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Giants’ Zaidi Downplays Need For Major Acquisition Deadline

At 45-47, the Giants sit ten games behind the Dodgers for the NL West lead. They’re two and a half games back in the race for the final NL Wild Card spot, with three teams (including division-rival San Diego and Arizona) in order to claim that spot. The Pirates sit just a half-game behind San Francisco in the stands. The Cubs are only one game behind. It’s a tightly contested bunch of fringe contenders, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi isn’t publicly broadcasting an urgency to make a splash to separate his club from the pack.

“When I look at our team, we have pretty solid players at every spot in the field,” Zaidi said last night (link via Shayna Rubin of the San Francisco Chronicle). “We have a rotation that’s getting healthier and a bullpen that’s done a nice job. So nothing jumps out as a spot where we need an emergency plug in.”

The rotation health to which Zaidi is referring includes not only reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snellwho returned from the IL and made his best start of the season last night, but also veteran hurlers Robbie Ray and Alex Cobb. Ray, acquired in an offseason swap with the Mariners, is on the mend from 2023 Tommy John surgery. Cobb, whose $10MM option was exercised following the 2023 season, has had a longer-than-expected recovery from hip surgery. Both veterans are currently on minor league rehab assignments that could see them activated later this month.

In some respects, this was always the plan. After signing free agents Snell and Jordan Hicks to pair with ace Logan Webbthe Giants patched together the rest of their first-half rotation with a series of in-house promotions and bullpen games. Injuries to Tristan Beck, Keaton Winn and Kyle Harrison have tested their depth over time.

The season-long results aren’t great overall. Giants starters rank dead last in the majors with 428 innings pitched and sit 22nd in each of ERA (4.48), strikeout rate (20.8%) and walk rate (8.3%). The impending returns of Ray and Cobb could well help turn the tides, but it’s also worth noting that Hicks has significantly tailed off after a hot start — perhaps no surprise given that he’s now into uncharted waters (in terms of workload) as a reliever making the conversion to starting pitching.

While the Giants can hope to soon have a rotation of Webb, Ray, Cobb, Harrison and Hicks — a strong quintet indeed if all are healthy — the question of depth persists. Winn has been out since June 21 due to elbow inflammation and has not begun a rehab assignment. Beck has been out all season after requiring surgery to address an aneurysm in his shoulder. Rookie Mason Black has been hit hard in three starts. Fellow debut hurler Hayden Birdsong has fared a bit better but has been dominant through three trips to the hill. Top prospect Carson Whisenhunt has started 18 games in Triple-A but has a 5.79 ERA and 11.7% walk rate.

Similarly, the bullpen has its own slate of questions. San Francisco relievers have thrown more innings (383 1/3) than any team in MLB, as one would naturally expect for a team with the game’s fewest rotation innings. Part of that is attributable to their frequent use of bullpen games — a strategy that can take its toll on a relief corps over time. The Giants have received strong work from Ryan Walker, Sean Hjelle, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Rogers this season. Closer Camilo Doval has been less effective than in the past, with a pedestrian 4.04 ERA and a worrisome 14.2% walk rate (the worst mark of his career). Rookie right hander Randy Rodriguez has been decent in middle relief, but fellow rookie Landen Roupp and veteran Luke Jackson have struggled. As is the case with the rotation, the bullpen has a talented core group but could certainly stand to be deepened.

On the position player side of things, the Giants have received strong production from each of catchers, first base and third base. Patrick Bailey has emerged as a cornerstone piece behind the dish. Veteran OBP machine LaMonte Wade Jr. is a sound option at first base. Matt Chapman is hitting well and playing plus defending at the hot corner.

In the outfield, the Giants have seen former top prospect Heliot Ramos break out as an All-Star. Michael Conforto‘s recent hot streak (.289/.391/.658 over his past 15 games) has pulled him back to above-average offensive production on the whole. Mike Yastrzemski has been underwhelmed thus far and will presumably platoon with Luis Matos for the time being. Jorge Soler has produced average offense out of the DH spot but isn’t going anywhere in the first season of a three-year, $42MM deal.

The middle infield is far less set in stone. The recent DFA of Nick Ahmed has Tyler Fitzgerald and Brett Wisely ticketed for frequent reps there. Both are hitting well but doing so with some particularly good fortune on balls in play. Second baseman Thairo Stage just returned from the injured list but has batted only .227/.260/.371 in 315 plate appearances when healthy — a far cry from the .266/.320/.416 he slashed from 2021-23.

Perhaps Zaidi is correct in suggesting that there’s no glaring I need where the Giants are performing with disastrous results and no reinforcements on the horizon. The sixth-year president of baseball operations spoke of the importance of allowing players like Fitzgerald and Matos to come to the big leagues and feel they have an opportunity to earn playing time, just as Ramos has.

At the same time, banking on production from so many unproven assets is a risky proposition for a team that, despite a sub-.500 record, has a legitimate playoff chance. It’s always a fine line to walk, giving players like Fitzgerald and Matos chances at playing time while also striving to remain competitive. The Giants are also sitting on a club-record $208MM payroll and are currently about $16MM north of the luxury tax threshold, per RosterResource. It’s not clear just how much ownership is willing to tack onto that record spending — if they’re willing to at all.