The Giants’ bullpen might actually be a team strength this year. I’m trying to maintain healthy skepticism, and there are a lot of contingencies and ifs (the health of Mark Melancon and Will Smith, Sam Dyson’s effectiveness, etc ...), but I’m starting to get excited. Smith and Tony Watson have a chance to be as effective as Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, who were a delightful tandem for years and years. From 2010 through 2014, the Giants had an instant bullpen advantage from the left side, and they might have something like that again.
This improved bullpen might have come at a cost, though. The Giants were super creative to get Watson, giving him a player option and escalators that helped keep his average annual value under the luxury tax threshold. But they’re still close to going over. And according to Spotrac, the Giants are a little more than $4 million under the tax. That’s for these 18 players:
Now start counting up what’s missing: two outfielders, two starting pitchers, two relievers, and one infielder. That’s seven players, each of whom will make a minimum of $545,000.
They’ll combine for at least $3.815 million, and that’s without including benefits, which the luxury tax doesn’t include. Now the Giants’ cap figure is at $196.5 million, give or take. Then add in all of the prorated major league minimum salaries the team will have to pay to players on the Sacramento shuttle. I still don’t see how they’re going to get under the threshold. It’ll be close.
If the Giants stink again, they can trade away salary at the deadline and still get under the cap by the end of the year. So it’s possible that’s the plan: go over the tax for a winning team, avoid it entirely if they have another 2017.
But I’m assuming that the plan is to avoid that threshold entirely. It’s why they weren’t interested in Yu Darvish, who might be better than Ty Blach. It’s why it took them so long to sign Watson. They really, really want to stay under that fake salary cap.
Anyway, my point is that Derek Holland, Andres Blanco, and Gregor Blanco are probably screwed. If the Giants are going to stay under the threshold, they’ll have to rely on players making the minimum salary. If either of the Blancos make the 25-man roster, they’ll receive $1.1 million in salary, which might be enough to push the payroll over. Holland will get $1.5 million, with the possibility of incentives pushing him to $2.5 million, and that would almost certainly push them over.
That isn’t to say that these three have absolutely zero chance of making the team. If Holland is throwing 94 with command and dominating the Cactus League, I’m sure the Giants would gamble on him and worry about the luxury tax later. If injuries rip through the team’s outfielder corps, it’s possible that Gregor Blanco will help them feel more secure with their depth. There are ways to get these players on the team.
There are a lot more ways to keep them off. Andres Blanco is battling low-cost players like Kelby Tomlinson and Alan Hansen. Gregor Blanco is battling Gorkys Hernandez and Steven Duggar. Holland is battling Ty Blach, Andrew Suarez, and Tyler Beede. Considering where the Giants are in relation to the luxury tax threshold, I’ll bet on the younger guys making the major-league minimum. It’s far more likely that we’ll see those 18 players up there supplemented with something like this:
Before getting Watson, the Giants were doing the right thing: stashing raffle tickets away, just in case. After Watson, though, it seems pretty clear that this isn’t a roster situation that will call for veterans who are making three times what their younger counterparts will make.
Unless there are some surprises, I’m not sure if we should get used to the idea of Gregor Blanco or Derek Holland on the 2018 Giants. It could happen. There are lots of paths to that outcome. From here, though, it looks like the Giants are trying to thread a tiny, tiny needle. It was already unlikely that there were going to be two Blancos on the same team. With Watson in the bullpen, it’s extremely unlikely that a lot of these veterans will make the Opening Day roster.
(I still think they should sign R.A. Dickey, but I’m stubborn like that.)