The Giants announced Thursday that left-hander Jake McGee, whom they designated for assignment over the weekend, has been placed on unconditional release waivers. San Francisco also claimed lefties Aaron Fletcher off waivers from the Pirates and optioned him to Triple-A Sacramento. Lefties Jose Alvarez was transferred to the 60-day injured list to open a spot on the 40-man roster.
McGee, 35, is in the second season of a two-year, $5MM contract that pays him $2.5MM and contains a $4.5MM club option (with a $500K buyout). He still owes the balance of that salary and the full weight of the buyout. It’s quite rare for players with any salary of note to be claimed off outright waivers or release waivers during the season, making it likely that he’ll clear and become a free agent. At that point, any team could sign McGee and owe him only the prorated league minimum for any time spent in the Majors. The Giants would remain on the hook for the remainder of his salary.
The contract looked brilliant last season, when McGee turned in 59 2/3 innings of 2.72 ERA ball. The lefty led the Giants with 31 saves, struck out 24.3% of his opponents against a tiny 4.2% walk rate, and served as a key member of a bullpen that propelled San Francisco to an MLB-best 107 wins.
Things haven’t gone nearly as smoothly in 2022, however. Although his velocity has remained mostly the same, McGee’s strikeout rate has plummeted to 11.5% and his walk rate has jumped to 6.3%. Beyond the freefall in his strikeout rate, McGee has been unable to strand runners this season, with his 49.7% left-on-base rate checking in miles below the 74.4% career rate he carried into the season. The end result is a disastrous 7.17 ERA through his first 21 1/3 innings.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle spoke to McGee in the wake of the move. The southpaw called it a “letdown” to be cut loose, given how much he’s enjoyed his time there, but he took the move in stride and was understanding of the team’s decision. Once he clears waivers, he’ll be able to sign with any team he wishes, and there are quite likely several clubs who’d be in the market for an effectively free look at a reliever with McGee’s track record.
Fletcher, meanwhile, will step into McGee’s place as a lefty relief option for the club. The 26-year-old split his time between Pittsburgh and their top affiliate in Indianapolis, making nine appearances with the Bucs and 14 in Triple-A. Fletcher allowed nine runs in 11 2/3 innings with the big league club, striking out six while walking four. He allowed just six runs (three earned) through 18 2/3 frames in Indianapolis, however, apparently catching the Giants’ attention in the process.
While Fletcher has yet to have success in brief big league stints with the Mariners and Pirates, he owns a 2.56 ERA in parts of four minor league campaigns. He’s typically posted gaudy ground-ball numbers throughout his professional tenure, including a 55.2% clip in Triple-A this season. Fletcher is in his second minor league option year, so he can bounce on and off the active roster for the foreseeable future.
As for Alvarez, he’ll be out for an extended period. The veteran southpaw just landed on the IL on July 5 with elbow inflammation, and he’ll now be ineligible to return until early September. Signed to a one-year guarantee heading into 2021, Alvarez posted a sparkling 2.37 ERA through 64 2/3 innings. The club exercised a $1.5MM option on his services for this year, but he posted a 5.28 ERA in 21 outings. He’ll now miss at least the bulk of the second half of the season, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be healthy enough to take the mound again before hitting free agency next winter.