Even if the San Francisco Giants’ deal with Carlos Correa hadn’t fallen through, they were only ever going to be the third-best team in the NL West in 2023.
Oh sure, it’s baseball. Surprises are why we watch. It wouldn’t take too much breaking right for the team to steal the second spot, and after 2021, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the front office’s program push them to the front of the pack with some skillful scouting, sequencing, and a little luck.
Without Carlos Correa, the chance for a surprise becomes infinitesimal. How large of a difference you see between that chance and infinitesimal might be the measure of magnitude for your feelings right now. And oh yes, you should have feelings about this shocking turn of events. We should all have feelings about this. Strong ones, even. That’s the natural consequence of being a sports fan. Sometimes, it sucks.
So, how could any of this possibly be a good thing? Well, back to my main point: the Giants were going to be an exciting third-best team in the NL West this year. Now they will be less exciting. What a 13-year deal with Carlos Correa promised was a better tomorrow, and without him on the team, that better tomorrow both looks and seems far less probable.
But Correa would’ve been papering over the organization’s flaws.
Yes, Carlos Correa would’ve made the Giants better. Teams should be doing everything they can to improve their competitiveness and as often as possible. Teams get better not just by signing top of the market free agents, but also by trades, drafts, and player development. They also have confident leadership.
From a purely competitive standpoint, the Giants just aren’t there with the top of the league. Not from a player development standpoint nor from a major league roster standpoint and now, after this offseason it’s clear that they’re overmatched from a competition standpoint at the ownership level, too. Carlos Correa didn’t sign with the Mets because the Giants had questions about the medicals. Carlos Correa signed with the Mets because Steve Cohen wanted Carlos Correa on the Mets.
The Giants take great pride in their process. It’s working because they haven’t committed to Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon long-term. They were competitive in their negotiations with Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, and Carlos Correa. They didn’t come away with any of those players, but in the case of Correa, the medicals exceeded their comfort level and their hesitation gave Scott Boras’s client the wiggle room to move on. Can the process get them out of a jam created by the process?
The Giants have always done their own thing. This ownership group alienated the core of the league by how they swept in to save the Giants from relocation (breaking all norms to sign Barry Bonds to an historic deal, too) and pissed them off by privately financing their stadium. I can remember Winter Meetings writeups about how Brian Sabean & co. stayed on the fringes and didn’t really associate with the other GMs. So, it’s no surprise that they’d let a medical examination sour a deal. It’s not embarrassing to them. It’s righteous.
Brian Sabean spent years building a team around Barry Bonds that involved finding discarded players and squeezing out their last few ounces of baseball juice. Farhan Zaidi has done just about the same thing, the only tweaks being that instead of Barry Bonds it’s his sabermetric model. What both men have in common and what the Correa loss puts a spotlight as bright as the sun on now is that every year they have to put on The Best Damn Talent Show This Team Has Ever Seen because their prospect pipeline sucks turds.
The Giants weren’t going to get very far with Carlos Correa and Joc Pederson-type finds. A better future meant Carlos Correa and Marco Luciano and Casey Schmitt and Luis Matos... or prospects like them who actually realized high ceilings. Whatever tingles of excitement those prospect names might give you should be tempered by the franchise’s track record with prospects. The only measurable thing that has changed for the Giants in the last few hours is that they lost out on Carlos Correa.
That’ll have a lot of knock-on effects over the next several months, possibly years. We know the Giants’ ownership group won’t be taken seriously by national media (if they ever were) which could impact how players across the league perceive them. Just pretend Shohei Ohtani doesn’t exist. Juan Soto? That’s a no-no. The Giants will find some support from fans and pundits for sticking to their guns about a player’s medicals, especially since it involved $350 million, but free agents won’t.
I’m not all that interested in how the Giants decide to spin this and they might not try that hard to spin it. The Giants are more a real estate company than a baseball team at this point anyway and major league teams turn a profit every year before a single pitch is thrown. Fan support just doesn’t figure as much into their financial model as you might think, even if we all know their financial model matters more than anything else. They can say they tried.
What does it mean for current Giants players? Will they see it as some sort of betrayal by either side, something so embarrassing that they don’t want to talk about it, or forget about it since every baseball player is an island unto himself? Who knows. That’s why Gabe Kapler’s in the clubhouse. His job has been to sell platoons and everything else players might take issue with as though they are worthwhile challenges with more upside than downside in the process of tackling them. And it’ll mean that Farhan Zaidi has become the face of the franchise. He’s shown that his model works as a replacement for actual talent.
Will he want to stick around now knowing the limits of what’s possible? Can the Giants afford to let him walk? Will they designate him as a fall guy? Or will all of this tension evaporate the moment the Giants win 90 games with Mitch Haniger and Tommy La Stella leading the charge?
The post-championship era project revolved around building a “sustainable” winner in the A’s mold, where the team didn’t break the bank (though having the financial flexibility to retain select stars who emerged from the system) but kept fans happy with repeating success. After all, we just root for laundry, right? Zaidi — not Carlos Correa — is the central figure of this project.
The Giants must now look inward. No, no, not at themselves. LOL. Of course not. All of the dudes running the place are too successful for self-reflection. No, they must figure out a way to flip their player development pipeline from a negative into a positive. Will ownership commit to that project as they did in their pursuit of Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa? Or does ownership suck (they’re trending suck btw)?
If they do wind up committing more resources to the stated goal of being a sustainable winner, will that help Zaidi, GM Pete Putila, farm director Kyle Haines, international scouting director Joe Salermo, and amateur scouting director Michael Holmes or expose their limitations? Or will it reveal that player development — like success at signing top of the market free agents — is a skill that only a few organizations have? Is it all just luck? If the Giants had Carlos Correa on the team those questions wouldn’t be on everyone’s mind.
Carlos Correa was never going to make the Giants great, and now we get to see without distraction if “great” was ever possible.