The Giants' starting rotation throughout the 2023 MLB season was about as consistent as the team itself.
In that, it wasn't.
There were times throughout the summer when San Francisco deployed only two true starting pitchers in the rotation. As effective as the opener strategy can be at times, relying on bullpen games two or even three times a week is not a sign of a healthy situation.
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The Giants enter a critical offseason with a lot of pressure to upgrade the top half of the roster in order to get back to playoff contention in 2024. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has made it clear the team will target top-of-the-rotation starting pitching this offseason, and the Giants figure to be in on just about every premiere pitcher on the free-agent and trade markets.
Here's where the Giants' rotation stands at the moment and how likely each pitcher will be part of the team's plan next season.
Logan Webb: The leader of the staff and a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award. He should sit atop the rotation regardless of who the team acquires this offseason. Pencil him in for Opening Day. Not much to discuss here.
San Francisco Giants
Alex Cobb: There is no question that Alex Cobb will be part of the Giants' rotation next season. However, he likely won't be the No. 2 behind Webb. Cobb was an All-Star for the first time in 2023 and was a steady presence alongside Webb throughout the season. The Giants picked up Cobb's $10 million contract option, but offseason hip surgery will sideline him for most of April. With the Giants targeting top-of-the-rotation arms this offseason, Cobb likely will slide back a spot when he returns.
Kyle Harrison: The rookie flashed his sky-high potential last season, but showed there still might be a sliver of development left. Harrison almost certainly will be a huge part of the Giants' rotation in 2024 and should make at least 20 to 25 starts but depending on how the offseason goes for him and the team, you can't rule out the occasional pitstop in the Triple-A.
Ross Stripling: The veteran righty opted into the final year of the two-year, $25 million contract he signed with the Giants last offseason after one of the worst seasons of his career. It was a wise move on his part and now the Giants need to figure out how they will use him in 2024. Stripling bounced around between the rotation and the bullpen as a long reliever and didn't have much success in either role. He has a solid enough track record as a starter in the majors that should earn him at least a handful of spot starts and potentially a spot in the back end of the rotation.
Tristan Beck: He made only three official starts last season, but pitched well as the bulk-innings arm in bullpen games. Beck posted a 3.92 ERA in 85 innings pitched in his rookie season and was one of the Giants' most versatile arms. He impressed enough to be in consideration for a more traditional role in 2024, but that's something he will have to go out and earn.
Keaton Winn: Like Beck, there's a path for Winn to be a mainstay in the Giants' rotation next season but he hasn't shown enough to where they can pencil him in as one of their five starters. Nor is he as talented as Harrison, who will be afforded a bigger opportunity despite similar experience because of his status as a top prospect. Winn had an up-and-down rookie 2023 season, posting a 4.68 ERA in 42 1/3 innings pitched, but did have a slightly better 4.37 FIP. Right now, he and Beck are depth options.
Time to move on
Anthony DeSclafani: He had an excellent 2021 season but missed most of 2022 with an ankle injury. He began the 2023 season healthy but wore down midway through. DeSclafani, admittedly, was fatigued after not pitching the season prior and his season ended after suffering a Grade 1 elbow strain in late July. DeSclafani is owed $12 million in 2024 and right now should not be part of the Giants' rotation plans. He could be a DFA candidate in the spring or at best another depth option, but right now is a nonfactor.
The rotation puzzle last season was frustrating for just about everyone involved. Especially the fan base. Both Zaidi and former manager Gabe Kapler wanted to take a more traditional approach last season but felt they didn't have enough reliable options throughout the summer. That should change in 2024 under new manager Bob Melvin.
Not only because the Giants, barring a disastrous offseason, should have enough options to fill out a decent five-man rotation next season, but also because the organization should have learned a valuable lesson from 2023. Fans want consistency and they want to know when Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Logan Webb and Kyle Harrison are going to pitch. Bullpen games, while they certainly can be useful in a pinch, will not bring fans to the ballpark. In fact, it will have the exact opposite effect.
The Giants are going to be aggressive this offseason in their pursuit of a potential co-ace to pair alongside Webb and given the immense pressure the organization is under to field a much more interesting product in 2024, it's a safe bet that they will land someone. Who? Only time will tell.