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SAN FRANCISCO -- For a group that had so many issues during the season, Giants starters sure headed to the offseason on personal high notes.
Matt Cain had a 5.79 ERA but gave up just two hits over five shutout innings in his final start and afterward said he wants to be right atop the rotation with Madison Bumgarner in 2016. Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Cain “should take away from that (outing) that he’s back.”
Jake Peavy missed almost the entire first half with back and hip issues but had a 3.15 ERA after coming off the DL and a 1.96 ERA in his final six starts, five of them Giants wins. What does he have in store for the even year?
"I promise you I expect to show up and throw 200 innings as I always do," Peavy said.
Chris Heston doesn't get to build off a strong finale. Instead, he heads to the offseason eager to build up his body after learning a valuable lesson. Heston lost 20 pounds during the season and his numbers fell off as the weight did.
"I think (the long season) might have caught up with him,” Bochy said of his first-half star.
Heston moved to Arizona so he can spend the winter working out at the team’s facility in Scottsdale, but he’s not guaranteed of a job when camp opens in February. The other recaps/previews this week mostly focused on what happened in 2015, but for the Giants, the only question that matters with the rotation is, “Who gets signed to bolster the 2016 group?”
The Giants hope to get two starters, and if they can’t sign two top-of-the-rotation arms, they may sign one and trade for one. All options are on the table, including the international market. Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann are among the big names the Giants will chase, and they would like to bring Mike Leake back long-term. Jeff Samardzija is also near the very top of the front office’s wish list.
One way or another, reinforcements are needed for 2016, because despite the positive vibes as the season came to a close, the rotation was a weak spot in 2015 …
What Went Right: Bumgarner was Bumgarner. He tied a career-high with 18 wins and set a new personal best with 234 strikeouts and a 1.01 WHIP. His 2.93 ERA put him under 3.00 for a third straight season. Most importantly, Bumgarner showed no wear and tear after a historic 2014 workload, throwing a career-high 218 1/3 innings. He also became the first lefty in MLB history to hit five homers and strike out 200 batters … Led by Bumgarner, the staff hit nine homers, as many as the next four teams combined … Peavy finished strong with a five-decision winning streak, his longest since 2007 … It probably should be considered a victory that Cain didn’t have Tommy John surgery, given his season started with the words “forearm tightness.” … Heston was supposed to start on opening night for the River Cats and instead went 11-5 with a 3.24 ERA in his first 21 starts. He pitched the first no-hitter by a Giants rookie in 103 years … Tim Hudson got to go out on his own terms and provided plenty of highlights down the stretch, from his shocking homer in his first start back to the Hudson-Zito matchup that was all good until the starters took the mound … It’s easy to forget now, but Tim Lincecum had a 2.00 ERA through six starts … Ryan Vogelsong had his own sharp stretch, posting a 1.14 ERA in May when the rotation desperately needed a boost.
What Went Wrong: Cain and Peavy combined for just six starts before the All-Star break … Mike Leake, the big deadline acquisition, got hurt right away and had a 4.07 ERA in nine starts for his new team … In his final season, Hudson dealt with so many nagging injuries that he jokingly told reporters to take their pick when he was put on the DL … Heston was 1-6 with a 5.94 ERA in his final 10 starts … Lincecum pitched poorly enough in June that he was going to be removed from the rotation when an injury sidelined him. He ultimately had season-ending hip surgery. One of the best units in the NL for years, the rotation finished seventh in the NL in ERA and ninth in innings.
On the 40-man roster: Bumgarner, Cain, Heston and Peavy are currently the only starting pitchers on the 40-man.
Contract Talk: Cain has two guaranteed years and at least $47.5 million left on his long-term deal. Peavy is in the second year of a backloaded two-year deal that pays him $13 million this year. Bumgarner might be the biggest steal in baseball, with a contract that jumps to just $9.75 million this year. The Giants have him under control through 2019, and while they will one day push to make Bumgarner a Giant For Life, don’t expect an extension until we get closer to the end of the first extension. Heston is not arbitration eligible.
Minor Standout: Talk to a member of the front office and it won’t be long before the name “Clayton Blackburn” is slipped into the conversation. Blackburn, 22, led the Pacific Coast League with a 2.85 ERA. Scouts don’t quite consider him to be a future ace, but he’s mature beyond his years and should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for years to come. Given his age, the upside could be higher. The Giants aren’t planning to have Blackburn in their rotation next April, but he could be the next man up when the first injury strikes.
Offseason Outlook: A year after publicly going after Lester and James Shields, the Giants are taking an under-the-radar approach. The only thing that’s been made clear is that they like Leake and would like to bring him back, ideally as the No. 3 behind Bumgarner and another addition. General manager Bobby Evans will also be aggressive on the trade market and the international market. Keep an eye on teams with small budgets and pitchers who are getting expensive, like the Braves, Indians and Rays. Keep an eye on that second tier of free agents, too.
When the heavy lifting is done, the Giants will turn to their own. Yusmeiro Petit has been a valuable long reliever but may be non-tendered to clear salary space. If the Giants bring in two starters, Heston could be slotted in as a long reliever. Expect the Giants to try and work out a one-year deal with Lincecum, who is rehabbing but expects to be ready by the start of spring training. Vogelsong doesn’t think he'll be back, but if the last two offseasons taught us anything, it’s that you can never quite close the door on a Vogelsong-Giants reunion.