Over the past 19 seasons, there have been 6,700 regular-season major-league games started (GS) logged by pitchers born in the Dominican Republic. The Giants are responsible for one of them.

On April 2, 2008, the Giants were slated to play the Dodgers in Los Angeles in the third game of each club’s regular season. The sky was partly clear at first-pitch time, but the Doppler radar just west of Dodger Stadium was as green as the oncoming clouds were dark, and managers Bruce Bochy and Joe Torre were in a bind. Starting the probables, Tim Lincecum and Chad Billingsley, meant begging for a mid-game dilemma—pitching a dynamic young starter on both sides of a delay or wearing out the bullpen in an early-April contest—which would leave each skipper open to media scrutiny just days into the season. After some deliberation, Torre gave the ball to one of his relievers, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Bochy followed suit by scratching Lincecum for Merkin Valdez.

Rain delays are a rarity in Chavez Ravine—almost as rare as Dominican-born starters donning the Giants’ orange and black. There have been only two of them since that April evening: on May 23, 2008, and April 7, 2015. One of those brought the tarp out pre-game, the other in the ninth. Neither required a manager to weigh the risk of losing his starter in the early frames.

Valdez, whose career in the majors spanned parts of five rocky seasons, is the answer to several trivia questions. He is one of eight players to appear in three different Futures Games. He was once traded (with Damian Moss) for Russ Ortiz. And he went by Manny Mateo at the time of said trade. But all of those pale in comparison to this one:

In a 19-year span, Valdez was the Giants’ only Dominican-born starter. And he was afforded that opportunity by accident.

Since Juan Marichal—the first-ever Dominican-born Hall of Famer, a Giants legend immortalized with a statue outside AT&T Park’s right-field gate—left San Francisco for Boston after the 1973 season, precious few of his fellow countrymen have pitched in the Giants’ rotation:


Years with Club

Games Started

Salomon Torres



Sergio Valdez



Jose Bautista



Merkin Valdez






Torres, the quartet’s most prominent member, signed with the Giants as an amateur in 1989 and debuted as a 21-year-old in 1993. It took only a few short months for the Candlestick Park faithful to vilify their young’un, as Torres bore the blame for a game-162 clunker that left the 103-win Giants a game shy of the West-division title. By the middle of 1995, he’d been traded to Seattle, clearing a spot for the journeyman Valdez (no relation to Merkin).

In the ensuing two decades, San Francisco’s best hope for a homegrown Dominican-born starter never wore a Giants uniform. Francisco Liriano, then an obscure minor-leaguer, was traded to the Twins with Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser in one of the worst barters in franchise history. A handful of others


Traded For (Year)

MLB Starts

Felix Diaz

Kenny Lofton (2002)


Carlos Villanueva

Wayne Franklin (2004)

76 (still active)

Henry Sosa

Jeff Keppinger (2011)


Kendry Flores

Casey McGehee (pre-2015)

1 (still active)

Keury Mella

Mike Leake (2015)


have been shipped away in trades, but only Villanueva could be considered a substantial loss. By and large, the Giants—renowned in recent years for their development of amateur arms acquired through the First-Year Player Draft—have suffered from a dearth of international pitching talent that extends beyond the Dominican Republic. Yusmeiro Petit, who excelled as a swingman for the 2014 World Series champions, remains the only Venezuelan-born Giant to exceed 100 innings in a season since Ramon Monzant in 1958.

Part of that famine on the international pitching front is self-inflicted: The Giants have been averse to splurging on the most heralded Dominican and Venezuelan teenagers compared to other well-endowed clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rangers. When they have spent big, it has been on position players, virtually all of whom have flopped—sometimes in gruesome or horrific fashion. That’s why many were stunned to see the Giants outbid the Dodgers for Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox, a $6 million gamble that sent San Francisco soaring past its bonus allotment and into the two-year penalty.

But Fox and no. 2 signee Ricardo Genoves are not pitchers. Instead, as Grant Brisbee pointed out in the post linked above, the Giants have tended to hunt for bargain arms on the international market, a strategy that has produced some useful returns, but not in the form of direct major-league rotation help. Flores, Mella, and left-hander Luis Ysla were three such acquisitions, ultimately used in trade. Adalberto Mejia, recently ranked as the organization’s no. 10 prospect, is still around and approaching the doorstep, but he’s no lock to remain a starter after getting suspended, hurt, and fat, all in one tumultuous 2015 campaign.

That lull in pitching development, coupled with a fruitful stretch on the position-player front, set Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans on course to pursue the high-end starters available this winter. After falling short to the Diamondbacks on Zack Greinke, they settled for Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. In so doing, the Giants became the first team ever to tender contracts worth at least $90 million to multiple pitchers in the same offseason.

Barring springtime trouble, the latter’s six-year, $130 million signing Monday will make him the first Dominican-born starter to pitch for the Giants since the third game of the 2008 season, and the first to do so on schedule since Bautista on August 27, 1996. History aside, it’s a risky addition. Cueto turns 30 in February, his elbow barked last May—enough to prompt the Reds to have the righty undergo an MRI—and he took the Royals on a rollercoaster ride before excelling in the World Series. Moreover, the opt-out clause puts the pitcher in control of his mid-30s future and the Giants on the hook for $84 million if injury or ineffectiveness compels him to stay. As Matthew Trueblood explained, the deal’s structure suggests the Giants want Cueto through 2017, not 2021—just long enough to barge through the nudged-open NL West door.

But whether Cueto stays in San Francisco for two years or six, whether he performs like the Reds ace or the Royals enigma, this much is virtually certain: Only a debilitating injury can prevent the San Pedro de Macoris native from eclipsing the 42 starts amassed by Dominican-born Giants in the post-Marichal era.

Starts totals cited above were obtained via the invaluable Baseball-Reference Play Index.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe