Hey, they had the money. After the sensational do-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 best 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 free agents, so let’s start with him. To me, he is 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 received. Rogers spent the first six years of his major league career with the Twins and was reliably excellent, amassing a cumulative 3.15 ERA and 3.01 FIP. That earned him a spot on AJ Preller’s must-trade list; The Padres acquired him last offseason to lead 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 significantly. It looks mostly like bad luck to me, though; he still posted a 3.31 FIP, but was largely BABIP’ed (.327) and sequenced (63.5 LOB%, compared to a league average mark of 72.6%) to the death. He struck out more than 30% of opposing batters while walking just under 7%, and gave up home runs at about the same clip he always had. The biggest cause for concern, in my mind, is that he gave up a streak of hard contact in Milwaukee, but considering he only threw 23 innings there, I’d put that in the too-small-of-a-sample-to -matter bucket.
Rogers relies on a simple plan: He throws sinkers and sliders about half the time each. His slider is a big, sweeping pitch in the low 80s. 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 to righties, but he has abandoned that in favor of sliders in recent years. In fact, 2022 represents the highest shooting percentage of his career.
As you might expect from a sinker/sweeper reliever, he has run big platoon splits in his career; he has only been good against righties and unbeatable against lefties. That trend continued in 2022; all seven home runs he allowed came against righties. Think of it this way: he has a career 2.01 FIP against left-handed hitters, which is the best reliever in baseball. 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 ranked Rogers second best of all relievers on the free agent market, behind only Edwin Díaz. His arsenal immediately screams for a cutter. Rogers is so good with his sinker/slider combo that he can get away with throwing it to the right, but that’s no way to live. Sweeping sliders and dips both show large platoon splits. The standard driveline move for pitchers with good sweeping breaking balls is to add a cutter to throw to opposing batters. Rogers already struck out 28.3% of the righties he faced in 2022 with the wrong tool for the job. If he adds a pitch that helps him either handle contact or get more strikeouts, his results against righties could improve quickly and significantly.
That combination of current value (he’s 14th in both FIP and WAR among relievers over the past three years) and upside (he could be a ways away from bettering that mark) makes him an easy fit for the Giants. They’ve done a good job of playing matchups with their bullpen over the last few years, and Rogers is one of the few best pitchers against lefties even if he doesn’t change anything in his game. That’s a really strong floor for a reliever, especially if there’s also a reachable ceiling.
It’s also a joy to have Rogers share a bullpen with his twin brother Tyler, a right-handed submariner. I look forward to seeing Rogers-Rogers innings, even if Taylor figures to be comfortably better than Tyler. We’ve put Taylor in the setup role ahead 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 also shopped the hitting aisle. 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 was doing everything well but nothing spectacular. He walked more than average, had a good feel for the strike zone and hit for power with a line drive oriented swing. He peaked at 33 home runs during the offensively wild 2019 season, but generally looked like someone who would give you 25 homers and about as many doubles while getting on base a ton.
If he’s the same player after the injury, the Giants will get a whopping 2023 cap hit of $18 million. The old Conforto averaged about 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 practicing during the lockout and, when his market subsequently failed to materialize, decided to undergo season-ending surgery and focus on 2023.
I can’t see the future, and the margin of error surrounding Conforto’s performance is huge. If his surgically repaired shoulder is as good as new, he could be the best hitter on the Giants, who are light on bats. He will likely rotate through both outfield 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 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 to the fire on this contract. This is a wonderful deal for Conforto. $18 million is low if Conforto is back to his former self, but if he is, he can opt out after one year and return to 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.
FanGraph’s crowdsourced projection for his contract was one year and $12 million, which is a pretty standard prove-it deal. Instead, Conforto proves it for 50% more, and if he fails, he gets another $18 million next season. The Giants screwed up the Correa situation badly, and it put them in a tough spot for 2023. They had set up their team to add a star — preferably Aaron Judge, it seems. It made sense from both a budget and lineup standpoint. If they didn’t get Conforto, the next best option would be either Jean Segura or Trey Mancini, neither of whom have the same upside.
I don’t think the Giants had any choice in the matter; The NL West will be tough next year, and if they wanted to compete for a playoff spot, last year’s lineup wasn’t going to cut it. Mitch Haniger, their second biggest free agency signing, was off to a good start, and Conforto is another step in the right direction. I think they will still fall short, but I also think they have no choice but to try. Given that they’re clearly after a superstar — they offered Judge $360 million and Correa $350 million — short-term budget commitments are preferable. They will surely offer Shohei Ohtani a giant deal next offseason; signing Conforto and Rogers doesn’t stop them from doing so.
In Rogers’ case, I think the Giants secured his services by offering something 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 on Rogers is correct, that will be a lot for San Francisco. Even if I’m wrong, it’s a solid signing.
In Conforto’s case, though, I think the Giants paid because they had to. I really like the fit; I think given their options, Conforto was head and shoulders above anyone else they could sign in terms of the impact it could have on their chances of making the postseason. It won’t be reflected in our playoff odds, but his range of results is huge, and that’s the kind of thing they should be doing. When your 50th percentile score falls below the target, it is wise to add variance. But because he was the only real fit for them, and because they painted themselves into a corner after backing out of the Correa deal, Boras got good terms for his client.
This has been an offseason of huge contracts, but this Conforto deal might be the most surprising to me, in large part because of the player option. Generally, players trying to rebuild their value either take a discounted one-year contract or let the team that signs them have a second-year option. Getting a contract that values him as an above average player and have a safety net if that turns out not to be the case next year? That’s the best case scenario for him. I bet he sends Boras a very nice present for the holidays.