Spring Training games start this week, and spring means that we have to be wildly optimistic about the upcoming season. Hope springs eternal and all that. The Giants could make it to the playoffs this year, you know? After all, every team starts at 0-0. In a vacuum, the Giants’ playoff odds are as high as any other team.
Except we’re not in a vacuum. With all the projections we have, we sort of know how well the Giants are going to do this year. The 2019 Giants will not be a good team. Both PECOTA and FanGraphs are projecting them to win somewhere between 74 and 77 games. Not only will that not be enough to get them into the postseason, it might not be enough to get them out of last place. A division title seems impossible, and even a wild card berth won’t be a lot easier considering how competitive the other two divisions will be.
The Cubs are projected to finish last in the NL Central at 79-83. Last season, the Rangers and Cincinnati Reds were the best last-place teams at 67 wins. If you know any Cubs fans, you should absolutely bring this up with them. If there’s anything I know about Cubs fans, it’s that they love to talk about the nuances of complex algorithms.
In the NL East, the Phillies and Braves are projected to duke it out for fourth place. Each of those teams are projected for 85 wins. There are nine teams in the National League who have a good shot at a Wild Card spot.
The Giants don’t have much of a chance of making the playoffs, but there’s still a chance. What would have to happen for the Giants to defy the odds and play into October? What could the Giants do to get Bruce Bochy one last shot at a fourth ring?
They could sign every remaining upgrade on the free agent market. Spring Training games start in less than a week and there are still 10 players on MLB Trade Rumor’s Top 50 free agents list that have gone unsigned.
What if the Giants signed all of them? Not just Bryce Harper and maybe Marwin Gonzalez, but all of them regardless of fit. What if Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, and Craig Kimbrel were all Giants next year? What if the Giants threw some money at Adam Jones and Gio Gonzalez not because they should, but because they could?
Below are my well-calculated and extremely thought out prediction of what it would take to get the remaining stars along with their projected fWAR from Steamer. (Okay, fine I just looked at the MLB Trade Rumors predictions and adjusted them down a bit.)
Bryce Harper: 10 years, $350 Million; 4.9 fWAR
Manny Machado: 10 years, $350 million; 5.2 fWAR
Dallas Keuchel: 3 years, $60 million; 3.2 fWAR
Craig Kimbrel: 4 years, $75 million; 1.4 fWAR
Marwin Gonzalez: 2 years, $20 million; 1.6 fWAR
Gio Gonzalez: 1 year, $8 million; 0.8 fWAR
Adam Jones: 1 year, $7 million; 1.0 fWAR
Combined, that would add a cool $133.75 million to the Giants payroll this offseason. Adding that to $164.5 the Giants already have committed, that brings the 2019 payroll to $298.25 million. That’s $92.25 million above the competitive balance tax threshold or a full Oakland Athletics payroll the Giants would be paying taxes on.
Since the Giants reset their penalty last season, they would be considered first time offenders. Ordinarily, teams that go above the threshold are taxed at a 20% rate, but the penalty increases to 42.5 if a team exceeds the threshold by $40 million or more. That means the Giants would be paying $39.2 million in penalties. That’s less than optimal, but what else are they going to spend that money on? They’ve already bought every player they could.
They could pay minor leaguers a living wage.
They could do that anyway!
Financially, this would be quite onerous, but the Giants could afford it. The Giants’ Opening Day payroll would surpass even the 2015 Dodgers, who *checks notes* did not win the World Series. Would this be worth it? Would the Giants even be good if they effectively doubled their payroll?
That group of players is worth a combined 18.1 fWAR. Adding 18 wins would put the Giants’ win total somewhere in the mid-90s. The Dodgers are expected to win the division with 93 wins, so at first glance, the Giants could win the division and all it would take is an unprecedented spending spree.
It’s not quite so simple as that though. These ringers would be taking playing time away from players might not be that much worse. Wins need to be subtracted before they’re added.
Let’s say the additional depth of Jones and Gio Gonzalez ensures the Giants are getting at least one win out of center field and the fifth spot in the rotation. Maybe that certainty means half a win over what the Giants would have done otherwise. We can also assume that Marwin Gonzalez and Bryce Harper are sliding into otherwise replacement level slots, so we can add those wins directly. Between those four players, the Giants are up to seven more wins.
With Manny Machado, things get a little trickier. His playing time would come at the expense of Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford. Maybe Longoria plays first on Belt’s off-days and when/if he gets hurt. Maybe Machado gets some time at second, too. Losing playing time to Machado means that the rest of the infield is somewhere around two wins worse, but overall, the Giants are three wins better.
Now, they’re at 85-88 wins. They can start thinking about a wild card spot, and depending on what Keuchel and Kimbrel add, they can set their sights on the division.
The seventh or eighth guy in the bullpen probably isn’t much better than replacement, so Kimbrel probably means another win. If the fifth spot is worth a win, Keuchel’s three wins probably means that him and whoever he pushes out is around two wins. That’s putting the Giants somewhere around 90 wins.
That should be enough for the wild card, but they’re probably a Mike Moustakas away from the division crown. If you’re underwhelmed with Farhan Zaidi’s first offseason, remember that he could have doubled the Giants’ payroll and the Giants still wouldn’t have been a sure division-winner.