This morning, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com published a sort of preview of a free agency preview. Among the many items mentioned (it’s free to everyone at the moment), the Giants popped up a few times: extending the qualifying offer to Madison Bumgarner, extending the qualifying offer to Will Smith, and most surprisingly, being “positioned and motivated to explore adding [Gerrit] Cole.”
Passan is an industry insider who seems to have many sources on many teams throughout the league. This isn’t a Jon Morosi situation where he basically knows people with the Tigers and the Brewers or a Bob Nightengale situation where he just talks to a few ancient scouts.
On the other hand, suggesting that the Giants might be in a position to add Gerrit Cole sort of betrays the idea of insider. The Giants have no shot of landing Gerrit Cole, and I would think an industry insider would know that. Am I being serious? I think so. At this point, the Giants’ pursuit of top free agents has reached a parodic level of failure. We’re probably supposed to feel like there have been a series of near-misses, but the truth seems to be a lot closer to agents using the team’s deep pockets to drive up the price for their client.
Does that mean the Giants should not even bother to reach out to him? Of course not. Outside of Anthony Rendon, Cole figures to be the best free agent on the market and the Giants could really use a front-line starting pitcher, whether or not they re-sign Madison Bumgarner. A rotation of Cole, Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija could be magical.
After the Astros got their hands on him, he became a top-5 Cy Young vote-getter, and in two seasons against American League lineups, he has a 2.82 FIP in 364 IP, 12.7 K/9, and 151 ERA+. He turns 29 on September 8th, and he’ll have thrown about 1200 major league innings by the time he gets to choose his next team. For context: Madison Bumgarner had over 1400 innings on his arm (playoffs included) by the time he turned 27.
Jeff Passan might be speculating based on information we’re not privy to and it’s right and good for you, me, and everyone between to dream big about the Giants signing a premiere free agent. By all means, include the Giants on a list of potential offseason suitors for one of the best pitchers in the game, but a caveat would be important in this situation to distinguish the team from the rest of that list (Yankees, Phillies, Angeles, White Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, and Braves).
Alright people, let’s do this one last time. My name is Peter B. Parker ...
I-I mean —
Alright, people, let’s do this one last time. Of course the Giants aren’t getting Gerrit Cole or any premiere free agent because:
Free agents don’t like San Francisco
As Brian Sabean has explained:
”To entice a free agent to come to San Francisco, we’re almost in an overpay situation, so why get involved in all those battles where you’re not going to be able to go up the totem pole money-wise? ... You’ve got the state of California taxes. (San Francisco) is a long way from where some of these guys live in the offseason. It’s not a hitters’ ballpark, so you can scratch that side of the fence. It takes the right pitcher to consider wanting to come there for a number of different reasons, some of them I just mentioned, even if it’s a pitchers’ ballpark in a pitchers’ division.”
He made that comment during the Giancarlo Stanton Watch of 2017, but the same idea held true during the Bryce Harper Huddle of 2018.
We can assume that the “problem” of high state income taxes might be less of one for California native Gerrit Cole, but that doesn’t mean he’d be more likely to choose San Francisco over, say, his “hometown” team of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Oracle Park might help him, but again, he’s already pretty great. That’s not going to be a deciding factor. And why wouldn’t he prefer the Dodgers if they came calling? He went to UCLA. They’re a hometown team, too.
Now, you might argue that the family connection might be an equalizer here. Could 32-year old Brandon Crawford convince his brother-in-law to play with him in San Francisco for the final two years of his career as a Giant? Crawford might not even be the starting shortstop next season. Still, family is family, and perhaps Crawford’s presence might be enough to help the Giants at least get a meeting.
Part of Crawford’s pitch, though, would involve team culture and continuity, an idea that takes a huge hit by Bruce Bochy’s retirement. Cole knows that Crawford can’t know how the team will be in 2020 and beyond without the steady hand of his Hall of Fame manager.
Without Bruce Bochy, what other pull might the team have? The longest tenured Giants likely to still be on the roster should any conversations take place (Crawford, Posey, and Belt) are also in the twilight of their careers. The franchise is still in a state of transition, a situation Cole managed to escape when the Pirates traded him to the Astros.
After a taste of the postseason in two consecutive seasons and elite-level performance, doesn’t it make the most sense that he’d feel like signing with the Giants would needlessly waste the final great years of his career?
The Farhan Factor
Zack Greinke made his free agent decision in part based on how he perceived Arizona’s future potential to be over the Giants’ (they also offered more money). With Farhan Zaidi running the show, the Giants don’t have to worry about players struggling to imagine the team being good in the near future and competitive well beyond the short-term. Having Zaidi as the President of Baseball Operations is a huge plus.
On the other hand, a huge contract to a #1 starter might not fall into Zaidi’s preferred zone of action. Sure, there’s a nonzero chance the Giants re-sign Madison Bumgarner to a short-term, high-AAV deal, but the short-term part is a lot more important than the AAV in that case. It also helps that the price tag would be something ownership would be more willing to sign off on. After the Barry Zito deal, maybe the idea of signing another big ticket pitcher to a 5-7 year deal won’t sit well with a group of people who will have to approve any overages to annual payroll or the competitive balance tax threshold.
Farhan Zaidi might just not want to sign a pitcher to a long-term contract with an AAV of $27-$33 million a year. That goes for Bumgarner, too. We don’t yet have a ton of experience with him when it comes to free agents and star players. We know that he wants star players on the team and Gerrit Cole would give the Giants a #1 starting pitcher. We know that he’s willing to make competitive offers for star players, too. Signing Cole wouldn’t stop the Giants from making other big moves, either (Will Smith getting the qualifying offer?). At the same time, maybe he’d just prefer to keep the team’s first round draft pick (which they’d have to surrender once Cole turned down Houston’s qualifying offer) and spread that $27-$33 million AAV around.
Maybe he knows that the Giants are still a year or two away from being competitive. Will Cole be as valuable to the team in 2022 as he will be in 2020 and 2021? That’s probably the main question he and the front office might seek to answer before making contact with Scott Boras.
And there’s reason #1A why the Giants won’t sign Gerrit Cole. Boras isn’t a villain here, but he’s not going to take a lesser deal for his client. He knows the Giants have enough money to make an offer in the ballpark of what he wants for Cole and the experience to use that as leverage to get even more from another team.
There’s nothing fun about dreaming small, but the Giants have succeeded this year because of atypical moves and moves they didn’t make. Had Bryce Harper signed with the team, we might not have discovered Alex Dickerson or Mike Yastrzemski.
Sure, neither guy might carry over their numbers or even be on next year’s roster, but their acquisition and small sample size success serve as bright flashing lights to the organization and fans that the team will be able to find players who can contribute. They have a plan that works. Eventually, they will assemble enough talent to field a playoff-caliber team. Gerrit Cole makes any team better, but he won’t make the Giants into a playoff team overnight, either.
Where will Gerrit Cole sign?
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