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

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It’s not uncommon in 2023 for MLB teams to use rotations loaded with veterans they gathered from the open market. The New York Mets, for example, have acquired all five expected starting pitchers in the past 26 months. Partly because of that, they will all be paid 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 due to arbitration pay scales, their other five starters, ranging in age from 31 to 35, enter this season remarkably evenly matched.

The projected starters for the Giants Nos. 3, 4 and 5 — Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea, in some order — all signed the same contracts, for exactly two years and $25 million, so $12.5 million of dollars per season. Their projected sixth starter, Anthony DeSclafani, isn’t far off at $12 million a season over three seasons. Their projected No. 2 starter, Alex Cobb, is at $11 million this season, counting 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-salary pitcher would have to enter the rotation. The Giants, meanwhile, are hoping to cruise through this season with their six veterans tackling nearly all of the necessary 162 starts. In 2022, the six combined for 143 starts and eight relief appearances.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler said the starting pitcher’s salary situation was “notable,” but that he hadn’t noticed it until he was asked. As expected, the pitchers did. They have discussed with each other their shared position within the organization as veterans drafted in to shore up a weak area.

“Some of it is about the personalities of our starting pitchers,” Kapler said. “They’re all very professional. They’re good teammates. They love each other. You don’t see that kind of competitive shoulder where one expects the other to fail, which happens sometimes. You’re going to watch our guys in the bullpens , you’ll see Logan watching Cobb and Wood hanging out to check out their teammates’ bullpens.”

The construction of the rotation 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 squad. As it stands now, it’s the opposite of division rival San Diego’s all-star approach. The Padres have six position players ranked higher than the top-rated Giant in FanGraphs’ power rankings. But the Giants have plenty of mid-range talent.

They brought back All-Star Joc Pederson in the qualifying bid. While Aaron Judge was turning them down, they were finalizing plans to sign Mitch Haniger. After Correa’s deal fell through, they signed Michael Conforto. None of these acquisitions were particularly exciting, but collectively, all of 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 could be.

It’s easier to expand when you’re winning

Earlier this offseason, we chronicled how teams were signing a slew of late bloomers to extensions. They weren’t high-dollar deals, but they went to players who generally hadn’t even graduated into the middle class of major league earnings yet. They were players like Mariners utility man Dylan Moore and Rays lefty Jeffrey Springs.

There’s been a new extension trend lately: Every team that went far in last year’s playoffs has been handing out offers. The Phillies successfully extended standout relievers Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez, and 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 did Nola. Domínguez had two. Machado had one before his opt-out clause could kick in.

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

They are three of last season’s four semi-finalists who have recently extended players. The Yankees, the fourth, didn’t, but they did re-sign Judge a few months ago. And Brian Cashman, their general manager, earned himself an extension.

It’s not as if these teams are expanding every member of their rival club. But lately it’s been easier to come to terms 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 LA Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Overcome a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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