Former GM Bobby Evans had three goals for 2018: 1) reset the Giants’ competitive balance tax penalty by staying under the $197 million threshold, 2) make a 98-loss team look better than a 98-loss team without getting rid of most of the players who helped create a 98-loss team, and 3) keep his job. Two out of three ain’t bad in this case.
This means that the Giants will be able to spend up to $206 million in 2019 before having to pay only 20% of the total over that amount. For the past two seasons, they’d been paying a 50% tax on dollars over the threshold. Currently, the Giants’ payroll is around $138 million.
That all sounds very nice. After all, the franchise isn’t hurting for money and ownership has been willing to greenlight big ticket “purchases” to make the major league team competitive. Were this a season that hadn’t followed two consecutive losing seasons and ended more or less with the departure of the general manager, then I think we’d all be right to feel good about how the Giants might go about restocking and improving their team.
What we now know is that the organization is ready to evolve. That might mean leaving behind everything that’s mattered. That might mean not really bothering to play in free agency. We don’t know who the Giants will hire to replace Bobby Evans, but that person (or duo) has their work cut out for them. Free agency, then, will be a place to find 1-2 year stopgap players — innings eaters and veterans on team-friendly contracts that can be flipped at the deadline — and no place to grab generational talents. No place to grab players who’ve been extended a Qualifying Offer, either. That list:
Players have until November 12th at 2pm Pacific to accept or decline the offers. If they accept, they’ll be awarded a $17.9 million contract for 2019. If they decline, a team that signs them to a deal will be penalized by having to forfeit their second and fifth round draft picks in the 2019 draft as well as $1 million in international bonus money. That’s a steep price, one that a rebuild — ahem — reloading team probably shouldn’t pay. We should assume, then, that the Giants are out on these seven players.
That doesn’t mean it’s a hopeless situation. A team with money to spend, even when rebuilding, is a team with money to spend. We might see the Giants use their flexibility to grab decent players with bad contracts or simply take on bad contracts to get good prospects back in trade for their decent-ish players (their relievers and maybe someone like Brandon Belt or Evan Longoria).
So, that means no Bryce Harper, but maybe Jason Heyward or Dexter Fowler. No Patrick Corbin, but maybe Alex Cobb or Ian Kennedy. Remember: the Giants are just going to try to tread water for a couple of years and see if they can soft rebuild. If they blow past that $206 limit this season to, let’s say, $220 million, they’ll pay only an extra $2.8 million for the privilege rather than an extra $7 million. That’s a big enough difference to matter.
It’s the Keuchel offer that bums me out the most. He seemed like the perfect guy to replace Andrew Suarez when the Giants included him in a trade for an outfield bat. The new GM will have plenty of financial wherewithal and roster space (5 open spots on the 40-man at present after the Giants outrighted Pierce Johnson) to be creative and get weird, so let’s hope for that. Not to say it’s impossible that the Giants could pursue a Qualifying Offered-player, but why should they?
All of those players have a chance to win with their original teams and a better chance with teams willing to lose two draft picks and international bonus money to sign them than they would with the Giants. It’s lose-lose for both player and team. Then again, I want to watch really good players on my favorite baseball team, so I’m not going to think too hard about it if Bryce Harper happens (although it most definitely will not happen).