In conjunction with this post, Darragh McDonald will hold a Giants-centric chat on 11-21-22 at 4:00pm Central. Click here to ask a question in advance, join in or read the transcript afterwards.
The Giants have been conservative with their spending during the Farhan Zaidi era, which has led to inconsistent results. Their 107-win campaign in 2021 was excellent but they followed that up with an exact .500 season in 2022. All signs point to this being the offseason that the wallet opens, with many possible routes to take, one of which leads to the Bay Area native Aaron Judge.
Total 2023 commitments: $89.15MM
Total future commitments: $111.15MM
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Carlos Rodón, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, Shelby Miller, Lewis Brinson, Dominic Leone, Zack Littell, Jarel Cotton, Willie Calhoun, Andrew Knapp, Jose Alvarez
It’s a time of transition in San Francisco, with the veterans of the last era making way for the fresh faces of the new one. On the heels of an unexpected renaissance in 2021, Buster Posey decided to retire on a high note. In 2022, they couldn’t keep the magic going, with injuries putting a damper on Brandon Crawford, Tommy La Stella, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt. Those latter two names are now free agents and might not be back, while the former two are each entering the final years of their respective contracts.
How they proceed with this era will be fascinating to watch, with many possible paths ahead of them. Since Farhan Zaidi was named president of baseball operations four years ago, the club has generally avoided long contracts, attempting to build around their veteran core with modest signings, waiver claims and prospects. (It’s worth noting they did reportedly offer Bryce Harper $310MM over 12 years, per Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area, but a deal didn’t come together.) As mentioned, the results have been mixed. They hovered around .500 in three of the four seasons since his hiring, with the 107 wins in 2021 as the huge exception.
The upside of that conservatism is that the club’s payroll is wide open. In the short term, Roster Resource estimates their 2023 payroll to currently be around $132MM. That’s well shy of 2022’s Opening Day figure of $155MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, as well as their franchise high of $201MM from 2018. The long-term picture is even better, with modest amounts still owed to Anthony DeSclafani and Wilmer Flores in 2024 and nothing besides the Flores option for 2025 and beyond. That leaves essentially all avenues open to them this winter. “From a financial standpoint, there’s nobody that would be out of our capability,” Zaidi recently told reporters, including Pavlovic.
Since no one is off the table, many people have set their sights on the very top of the free agent market, which is Aaron Judge. Towering above everyone else in more ways than one, Judge has been speculated as a fit for the Giants due to his Bay Area roots. He was born in Sacramento and raised in Linden, which is about a two-hour drive from Oracle Park. The Yankees will likely be highly motivated to prevent the Giants from poaching him, given Judge’s tremendous abilities and star power. However, there’s really nothing to make the fit in San Francisco impossible at the moment. Although Judge will command a mammoth contract, with MLBTR predicting $332MM over eight years, the Giants are one of the teams that can afford it.
In terms of the on-field fit, the Giants could make it work with Judge or just about any free agent. In recent years, they have targeted players with defensive versatility, which should help them juggle the puzzle pieces around, regardless of who they eventually acquire. The current outfield mix consists of players like LaMonte Wade Jr. Mike Yastrzemski, Luis González and Austin Slater. There’s also Joc Pederson, who received and accepted the qualifying offer last week. However, he had poor defensive numbers in 2022 and could be slated for significant time as the designated hitter. Although those outfielders all have their merits, none of them would stand in the way of Judge. Wade has spent some time at first base in recent years and could theoretically do that more going forward to de-clutter the outfield, if necessary.
The infield is currently a hodgepodge of multi-positional players, outside of Crawford. There’s Flores, La Stella, Thairo Estrada, JD Davis and David Villar, along with some depth options. Those players all have at least some ability at more than one position, giving the club plenty of flexibility in how they make their moves going forward. They have been rumored to be considering the top free agent shortstops, in addition to their interest in Judge. The fit might be awkward for one season, with Crawford being a fan favorite and the face of the franchise. He has 10-and-5 rights and isn’t likely to end up traded. It’s possible the club could sign a shortstop to play second or third for one season, then have them slide over after Crawford’s contract expires. This would be somewhat akin to the Dodgers acquiring Trea Turner while they still had Corey Seager at short. Turner played second after the trade deadline in 2021 and then moved over to short for 2022 after Seager signed with the Rangers. Turner is now one of the “Big Four” free agent shortstops alongside Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. They will all likely be able to secure nine-figure contracts but, as mentioned, the Giants are well positioned to make such a move.
Behind the plate is another area where the club could consider making an investment. Joey Bart has long been considered one of the club’s most exciting prospects, but he has yet to permanently cement himself at the big league level. He was blocked by Posey for a while but finally got some significant playing time in 2022. In 97 games, he hit .215/.296/.364 for a wRC+ of 90. That’s roughly league average offensive production for a catcher, though it came with a concerning 38.5% strikeout rate. On the other side of the ball, Bart got negative grades from both Defensive Runs Saved and the FanGraphs framing metric. He’s about to turn 26 and could still take steps forward but the club will likely want to have other options on hand. The only other backstop currently on the 40-man roster is Austin Wynnswho had a fine showing in a backup role in 2022. However, the Giants could find other options, with free agents like Omar Narvaez, Tucker Barnhart, Austin Hedges and Roberto Perez available in free agency. A bigger splash on someone like Willson Contreras is something they could afford if they aren’t really committed to giving Bart a chance, although they are more focused on other areas of the roster.
While Belt and Longoria have spent significant time with the Giants and are notable departures for nostalgia reasons, the club’s most significant free agent loss is Carlos Rodón. The lefty has long been known as a very talented pitcher, but one who struggled to stay healthy. He had a strong 2021 that erased many of those injury concerns, though not all. He pitched 132 2/3 innings for the White Sox with a 2.37 ERA but seemed to run out of gas down the stretch. The Sox were concerned enough not to give him a qualifying offer. The Giants pounced and gave Rodón a two-year, $44MM deal, although one that allowed him to opt out after the first year and return to free agency as long as he pitched 110 innings. He shot way past that, finishing the season at 178 frames and a 2.88 ERA, further distancing himself from those previous injury concerns. He made the easy decision to opt out and will now be looking for a huge payday, even after rejecting a qualifying offer from the Giants.
Zaidi has said that the club will try to retain Rodón, but they will certainly have competition. The Rangers are already known to be interested, for instance. Even without Rodón, the rotation isn’t in terrible shape. On paper right now, it would be Logan WebbAlex Cobb, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Jakob Junis. Webb and Cobb have each been good in each of the past two seasons. Wood’s 2021 ERA of 3.83 jumped to 5.10 in 2022, but with fairly similar rate stats and advanced metrics. DeSclafani is less certain at this point because his strong 2021 was followed by a frustrating 2022. He made just five starts before ankle surgery ended his season. Junis had some success in a swing role last year before getting bumped into the rotation, although his results declined after that. There’s some decent ingredients in there, although the group would certainly benefit from retaining Rodón and bumping Junis back into the bullpen. If they miss on Rodón, there are plenty of other starting pitchers available, too Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom at the top of the market, followed by guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Bassitt, Jameson Taillon, Taijuan Walker and many more.
In the bullpen, Camilo Doval seems to have stepped up and grabbed hold of the closer’s role. He tossed 67 2/3 innings in 2022, striking out 28% of batters faced and finishing with a 2.53 ERA. Those results came in high-leverage situations, with Doval racking up 27 saves. He’s yet to reach arbitration and can be retained cheaply for years to come. There are some more seasoned options behind him, like John Brebbia and Tyler Rogers. Like all clubs, the Giants are a candidate to grab a reliever or two. There are dozens of options, including Adam Ottavino, Carlos Estevez and Andrew Chaffinbut perhaps the most fun reliever to consider is Taylor Rogers signing to join his twin brother Tyler.
In the end, there’s no shortage of what the Giants can do this winter. They have as much payroll flexibility as any contender and plenty of ways to use it. That could be a huge splash like Aaron Judge, one of the big shortstops, an ace for the rotation — or spreading the money around more evenly on a bunch of mid-market options. They could plausibly be connected to most of the free agents this offseason and will surely make significant moves of some kind. Just about everything is on the menu and fans are expecting a feast of giant proportions.