SAN FRANCISCO — In his earliest days as the Giants’ president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi took great care to avoid using the word “rebuild” to describe his approach to shaping the team’s 40-man roster.
Zaidi didn’t believe the Giants needed to purge their core, tank for a top draft pick or trade all of their most productive players for prospects. Instead the former Dodgers general manager searched for value on the margins of the roster, churned through inexperienced players in need of an extended opportunity and focused on building a player development infrastructure that extended deep into the Giants’ big league clubhouse.
In other words, he looked for players such as Anthony DeSclafani.
Following a disappointing 2020 season in which the veteran Reds starter was limited to just 33 2/3 innings due to injuries and poor performance, DeSclafani hit free agency and sought to re-establish his value with a new organization.
Considering the Giants’ recent track record and the clear path for DeSclafani to become a key contributor, San Francisco represented the perfect situation.
Nearly a year after the right-hander signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Giants, the two sides committed to a reunion as DeSclafani signed a three-year, $36 million contract that will pay him $12 million annually through 2024.
“He obviously had a really nice year for us, and beyond his individual stats, we were 21-10 in games that he started,” Zaidi said. “So the team had a lot of success when he took the ball, which obviously is of the ultimate importance.”
As a six-year major league veteran, DeSclafani didn’t fall into the category of inexperienced players looking for their big break. He was instead the type of pitcher who figured to benefit from joining a Giants team with well-regarded pitching coaches including Brian Bannister and Andrew Bailey, an advanced approach to helping players benefit from analytics and a spot in its rotation that would belong to him as long as DeSclafani remained healthy.
Upon joining the Giants in 2021, DeSclafani made his slider his most-used pitch for the first time in his career while his sinker was more effective than it’s ever been.
“At a time when you see a lot of four-seam and curveball mixes in the game and an emphasis on swings and misses, our pitching staff benefitted from some different looks and relying on the defense,” Zaidi said. “That definitely fed into the success that Anthony and some others had.”
DeSclafani turned out to be a natural fit in San Francisco, where he posted a career-best 3.17 ERA while allowing a career-low 7.6 hits per nine innings. For a team that entered the week with only one proven starting pitcher, Logan Webb, under contract, re-signing DeSclafani was an easy call.
“If we get three seasons from Anthony like his 2021 season, we’ll be pretty happy with that,” Zaidi said. “But in talking to Anthony and talking to our pitching coaches, there’s still room for improvement and that’s a constant theme in our clubhouse and around our organization.”
After the Giants won a franchise-record 107 games, the decision to re-sign DeSclafani also represents a subtle shift in approach from Zaidi, the architect of the team’s plans. The era of consistent roster churn might be over as Zaidi, general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler have spoken publicly about their desire to bring back more of the Giants’ top contributors.
Moments after the Giants announced their deal with DeSclafani, multiple reports indicated the club is close to re-signing Alex Wood, who was another valuable member of the 2021 rotation, to a multi-year deal. Much like DeSclafani, Wood signed a one-year contract in San Francisco hoping to reap the benefits of a favorable opportunity and finished his season with a desire to return.
The signing of DeSclafani and a potential deal involving Wood are just the latest signals from Zaidi and Harris that they believe the 2021 season was the start of a special run.
One of the earliest signs came when the Giants extended veteran shortstop Brandon Crawford on a two-year, $32 million deal in mid-August and prior to Monday, the most recent came when first baseman Brandon Belt accepted the club’s one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer to return in 2022. Opportunities for inexperienced players and veterans coming off rough seasons that were abundant in 2019 and even 2020 appear to be drying up, particularly as Giants executives preach about the value of roster continuity.
To clear a 40-man roster spot for DeSclafani, the Giants designated outfielder Alex Dickerson for assignment. A centerpiece of the team’s lineup in 2019 and the second half of the truncated 2020 season, Dickerson wasn’t consistent enough this year for the Giants to commit to tendering the arbitration-eligible slugger a contract for next year.
Since Zaidi was hired in November, 2018, the Giants have helped players from DeSclafani to Dickerson come closer to reaching their full potential, all while improving their overall talent level and depth. After winning their first National League West title since 2012, the Giants are well past the point where a rebuild might have made sense.
As the Giants showed Monday, it’s time to re-invest in the players that made their success possible.