Over the next few weeks, I’ll write about players like Todd Frazier, J.D. Martinez,
Jerry Blevins Jake McGee, and Carlos Gomez. I’ll have thoughts and opinions, and it’s possible that the Giants will sign all of them, just like it’s possible that they’ll sign Giancarlo Stanton.
Don’t count on it, though. This is going to be a bit basic for some of you, so I apologize. But I keep getting emails from Giants fans who are a little confused about the specific consequences of spending in the 2017-2018 free agent market, and I figured this would be a helpful Voxplainer for them. Not everyone is caught up on the new CBA, and you’re just going to talk about your lunch in the comments, anyway.
So here’s why the Giants are going to be extra cautious with free agency (or a trade for someone like Stanton) this year:
This would be their fourth year blowing past the competitive-balance tax
This means the Giants would pay a 50-percent penalty for every dollar they spend, which means that a $20 million player would cost the Giants $30 million in real money once they’re over the line. That’s a substantial difference. Looking at you, J.D. Martinez.
fake-ass salary cap competitive balance tax for 2018 has been set at $197 million, but it’s important to remember that’s not just salary. It’s benefits and per diem expenses and ... well, it’s complicated. Sometimes even the teams get surprised by the MLB calculations.
It’s also important to note that a player getting paid $5 million this year and $15 million next year will count as a $10 million hit against the tax. Which can also get complicated.
The important part about staying under for the Giants this year is that their penalties would reset next year. If they went over, they would pay 20 percent for every dollar spent over the line.
Without boring you with the scribbles on the back of my envelope, and factoring in some arbitration awards or settlements, it looks like the Giants will have about $15 million to spend this offseason before the luxury tax. This means they can get someone like
Blevins McGee, I would think. Jarrod Dyson, too, perhaps. But if they want to be competitive for someone like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper — look, a fella can dream — they probably don’t want to have that 50-percent penalty hanging over their heads for next offseason, which is going to be an amazing free-for-all.
And if we’re talking about Stanton, note that a payroll that’s more than $40 million over the tax would get a team’s draft pick bumped down 10 spots. (Unless the team picks in the top six, but what kind of team would spend that much money and get a high draft pick? Seems impossible. Cough.)
For the most part, though, the Giants are keen on going under that tax in most of the plausible scenarios out there.
Giants CEO Larry Baer says the team would exceed the CBT for a fourth consecutive season if the right opportunities present themselves.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) October 3, 2017
That’s for the implausible scenarios. Like Giancarlo saying, “Screw you, I want to play in San Francisco, I have the no-trade clause, so make it happen or pay me for the next decade.” Which, okay, sure.
Two of the most obvious free agent fits would cost the Giants their second- and fifth round picks and cost them $1 million in their international spending money
Those obvious fits would be Lorenzo Cain, dynamic-but-aging center fielder who can hit a little, and Mike Moustakas, a third baseman who is a very bad idea. If they were normal free agents, they would cost money and nothing else. As is, they’re more like a deadline trade, in which the Giants give up prospects to get a player who is getting paid full market value, without the other team kicking in money to offset the salary. The penalties for signing a player that was extended a qualifying offer are onerous.
Then factor in that those draft picks are more like first- and fourth-round picks because the Giants are picking so high. It’s hard to see how they would give that up, when it would be cheaper (financially, if not in terms of prospects) to trade for comparable players.
This also applies to seven other players. It doesn’t apply to J.D Martinez, who was traded midseason.
The Giants already have the highest payroll obligations in baseball for 2019, 2020, and 2021
No team has more money committed to future payrolls after next year. Think about that. They have more money committed than the Dodgers and Yankees. They nearly have as much money committed for 2020 as the Cubs and Red Sox put together. That’s the cost of keeping fan-favorites around and making them lifelong Giants.
Again, that’s not going to stop them from signing
Blevins McGee for three years or pushing up against the tax. But if a team is talking about adding J.D. Martinez and pushing their commitments to $150 million in 2020 with a bunch of over-30 dudes, they’d better have a robust farm system they can count on to fill in the games.
That does not describe the Giants.
In short, the Giants will blow this all up to get a player who can singlehandedly spark a resurgence in fan interest and help start a new sellout streak. That is, Stanton. And maybe Shohei Ohtani, who won’t cost nearly enough to worry about because of dumb rules and red tape.
The smart money is on a combination of modest signings and trades. There’s an outside shot at Stanton, I guess, but it’s more of a half-court heave. My guess is the Giants make some trades and sign some free agents to modest deals, then reset and see what they can spend on next year, once they’re below the salary cap. That’s not to say that they won’t be active or dramatically reshape the team, but that they won’t do it by spending more money than the other guys.
Prove me wrong, Giants. Prove me wrong.
(Wait, no, don’t prove me wrong. Be smart and wait for Machado, but only if you bat him ahead of Ohtani when he’s not pitching. I don’t know.)