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Will the Giants be back?

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The Giants shocked everyone in 2021. Can they do it again?

SFChronicleSports Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A common refrain for teams knocked out of the postseason is “They’ll be back.” We said it about the Brewers, the White Sox, and Rays. Surely, we can say it about the team that was seven games better than the best team in the American League. But when it comes to the Giants, nothing is certain.

The Giants exceeded the wildest expectations of any rational person. They didn’t just make the playoffs. They won a division that was supposed to belong to the Padres and Dodgers, set a franchise record for wins, and came an inning away from the NLCS. They led the National League in home runs and wRC+. Their pitching staff was second in both ERA and FIP. Any team that accomplishes what they did ought to be able to run it back and compete, but the 2021 Giants were built out of resurgent 30-somethings and a starting rotation of one-year deals.

With Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood headed for free agency and Johnny Cueto’s option appearing unlikely to be exercised, the Giants’ 2022 starting rotation looks like this:

  1. Logan Webb
  2. Tyler Beede?
  3. Sammy Long?
  4. ???
  5. ???

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi wants “to keep as much of this group together as [he] can.” However, Gausman won’t have a qualifying offer to weigh him down this year. Unlike this year, DeSclafani and Wood will command more than $10.25 million total. The Giants have at least four spots to fill, and they’re not going to be able to do it as cheaply as they did in 2021.

The good news is that the starting pitching market is much deeper than it was last year even before nontenders, and historically, the Giants haven’t had much trouble recruiting pitchers. Cy Young candidates Max Scherzer, Carlos Rodón, and Robbie Ray are all available in addition to frontline starters Eduardo Rodríguez and Marcus Stroman. Noah Syndergaard and Justin Verlander The Giants pitching development staff has shown they can get more out of middle-tier options like they did with Wood and DeSclafani. I’d wager someone in the Giants’ front office has an idea of how to fix Jon Gray.

There are fewer holes to fill on the offense. Brandon Crawford signed a two-year extension back in August, so he’ll likely bridge the gap to the Marco Luciano era. The only way Buster Posey’s club option is declined is if it’s in service of renegotiating an extension. Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater, and Steven Duggar all have at least one more year of arbitration eligibility left. Wilmer Flores has a club option for just $3.5 million.

The only potential losses to free agency are Kris Bryant, Brandon Belt, and Donovan Solano. Obviously, having Kris Bryant is better than not having Kris Bryant, but he’ll be in high demand as one of the best utility options on the market. Solano’s production can be replaced with Thairo Estrada or Mauricio Dubón. Zaidi indicated they want to retain Belt who has a 163 wRC+ over the last two seasons. Belt is eligible for a qualifying offer, and he’s the only Giant likely to receive one.

What to do with Curt Casali is another question that needs answering. Casali only figures to make around $2 million in arbitration, and the free agent catcher market is incredibly slim even if the Giants are just looking for a backup. The Giants, however, have Joey Bart waiting in the wings though Bart’s star has fallen a bit. Even if he’s the next Mike Zunino rather than the next Buster Posey, he’ll force his way onto a major league roster at some point. The universal DH would allow Posey, Bart, and Casali to all live in harmony, but Bart needs more reps behind the plate. He’s not going to get those over Casali and Posey.

Even if the Giants rebuild an excellent starting staff and the 30-somethings don’t turn to dust, repeating as division champs won’t be easy. The Padres probably won’t be god awful next year unless they do something hilarious like dump Manny Machado’s contract. The Dodgers have their fair share of impending free agents, and the prospect well is running dry, but they are still the best team in baseball heading into 2022.

Will the Giants be back next year? It’s hard to say. The Giants could very well be the third-best team in the National League next year and still finish third in the NL West. A lot needs to happen to replicate this success, but if this season has proven one thing, it’s that anything’s possible.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.