Barry Zito

Giants’ No. 1 target appears to be Jon Lester, for one obvious reason

Based on this news, the Giants have gone from kicking the tires on Jon Lester to going full Lionel Messi on his tires. It doesn’t sound all that safe, but leg injuries are far easier to overcome than elbow and shoulder injuries, at least when considering free agent pitchers over 30 years of age.

On that note, this is a perfect example of a potential signing that would lead to a game of tug-of-war in my brain if I worked for a major league team. Giving a ginormous contract to a free agent pitcher over 30, who spent all of his career pitching (and probably getting overused at times) by other teams, would scare the hell out of me. Then again, the sport isn’t capped and TV money grows on outfield fences like Wrigley ivy.

And with the market the way it is this year, you’re either going to pay a lot of money for a slightly above average position player, or pay an obscene amount of money for one of the top starting pitchers. Better to splurge on the 911 than spend $65K on a Dodge Challenger with every conceivable option, I always say.

(Disclaimer: I’ve never said that, but I do like me a mid-90s 911 turbo. Vroooooom.)

The Giants haven’t been forced to purchase a big-ticket arm for a long time, because they’ve been abnormally lucky with their first round draft picks and have been able to augment their rotation with veteran free agent hurlers who didn’t cost a hell of a lot.

The last expensive free agent pitcher was Barry Zito. Besides being left-handed and pitching for the A’s, Lester shares no similarities with Zito. Lester’s velocity has maybe dropped a tick over the last year or two, but nothing worth worrying about — we’re still talking about a pitcher who averaged 93 mph on his four-seamer and 89 mph on his cutter last year. Zito’s stuff was deteriorating rapidly when the Giants signed him — we all know the story about how he reworked his mechanics going into his first Spring Training with the Giants, something that took Dave Righetti and the team by surprise.

Despite how “seven years, one hundred twenty-six million dollars” has been etched into the brains of every Giants fan, the Zito contract wasn’t awful in that he gave the Giants 1,139 innings of change-of-pace lefty “magic.” OK, “magic” may not be the correct word as much as “mediocrity,” but there’s something to be said for durability, left-handedness and unicorns.

2014 was the first season since 2006 in which the Giants went all or most of the way with only one left-handed starter. Noah Lowry was the main southpaw back then, with Jonathan Sanchez joining the rotation in September. That was the year before they signed Zito.

Beyond Lester, adding a lefty starter worth starting would be rather difficult. There’s Francisco Liriano, but he rejected the Pirates’ qualifying offer. The Giants don’t seem interested in messing with QO guys, and in Liriano’s case (only one season with 30+ starts, and that was in 2010) it’d be hard to blame them. They could take a flier on Brett Anderson, but he’d probably tear his UCL updating his Twitter profile to let fans know he signed with the Giants. After that, they’d be diving in the Bruce Chen, Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano, John Lannan and Wandy Rodriguez pile.

If the Giants aren’t super worried about their rotation being two-fifths left-handed, there are several intriguing right-handed options that I’ll get to soon. But John Shea keeps telling us that the Giants want to spend big on a free agent, and Lester is the best available other than Max Scherzer, a righty who turned down $144 million over six years from the Tigers in March. It may take a similar offer to sign Lester, which means the team that eventually signs him would be on the hook for about $23M-$25M when he’s 36, but by then the Mission Bay neighborhood will be a money-printing fantasy land with Larry Baer in charge. Middle relievers will probably make that much by then, anyway.

Plus, Jake Peavy has made it known that he’d like to join the same team as Lester. That wouldn’t be such a bad “package deal” — Peavy was a dud in the postseason, but that wouldn’t be such a big deal with Lester and a healthy Matt Cain added to the mix.

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