On Friday, the San Francisco Giants signed one of the top available relievers—as a starter. Jordan Hicks, of triple-digit sinker fame, will get $44 million over four years to try to work out of the rotation. Hicks, 27, made eight starts for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022, only once lasting five innings; otherwise he has quietly been one of the most dominant bullpen arms in the sport.
Stephanie Apstein and Emma Baccellieri weigh in on what the move means for Hicks himself, for the team and for the sport.
Why are the Giants trying Hicks as a starter?
Baccellieri: This answer seems to me to have more to do with the Giants than with Hicks: They’re in pretty dire need of starting pitching! This rotation has an awful lot of question marks beyond ace Logan Webb. Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray are both injured; Ross Stripling is coming off a year of struggling with back issues; Kyle Harrison and Keaton Winn are green enough to still have their rookie eligibility. That means the Giants desperately needed another starter (or two). There’s more to recommend moving Hicks to the rotation than would be the case for many other relievers. His arsenal is sufficiently varied; Hicks is best known for his 100-mph sinker, but he has a sweeper and a four-seamer, too, and he’s previously experimented with a changeup and a slider that looks distinct from the sweeper. Even if he can’t maintain the same triple-digit velocity from the rotation that he could from the ‘pen, Hicks boasts enough depth to make the move seem plausible. Which, of course, is part of what the Cardinals were thinking when they tried him as a starter in 2022. That brief experiment didn’t work out particularly well. But for a club that needs rotation depth as much as the Giants, you can see the case for trying it again.
Apstein: Yeah, this feels like a very Giants move to me. They have had good success working with pitchers in the past—Carlos Rodón is probably the most prominent example—and they seem here to be betting that their system can make this work. It will be interesting to see if a new on-field regime, as Bob Melvin replaces Gabe Kapler as manager and pitching coach Andrew Bailey and pitching strategist Brian Bannister both depart, can continue the programs the old one left behind.
Hicks posted a 3.29 ERA in 65 appearances for the Cardinals and the Toronto Blue Jays in 2023.
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Does this move tell us anything about the big names such as Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery?
Apstein: The main thing it tells us is that those guys are asking for a lot. I still wouldn’t bet against them getting it, but some teams that need starters have clearly decided that they are not going to pay for the top end of the market and instead have to get creative. A few clubs inquired about whether reliever Brent Suter, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Reds on Thursday, was willing to try starting. (He’s expected only to relieve in Cincinnati.) We can also expect the trade market to be hot as teams try to add starter depth that way.
Baccellieri: I agree with Stephanie. After Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed with the Dodgers in late December, I’d assumed the market for starters would begin moving quickly. But we haven’t seen that—and instead have seen teams getting creative with other ways to fill out their rotation. Snell and Montgomery very well might get what they’re after in the end. (It’s worth noting that both are clients of Scott Boras—meaning the renowned agent now controls the top of the existing starting pitching market by himself.) But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of urgency to meet their asking price right now.
What else do the Giants need to do?
Apstein: The Giants have had a tough time getting people to take their money over the last few years—Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto have all turned them down—so perhaps more than any other team they could really use a splashy move to placate the fan base. But it’s not clear that a player of that caliber exists on the market at this point. So, as much as fans may hate to hear it, San Francisco probably needs to keep adding around the margins and push for a wild-card spot until a player worthy of a franchise-altering deal becomes available.
Baccellieri: They’re in a bit of a tricky spot. They’ve gone after all of these top free agents and come up short for one reason or another, but with no one left who fits that mold, they don’t exactly have another candidate for a similar offer. Which means they’re probably left with smaller, more routine moves for now, getting some more depth on short-term, low-cost deals and hoping to get a playoff berth. It’s not particularly sexy. But it’s likely the option that sets them up for the most success in the long run.