Free agency is upon us. Or at least it’s hovering above us, the circling vulture to our slowly dying, soon to be rotted carcass of a baseball season. Soon the San Francisco Giants will do things.
Those things might be actual things, like signing baseball players. Or those things might be the absence of things, like not signing baseball players.
Either way, the Giants will be involved, and baseball players will be involved, and we’ll watch the National Geographic special unfold before our eyes.
Okay, let’s put that metaphor aside and just talk about baseball. Specifically shortstops. Specifically the following question: would the Giants actually sign a top shortstop in free agency?
The question is being forced on them a tiny bit because of the uniqueness of this year’s free agency crop. Fangraphs recently released their top 50 free agents, and you know who’s number one. And yes, the Giants will be in on that guy.
But after Aaron Judge, four of the next seven players — and all four of the next position players — are shortstops. If you want to sign a top free agent position player this year, it’s Judge, or one of Trea Turner (whom Ben Clemens projects to receive a nine-year, $288 million contract), Carlos Correa (10 years, $300 million), Xander Bogaerts (seven years, $217 million), and Dansby Swanson (six years, $144 million).
So would the Giants, who haven’t wondered about who their starting shortstop would be in over a decade, really break out the checkbook for one? Let’s address the issues surrounding it.
What about Brandon Crawford?
Crawford isn’t going anywhere. Sure, he’s coming off of a down year, but even Farhan Zaidi — brought to San Francisco in part to help the team view things through a lens less clouded by sentimentality — wouldn’t even entertain the notion of parting ways with Crawford this offseason.
Crawford also finished fifth among Giants position players in fWAR a year ago. The DJ BC RAW problem in 2022 wasn’t that Crawford was bad; it was that he wasn’t nearly as good as the player who finished fourth in MVP voting the year prior.
It’s hard to see the Giants moving Crawford off of shortstop. His bat isn’t good enough to make him very valuable elsewhere on the diamond, and ... look, he’s Brandon Crawford. Since the start of 2012, the Giants have played 1,680 regular season games, and Crawford has started at shortstop in 1,390 of them.
Signing an elite free agent shortstop means platooning them at the position, and throwing them elsewhere on the diamond when a righty is on the mound. An orange and black-clad Trea Turner plays something like 50 games at shortstop, 50 at second base, 30 in the outfield, and 20 at designated hitter in 2023. It’s the same song and dance he did last year with Corey Seager.
Do any of these players want to get moved off shortstop? No. But while there are some problems that money cannot fix, not getting to play your ideal position in the first year of a decade-long contract is a problem that $200 million is likely to fix.
I also have some problems that $200 million would fix. Just saying. Giants ownership, if you’re reading this, I’m not represented by Scott Boras. I won’t hardball you.
What about the prospects?
What about them?
That may sound dismissive, but that is my stance.
I discussed this a lot when the Giants drafted Patrick Bailey in 2020. There was a sentiment that Giants were being silly by drafting a catcher so high when they already had Joey Bart in the system.
My response then was that the odds of two young prospects A) making the Majors at B) the same position they were drafted at, for C) the same team that drafted them while D) being good enough to block other players is, tragically, astronomically low (don’t think about what went wrong at NASA for something to be astronomically low).
I stand by that claim now, and history has, unfortunately, backed me up on it.
The same applies here. The Giants have six shortstops that you should absolutely be keeping your eye on.
There’s Marco Luciano, the top prospect in the organization in the eyes of most evaluators, who has played two games above High-A and is projected by many to be moved off of shortstop.
There’s Casey Schmitt, the breakout star of 2022, who will likely regress following the .432 BABIP that propelled his stint in AA, and even if he doesn’t, he’s better defensively at third base, anyway.
There’s Tyler Fitzgerald, an intriguing glove who just had an offensive season that was the definition of average in AA.
There’s Will Wilson, who looks like he could be a super competent backup infielder.
There’s Aeverson Arteaga, whom I adore, and who can celebrate Easter in 2024 by finally buying his first legal drink.
And there’s Ryan Reckley, who has played 11 games as a pro and just turned 18.
The odds of any of those players being as good as Turner are about as high as the odds of me doing something that we all know I won’t ever do. Hell, the odds of any of those players being worth as much WAR in their career as Turner and Correa will be worth in the first three years of their next contract, are slim.
Don’t bank on prospects, ever. If they happen to succeed, and you have an MVP-caliber player blocking them, well ... that’s why god invented a sport that has nine positions and then humanity added a tenth.
What about the money?
Ahhhhhh. Ahh. Ahahaha.
Wound you up for 1,000 words just to remind you that the Giants haven’t exactly earned a reputation for doling out big contracts. The last time they gave the bag to a free agent position player was when they signed Ken Griffey Jr. in the dream simulation of the 1990s that I just ran through my head. Happy times.
Except there are reasons to think the Giants are actually ready to start spending big. They haven’t been totally averse to it ... the $300+ million they offered to Bryce Harper was, no matter what your favorite KNBR-calling neighbor wants you to believe, not smoke and mirrors. Zaidi wanted Harper. Ownership was willing to spend the money.
And the last few years of Harper’s performance have validated the chase.
The Giants are in a unique position. They tried running back the 107-win team and it didn’t work. Now they are, by their own admission, expecting to compete year in and year out. But they no longer have the foundation.
Which means they probably need to buy it. And there have been enough rumors about the team’s offseason approach that we should expect them to be linked to many of the top players in free agency, at least in the “well, they swiped right on him” sense. That’s a change from last year, when “the Giants are aware that Trevor Story exists and isn’t bad at baseball” was the closet we got to a rumor involving them and a nine-figure man.
The question then becomes: are any of these four shortstops players that the Giants covet enough to dole out a big contract to?
I lean towards no, though Correa — who is both young (for a marquee free agent) and connected to new Giants GM Pete Putila — could quickly change that. I suspect that they’d rather shore up the outfield and replace Carlos Rodón than deal with a middle infielder.
Judge and Rodón or Jacob deGrom is probably the dream. If the Judge dream proves to be exactly that — a dream — then I’d guess they pivot to two mid-size contracts rather than one large one. Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, and Rodón or deGrom is probably higher on their list than Turner and Rodón or deGrom, and you can’t really fault the Giants for that.
But don’t be surprised either way. Expect the Giants to be in on at least one, if not two or three of these shortstops. But I wouldn’t expect them to be plugging one into the lineup come March.