better team for the future.
In 2022, the Giants relied too much on their veterans. In their defense, the front office saw the types of seasons that guys like Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Evan Longoria had in 2021. The decision to trust these guys to put up offensive value was not based on a whim. Sadly, the aforementioned players fell victim to the aging curve, and they saw their offensive production suffer because of it. So, a potential fix for this team could be to rely less on these veterans. Longoria’s $13 million club option was declined recently, showing that the Giants are moving away from the risky reliance on guys like him. By mixing their talented farm system with some key free-agent signings, the Giants could be looking at an impressive team for the 2023 season. It seems like this is the direction that the club wants to be going. For now, it is worth examining the moves that this team could make in the offseason to set the team up for success over the next few years.
As a precursor, free agents such as Aaron Judge and Trea Turner are rumored to have the attention of the Giants’ front office. Management has even said they “will not be outbid” when it comes to signing Aaron Judge in free agency. The caliber of talent of these players is widely known, so diving into what they would bring to this team is not exactly something that is new news. This article, instead, will feature players that are more under the radar but could still provide needed improvements for this team in future seasons.
The first area of interest that the Giants should be looking to target is their defense. Strangely enough, they had the league’s worst defense by defensive fWAR (-45.3). This franchise has been known for its defensive prowess, so their fielding performance in 2022 was extra shocking. Guys like Joc Pederson and Thairo Estrada were among the main issues with their below-average performance with the glove. Their outfield was tied for the worst outs above average (OAA) and their second base OAA was 4th worst. A free agent that could be pursued is Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier’s defense has been the most impressive aspect of his game throughout his career in the majors. He is widely known as one of the game’s best defensive center fielders. However, Kiermaier has never been dominant at the dish. His best year came in 2017, where he slashed .276/.338/.450 with 39 RBI and a 113 wRC+. With this type of offensive production seemingly being his upper limit, the team where he ends up will mainly pay him for his defense.
Taking a look at his Baseball Savant page, Kiermaier did not qualify for any offensive percentile rankings besides Max Exit Velocity, where he placed in the 60th. He only recorded 206 at-bats, missing a ton of the season due to injury. Some of his defensive percentiles did qualify this year, and they do not fail to disappoint. He was in the 93rd for sprint speed and 92nd for arm strength. These numbers do not tell the whole story about his abilities on defense, but they do show signs of a defense-first athlete that would benefit in the spacious outfield at Oracle Park. In 2021, Kiermaier was in the 98th percentile for OAA and the 97th for Outfielder Jump. If he was on the field more this season, those same categories would likely have shown similar percentiles. Signing Kiermaier to a short-term deal that does not have a lot of monetary risks would be the safest call if the Giants were to go after him. Also, a change of scenery could work wonders for someone like Kevin. His hitting could even benefit from this team taking a chance on him. Kiermaier would be a very good option until the outfielders in the farm system are ready to make a big-league impact.
An area where the Giants thrived in 2022 was pitching. According to FanGraphs, they had the league’s best HR/9, coming in at 0.83. With today’s game being extremely home-run heavy, this statistic is even more impressive. They were able to limit hard contact and their pitching staff was the brightest spot on the team. Unfortunately, the Giants are taking a big blow to their pitching dominance by losing Carlos Rodon after he opted out of his contract this offseason. Rodon had an electric season and replacing him will not be an easy task. Contrary to the rest of the Giants, Rodon had trouble when it came to limiting hard contact. He fell in the 35th percentile for average exit velocity and the 30th for HardHit% in 2022. Moving on from Rodon should be focused on limiting hard contact, especially since the team already proved to be able to do that. Free agent Jose Quintana is someone who can do that. Quintana has been a very underrated pitcher for the last couple of seasons, and he advanced that narrative with his 2022 performance. After being dealt to the Cardinals at the trade deadline, Quintana finished his season with a 3.50 ERA in 103 innings pitched.
If given a chance as a starting pitcher in San Francisco, Quintana could have a valuable season. If the Giants focus on improving their defense, too, Quintana would have an even better time. His 2022 percentile rankings for average exit velocity, HardHit%, and Barrel% were in the 89th, 68th, and 78th respectively. In other words, he is well above average at inducing soft contact. His strikeout stuff is not there, as he only ranks in the 31st percentile for strikeout percentage. Quintana makes up for this by causing hitters to swing at a lot of his pitches, evidenced by him being in the 83rd percentile for Chase Rate. Quintana is as close to the opposite of Rodon as he can be. If Quintana were to be in the Giants’ rotation, he would pair quite nicely with Logan Webb. Having two pitchers who both throw sinkers and are great at limiting contact is always a plus, especially when one throws from the left side (Quintana) and the other from the right (Webb). Acquiring Quintana in free agency would be an unorthodox way to replace the strikeout-heavy Rodon, but it could prove to be a smart move in the end.
The bullpen was not a strong point for the Giants in 2022. They ranked 20th out of the 30 teams for ERA and 28th for strikeouts per nine innings. They had an unimpressive 4.08 bullpen ERA. It is clear that the Giants need more quality arms to come out of the ‘pen with games on the line. This team relied heavily on closer Camillo Doval and his 103-mph cutter. The list of guys they could trust to fill innings was not long. Notably, the pitching staff’s league-best 0.83 HR/9 was calculated using the stats from the bullpen. Sticking with the theme of limiting hard contact, the Giants could look to free agent Zach Eflin to help out the bullpen. Eflin’s ability to create soft contact was among the best in the game. Baseball Savant has him in the 96th percentile for average exit velocity, 94th for HardHit%, and 73rd for Barrel%. These percentiles pair nicely with him landing in the 91st in walk percentage.
Put simply, Eflin creates soft contact and he does not walk guys. For him to succeed in San Francisco, the Giants need to improve defensively. This factor put Eflin in a similar situation as Quintana, as their success is more dependent on a defense making plays than most. Eflin already showed what type of season he can have with a poor defense behind him by pitching for the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies, similar to the Giants, had a bad year with their gloves, ranking second worst by OAA. This inflated Eflin’s ERA to 4.04 when, in reality, it should have been lower, evident by a 3.27 expected ERA (xERA). If the Giants feel confident that they can improve defensively, Eflin should draw their focus. Eflin proved that he can handle the big stage, too, after he made several appearances in the postseason in the closer role for the Phillies.
The players listed above are not the type to draw the media to them when they sign with teams in free agency, as they are not among the superstars of today’s game. But, as outlined above, these players would help mend some issues that popped up during the Giants’ 2022 season. These exact moves are unlikely to happen. But, the problems that the Giants need to solve will hopefully be addressed similarly to that described above. Sure, going after Aaron Judge is the easy answer, but signing an MVP is not enough to fix everything wrong with a team. The Giants are going to spend this offseason as they hope to find themselves back on top of the N.L. West.