The headline is a little dire, so let's start with the obvious ways the Giants could keep their 2016 first-round pick. They could sign David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, both traded in July and ineligible for the qualifying offer. They could sign Scott Kazmir and Mike Leake. They could sign Chris Denorfia and take the next four months off. If the Giants really, really, really want to keep their pick, they can.
Expecting them to do that, though, is expecting one of a couple permutations out of 8,000 or so. The Giants will get a starting pitcher. Possibly two. Everyone knows it, and they've said as much. It's extremely unlikely that they'll limit themselves to just the pick-free pitchers.
And the problem is that everyone is getting the qualifying offer. Ian Kennedy can get $15.8 million to pitch for the Padres next year, which would make him the third-highest-paid pitcher in franchise history behind Jake Peavy and James Shields, I believe. Kennedy is wet compost when he pitches against any team that isn't the Giants. He's been nearly as bad as Tim Lincecum over the last three years. He's still going to reject the qualifying offer and cost his new team a draft pick if he signs somewhere else.
Jeff Samardzija was terrible last year. He's going to cost his new team a pick. Brett Anderson was pretty okay. He's going to cost his new team a pick. Jason Heyward? He's going to cost his new team a pick. Justin Upton?
Oh, you'd better believe that's going to cost his new team a pick.
The full list of players who will get the qualifying offer will be here, eventually. The Giants will have three choices:
- Limit their big-ticket spending to Price or Cueto, then move to the second or third tiers if those pursuits are unsuccessful.
- Focus on the second and third tiers right from the start, with Scott Kazmir, Doug Fister, and Mike Leake as available available pitchers who wouldn't cost a pick.
- Not give a rip about the pick in the first place.
Dave Cameron predicted where the best free agents would go, and he had the Giants getting Jordan Zimmermann and Tony Sipp. While I'd be surprised if they allocated any of their money on semi-premium bullpen help, Zimmermann makes a ton of sense for the Giants. We've already heard from Ken Rosenthal that they'll be quite interested. And he would cost the team a pick.
If the Giants go small -- with Leake and a Leake-type complement -- with their pitching acquisitions, there would still be the matter of left field. Even Colby Rasmus would cost a pick there. They could go small with an old friend like Rajai Davis, or they could, again, target a traded player like Cespedes or Ben Zobrist. But considering the Giants are looking to fill three holes with non-chumps through free agency, the odds are overwhelmingly against them navigating the minefield and still having a first-round pick in June.
So if you're running a team, and you get a hint that your free agent spending spree is probably going to cost a pick, what do you do? You might increase your efforts on the international market, signing premium prospects to make up for it. Like, say, Lucius Fox. Who is basically an extra first-round pick. There, it's fixed. The Giants were anticipating this, and they might not be done on the international market.
Long article short: Get used to the idea. It might be Yovani Gallardo, it might be Ian Kennedy, or it might be Zack Greinke. But I've already written the pick off. If it's February and the Giants cave in and give the pick up for Kennedy, I'll froth at the mouth. In almost every other scenario, though, it's just the cost of relying on the free agent market for that final roster piece.
The Giants have a clear need. They have the money to address that need. The rules that allow them the ability to address that need, though, also call for a draft tax most of the time. While it's perfectly fine to root for a rad Price/Zobrist offseason -- that's for '92, Tampa! -- the Giants are probably giving up a pick to make the 2016 team better. I'm cool with that, depending on the players involved.