Major League Baseball
Top MLB teams keeping cores intact; why Giants could make playoff push
Major League Baseball

Top MLB teams keeping cores intact; why Giants could make playoff push

Updated Mar. 1, 2023 1:53 p.m. ET

It’s not unusual in 2023 for MLB teams to employ veteran-laden rotations they pieced together from the open market. The New York Mets, for example, have acquired all five of their expected starting pitchers in the last 26 months. In part because of that, they’ll pay them all at least $13 million in 2023.

What’s unusual about the San Francisco Giants’ rotation is the lack of dollar variance. Outside of ace Logan Webb, the lowest-paid starter because of arbitration pay scales, their other five starters, ranging in age from 31 to 35, enter this season on remarkably equal footing.

The Giants’ projected Nos. 3, 4 and 5 starters — Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea, in some order — all signed the same contracts, for precisely two years and $25 million, so $12.5 million per season. Their projected No. 6 starter, Anthony DeSclafani, is not far off, at $12 million a season for three seasons. Their projected No. 2 starter, Alex Cobb, is at $11 million this season, if you count the buyout the Giants still owe him. 

Of course, the Mets are paying two of their starters, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, more than $43 million each. Any injuries to their starting five would mean a minimum-salaried pitcher must step into the rotation. The Giants, meanwhile, have hope of traversing this season with their six veterans tackling nearly all of the required 162 starts. In 2022, the six combined to make 143 starts and eight relief appearances.


Giants manager Gabe Kapler said the starting-pitching salary situation was "notable," but that he had, until queried, not noted it. As you might expect, the pitchers had. They have remarked among themselves about their shared standing within the organization as veterans recruited to shore up a deficient area.

"Some of this is about our starting pitchers’ personalities," Kapler said. "They’re all very professional. They’re good teammates. They’re rooting for each other. You don’t see that kind of competitive yuckiness where one is hoping the other one fails — which happens sometimes. You’ll watch our guys in bullpens, you’ll see Logan watching Cobb, and Wood hanging out to watch his teammates’ bullpens."

The rotation construction is also indicative of San Francisco’s broader approach to roster building in recent seasons. Even if Carlos Correa’s contract had come together, this would be an unusually balanced roster. As it stands now, it’s something of the opposite of division rival San Diego’s star-driven, top-heavy approach. The Padres feature six position players who rank higher than the top-rated Giant on FanGraphs’ power rankings. But the Giants have midrange talents galore.

They brought back All-Star Joc Pederson on the qualifying offer. As Aaron Judge was spurning them, they were finalizing plans to sign Mitch Haniger. After the Correa deal fell apart, they signed Michael Conforto. None of those acquisitions were especially exciting, but altogether, all the additions have combined to create a roster with a higher floor than most teams projected to finish in the .500 range. It might not be enough to get them back to the playoffs. Or it might be.

It’s easier to extend when you win

Earlier this offseason, we chronicled how teams were signing a host of late-blooming players to extensions. They were not high-dollar deals, but they were going to players who had generally not yet graduated into even the middle class of major-league earnings. They were players like Mariners utilityman Dylan Moore and Rays left-hander Jeffrey Springs.

There’s been a new extension trend of late: All the teams who went far in last year’s playoffs have been handing out deals. The Phillies successfully extended standout relievers José Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez, and they are in talks with starter Aaron Nola, according to The Athletic. The Padres just extended Manny Machado. Alvarado had one year left on his existing deal, as does Nola. Domínguez had two. Machado had one before his opt-out clause could take effect.

Cristian Javier, extended by the Astros last month, had three years left of club control before he agreed to sign away two of his free-agent seasons. And new Astros general manager Dana Brown has been very clear that he wants to extend more members of the current core. In an atypical move for a modern GM, Brown specifically cited Kyle Tucker, José Altuve and Alex Bregman as players he hopes to eventually extend.

That’s three of last season’s four semifinalists who have extended players of late. The Yankees, the fourth, have not, but they did re-sign Judge a few months ago. And Brian Cashman, their GM, earned an extension himself.

It’s not as if these teams are extending every member of their contending club. But it’s been easier, of late, to come to an agreement with a winning team.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of "How to Beat a Broken Game." Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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