Hey, they had the money. After the sensational done-not-done saga that ended with Carlos Correa signing with the New York Mets, the Giants spent the rest of the week signing two of the top remaining free agents on the market. They added Michael Conforto on a two-year, $36 million deal that includes an opt out after the first year, then signed Taylor Rogers to a three-year, $33 million deal after that.
I ranked Rogers 19th among this winter’s crop of free agents, so let’s start with him. To me, he’s one of the best handful of relievers in the game. I think this was a great pickup for the Giants — and would have been a great pickup for any team in baseball given the contract he got. Rogers spent the first six years of his major league career with the Twins and was reliably excellent, accruing a cumulative 3.15 ERA and 3.01 FIP. That earned him a spot on AJ Preller’s must-trade-for list; the Padres acquired him last offseason to head a closer-by-committee situation in San Diego.
He split time between the Padres and Twins last year – he was traded in the Josh Hader deal at the deadline – and had his worst season as a pro. He posted a 4.76 ERA, easily his worst mark and in a year where league-wide offense declined markedly. It looks to me mostly like bad luck, though; he still posted a 3.31 FIP, but largely got BABIP’ed (.327) and sequenced (63.5 LOB%, compared to a league average mark of 72.6%) to death. He struck out more than 30% of opposing batters while walking just under 7%, and gave up home runs at roughly the same clip he always had. The biggest cause for concern, in my eyes, is that he gave up a raft of hard contact in Milwaukee, but given that he only threw 23 innings there, I’d put it in the too-small-of-a-sample-to-matter bucket.
Rogers relies on a simple plan: he throws sinkers and sliders roughly half the time each. His slider is a big, sweeping pitch in the low 80’s. His sinker sits 93-95 mph and complements the slider well, with arm-side run and plenty of sink. He used to throw a curveball, largely against righties, but he’s abandoned that in favor of sliders in recent years. In fact, 2022 represents the highest slider percentage of his career.
As you might expect from a sinker/sweeper reliever, he’s run large platoon splits in his career; he’s been merely good against righties and unhittable against lefties. That trend continued in 2022; all seven of the home runs he allowed came against righties. Think of it this way: he has a career 2.01 FIP against left-handed batters, which is best-reliever-in-baseball territory. Against righties, he checks in at a comparatively modest 3.57, still solid but not dominant. The combination works quite well; Steamer projects him for a 3.28 ERA next year, better than any other Giant.
I think there’s room for more, which is why I liked Rogers second-best of any reliever on the free agency market, behind only Edwin Díaz. His arsenal is flat-out screaming for a cutter. Rogers is so good with his sinker/slider combo that he can get away with throwing it to righties, but that’s no way to live. Sweeping sliders and sinkers both display large platoon splits. The Driveline-standard move for pitchers with good sweeping breaking balls is to add a cutter to throw against opposite-handed batters. Rogers already struck out 28.3% of the righties he faced in 2022 with the wrong tools for the job. If he adds a pitch that helps him either manage contact or rack up more strikeouts, his results against righties could improve quickly and markedly.
That combination of present value (he’s 14th in both FIP and WAR among relievers over the past three years) and upside (he might be a cutter away from improving on that mark) makes him an easy fit for the Giants. They’ve done a good job playing matchups with their bullpen in recent years, and Rogers is one of the very few best pitchers against lefties even if he doesn’t change a thing about his game. That’s a really strong floor for a reliever, particularly if there’s also a reachable ceiling.
It’s also a delight that Rogers will share a bullpen with his twin brother Tyler, a right-handed submariner. I’m looking forward to seeing Rogers-Rogers innings, although Taylor projects to be comfortably better than Tyler. We’ve slotted Taylor into the setup role in front of Camilo Doval, but I think the Giants will use him selectively against lefties and in high leverage spots in general.
Still, no bullpen upgrade will replace Correa, so the Giants went shopping in the hitting aisle as well. Conforto sat out all of 2022 recovering from shoulder surgery. His market and projections were both extremely uncertain as a result, but he was a borderline star for most of his Mets career.
Before his injury, Conforto did everything well but nothing spectacularly. He walked more than average, had a good sense of the strike zone, and hit for power with a line drive-oriented swing. He topped out at 33 home runs during the offense-wild 2019 season, but generally looked like someone who would give you 25 homers and roughly as many doubles while getting on base a ton.
If he’s the same player post-injury, the Giants are getting a great deal in 2023 at $18 million. The old Conforto averaged roughly four wins per 600 plate appearances. But in 2021, he posted a disappointing 106 wRC+ and hit free agency as something of a wild card. He then injured his shoulder while working out during the lockout and, when his market subsequently failed to materialize, decided to get season-ending surgery and focus on 2023.
I can’t see the future, and the error bars around Conforto’s performance are huge. If his surgically repaired shoulder is as good as new, he might be the best hitter on the Giants, who are light on impact bats. He’ll likely rotate through both outfield corners and DH while playing mostly every day. If I had to guess, I’d say he’ll play right field when Joc Pederson DHs and get plenty of reps at DH when Pederson is on the bench. His defense is even more of an unknown than his bat; he was a solid defender in New York, but that was a while ago and he just had surgery on his throwing shoulder.
I think this is a good gamble for the Giants given what they were working with, but Conforto and agent Scott Boras really held their feet over the fire on this contract. This is a wonderful deal for Conforto. $18 million is low if Conforto is back to his previous self, but if he is, he can opt out after a year and head back into free agency with an impressive track record. If he puts up a 130 wRC+ and plays at his previous level, there will be a robust market for him. If his shoulder hasn’t healed, or if it takes him a long time to shake off the rust of missing an entire season, he’ll get a second year at $18 million by not opting out.
The FanGraphs crowdsourced projection for his contract was one year and $12 million, which is a fairly standard prove-it deal. Instead, Conforto is proving it for 50% more, and if he fails, he gets another $18 million the following season. The Giants goofed up the Correa situation badly, and it put them in an awkward spot for 2023. They had set up their team to add a star hitter – preferably Aaron Judge, it seems. It made sense both from a budgetary and lineup standpoint. If they didn’t get Conforto, the next-best option was either Jean Segura or Trey Mancini, neither of whom have remotely the same upside.
I don’t think the Giants had any choice in the matter; the NL West is going to be tough next year, and if they wanted to compete for a playoff berth, last year’s lineup wasn’t going to cut it. Mitch Haniger, their other main free agency acquisition, was a nice start, and Conforto is another step in the right direction. I think they’re still going to come up short, but I also think they have no choice but to try. Given that they’re clearly in the market for a superstar – they offered Judge $360 million and Correa $350 million – short-term budgetary commitments are preferable. They’ll surely be offering Shohei Ohtani a gargantuan deal next offseason; signing Conforto and Rogers doesn’t stop them from doing that.
In Rogers’ case, I think the Giants secured his services by offering slightly more than everyone else, but I think it’s still a bargain – the market is low on Rogers, in my opinion. If you’re going to spend $11 million improving a team filled with solid but unspectacular hitters and plenty of speculative starting pitchers, the bullpen is an obvious place to look. If my view of Rogers is right, it’ll be a great deal for San Francisco. Even if I’m wrong, it’s a solid signing.
In Conforto’s case, though, I think the Giants paid up because they had to. I really like the fit; I think that given their options, Conforto was head and shoulders above anyone else they could sign in terms of the impact it might have on their chances of making the postseason. It won’t be reflected in our playoff odds, but his range of outcomes is huge, and that’s the kind of bet they should be making. When your 50th-percentile outcome comes up short of the mark, adding variance is wise. But because he was the only real fit for them, and because they painted themselves into a corner after backing out of Correa’s deal, Boras got great terms for his client.
This has been an offseason of huge contracts, but this Conforto deal might be the most surprising to me, largely because of the player option. Generally speaking, players who are trying to rebuild their value either take a discounted one-year deal or let the team signing them have a second-year option. Getting a contract that values him like an above-average player and has a safety net if that turns out not to be the case next year? That’s the best case scenario for him. I bet you he’s sending Boras a very nice gift for the holidays.