Giants fans got their first look at catcher-of-the-future Joey Bart in 2020, but it sounds as though Bart’s likely destination to open the 2021 season will be back in the minor leagues. As Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area writes, Giants president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi suggested in his end-of-year chat with reporters that Bart could still use some more development time. Buster Posey will be back after opting out of the 2020 season, and Zaidi pointed out that Aramis Garcia will be back from hip surgery as well.
Zaidi also implied that the club could add a veteran backup to its catching corps over the winter: “Getting some help (would) enable Joey to get a little bit more of that development.”
Fan expectations for Bart this season were sky-high and, as is most often the case, probably unfair. The 23-year-old former No. 2 overall pick had scarcely played above Class-A Advanced, with just 22 games of Double-A work under his belt when he was called to the big leagues this year. Posey’s opt-out and a lack of appealing options elsewhere in the organization forced the move, and while Bart impressed early, his production soon wilted. His final 45 plate appearances were particularly tough, as Bart collected just seven hits and punched out 18 times down the stretch. Overall, his .233/.288/.320 slash and 37 percent strikeout rate certainly suggest that he’d benefit from some time in Double-A and/or Triple-A.
The organization remains “super high” on Bart, Zaidi stressed, pointing to Bart’s strong exit velocities and hard-hit rate. There’s little doubt that Bart is still the team’s long-term plan at catcher, but it’s also readily apparent that the lack of a minor league season in 2020 hampered Bart’s progression a bit, as it did for so many others throughout the league.
Beyond poking around the market for a backup catcher, the Giants will have some other work to do. Zaidi has expressed interest in re-signing free agents Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, and Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News adds that Zaidi felt his club was “one left-handed bat short” in 2020. A lefty bat who can play multiple positions and give Evan Longoria some breathers a third base seems ideal, Crowley writes. That could be a role the Giants hoped Pablo Sandoval would fill in 2020, although it obviously didn’t play out that way.
Speculatively speaking, Tommy La Stella would seem an ideal fit in that role. Other options on this year’s market include Asdrubal Cabrera, Jake Lamb, Marwin Gonzalez, Brad Miller and rebound hopeful Brock Holt (among others). The trade market would create myriad other possibilities.
It stands to reason based on the interest in retaining Gausman and Smyly that the Giants will explore other rotation upgrades should that pair eventually sign elsewhere. There’s little certainty in the rotation without that pair. Johnny Cueto will be back for the final season of his contract but struggled for much of the 2020 season. Young righty Logan Webb made 11 starts but finished with a 5.47 ERA. The Giants control Tyler Anderson for another season, and he was solid if unspectacular in 2020.
Beyond Gausman, Smyly, Cueto, Anderson and Webb, the only other pitchers to start multiple games for San Francisco in 2020 were Trevor Cahill (six) and Jeff Samardzija (four). Both are out the door this winter, as is veteran lefty reliever Tony Watson. Starting pitching and relief pitching should be a focus if the Giants plan to contend next year.
And at the end of the day, for all the talk of how the Giants have been rebuilding, Zaidi expressed for a second consecutive winter that his goal remains to put a playoff team on the field next year. San Francisco was in the hunt for a Wild Card spot until the final day of the season in 2020, per Crowley.
The Giants should have financial leeway to augment the roster, with about $96MM committed to next year’s payroll and what should be a light arbitration class. Looking ahead to 2022, Longoria’s $19.5MM salary is the lone guaranteed contract on the ledger. The widespread expectation is that teams will be rather reserved on the free agent market this winter after substantial revenue losses in 2020. But if the Giants want to spend, they have a rather wide-open payroll outlook that should allow them to do so.