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How much can the Giants spend in free agency, anyway?

The Giants can certainly sign David Price or Zack Greinke and stay under the luxury tax. But what would that mean for the rest of the roster?

Pitch face is brought to you by Willem Dafoe chewing the scenery in Boondock Saints
Pitch face is brought to you by Willem Dafoe chewing the scenery in Boondock Saints
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The offseason is great for running around and spending other people's money. It's like thumbing through a billionaire's yacht catalog and picking out the features you would want (oooh, a helipad!). Except with baseball players, you'll eventually get to enjoy whatever they decide on. So much fun.

I, for, one, think the Giants should bring payroll up to $300 million this offseason.

Except it's probably useful to dig into exactly what the Giants could get with their money. How much do they have to spend? How many roster spots do they have to fill? How many full-time players (starting pitchers and position players) do they need? What are smart people predicting the best free agents will cost?

So many questions. This is going to get wonky. Skip this section if you just want the answer to how much the Giants can spend.


We'll start with some assumptions. Feel free to disagree.

  • The Giants will want to pay Hector Sanchez whatever he'll make in arbitration, even if he isn't the backup catcher.
  • George Kontos is a part of the 2016 bullpen plan, as is Josh Osich
  • Kelby Tomlinson will be on the bench
  • The Giants will non-tender or trade Yusmeiro Petit

There was going to be something in there about Chris Heston, but for the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming that he's in the pool of potential players on the 25-man roster, akin to Jarrett Parker and Ehire Adrianza, not a given.

The Giants are likely to commit around $137 million to 20 players

Of those, 19 will probably be on the roster (with Hector Sanchez the omission). The estimates for the arbitration-eligible players are via MLB Trade Rumors.

Matt Cain $21.00 million
Buster Posey $20.00
Hunter Pence $18.50
Jake Peavy $15.00
Angel Pagan $11.25
Madison Bumgarner $9.75
Sergio Romo $9.00
Santiago Casilla $6.50
Brandon Belt $6.20
Brandon Crawford $5.70
Javier Lopez $5.00
Gregor Blanco $3.90
George Kontos $1.00
Hector Sanchez $0.90
Joe Panik $0.60
Matt Duffy $0.60
Andrew Susac $0.60
Hunter Strickland $0.60
Josh Osich $0.60
Kelby Tomlinson $0.60
Total (estimate): $137.30 million

And some notes ...

Of the six roster spots that are up in the air, three to four of them can be filled for close to the league minimum

For example: Heston as the long reliever, Parker as a fifth outfielder, and Adrianza as the utility infielder. Or (minor league free agent) as the last reliever, (minor league free agent) as the fifth outfielder, and (random Brendan Ryan-type dude) as the utility infielder.

There are a lot of ways to mix and match for those spots without spending much at all.

The Giants aren't going to want to go over the Competitive Balance Tax

Steve Berman makes a lot of sense explaining why over at Bay Area Sports Guy. The penalties are cumulative, meaning the Giants will have to pay even more if they go over the salary cap tax threshold again.

The threshold is $189 million in 2016, just as it was last year. Except the Giants went over it in 2015, even though their payroll was just over $170 million. That's because a) the total figure includes benefits and other non-salary considerations, and b) the figure uses the average salary of a contract every year, not what they're actually paid. Jake Peavy was paid $9 million last year and is owed $15 million in 2016, but he counts as a $12 million hit both years.


So I'm going to guess the Giants are going to hover around that $170 million mark again. All that business here about the Giants increasing payroll every year? The salary cap tax threshold got them this time. Might not happen.

This all leaves the Giants about $30 to $35 million to acquire two or three starting players.

/confetti falls

This might disappoint you. Or it might intrigue you! I don't know you. But let's look at what this could get the Giants, using Dave Cameron's projections at FanGraphs. How much does $30 million buy a team on the open market?

  • One (1) David Price or Zack Greinke

That's it. If you want to go big with a starter, you start Blanco in left and put Heston (or Clayton Blackburn) in the rotation. This is not a completely asinine strategy. Just a risky one.

  • Gerardo Parra, J.A. Happ, and Scott Kazmir

Oh, my stars, does that sound like a Giants offseason. At this point, that's not even an insult. Giants offseasons tend to be secretly awesome every other year, somehow. This would lack a certain amount of sex appeal, alright, but at least the Giants would keep their pick, right?


  • Chris Davis and Ryan Vogelsong (or an equivalent starter).

Davis would suck up almost the entire budget on his own. They're not even going to pretend to pursue him, not unless someone will take Angel Pagan, salary and all, which is extraordinarily unlikely.

Vogelsong is just a proxy for "pitcher who costs under $5 million," but you could totally see that signing happening, too. The Davis signing? Less so.

  • Dexter Fowler and Mike Leake

You can see the problem with spreading the money between a left fielder and a pitcher. It's probably better to cross your fingers with Mac Williamson as a Blanco complement in left and spend big on one pitcher. Or split the money on two pitchers, like ...

  • Wei-Yin Chen and Jeff Samardzija

I like Chen a lot, and while Samardzija was dreadful last year, I still think U.S. Cellular and miserable White Sox defense didn't help him. Feel free to substitute Leake or Kazmir or Iwakuma or Gallardo or ....

The Giants can certainly pick two second-tier pitchers. If the pitchers will have them. Which isn't a guarantee.

  • Justin Upton and Bartolo Colon

It would be amusing! If you're wary about spending big on pitchers, who break down, this might be your cuppa joe. While Upton isn't the supernatural offensive force he was supposed to be, he's still pretty good, and he would make a deep Giants lineup much deeper.

Colon would be fun. Until he started giving up runs. Still! Lots and lots of fun.

Are you enjoying these options? They're not all horrible, not all awful. Certainly not as impressive as you might have hoped. You can use Cameron's projections to mix and match. But there are other options, too.

  • An expensive free agent up there and a trade we aren't thinking about

This makes a lot of sense. This is probably the year they cash in on their 401(susac) and get a young pitcher who costs less than Samardzija would, then signs someone for market value. Or gets an outfielder who costs less than Fowler, then signs a pitcher or two. Or ... you get the idea.

The problem here is that the Giants aren't exactly overflowing with top-100 prospects, so they aren't going to be trading for the most desirable young players on the market. Still, if they don't want to go over the Competitive Balance Tax, a trade might be an easy way to get a player making less than market value.

There's another possibility, too: Maybe the Giants don't really care about the Competitive Balance Tax.

Unlikely! But the penalty for going over it again in 2016 would be 30 percent of the amount they're over. So if they went $20 million over to sign both Price and Upton, they would pay just over $6 million in taxes (after benefits and such are accounted for). And what's $6 million among friends? Say it with me again: Not. My. Money.

It's someone's money, though, and Larry Baer is on record as saying he doesn't anticipate the Giants going over the cap again. So you have about $30 million or so. The Giants can buy one star, two solid contributors, or three raffle tickets. We'll know what the correct answer is by this time next year. Hopefully, the Giants don't screw it up.

/tosses cat into even-year volcano