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Dare denied: the Giants won’t have a $200 million payroll in 2023

Was the design of the offseason fluid or always a Plan A (Judge or Correa) or Plan B (aggregate value)?

Bank Vault Photo by: Edwin Remsberg/VW Pics /Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As someone rarely dared and who rarely accepts when dared, I totally get why the San Francisco Giants didn’t take me up on my dare back in September to spend $200 million on their 2023 payroll. But I still think they should have. Their roster would look even better.

Oh sure, they tried to spend a chunk of money on Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa. We never really got a sense of how deep they were “in on” Carlos Rodón, though, and it was never totally clear just how connected all these moves were. Was it either Judge/Correa or Rodón? Was it either Judge/Correa or Haniger, Conforto, Stripling, Manaea, and Taylor Rogers? We don’t know, we might never know, and if we do learn all of this the answer might not sound all that convincing. The Giants like to keep it vague.

The Giants also have a lot of money, and that’s why I think they should’ve tried to power wash 2022’s loser vibe with a spending spree. They went out and spent $228,310,000 which should qualify as a spree. It just doesn’t feel that way.

For one thing, $19.65 million of that is the qualifying offer that Joc Pederson accepted. $29.66 million equals the ten arbitration-eligible players they tendered contracts. $16.5 million belongs to reliever Luke Jackson, who is more of a John Brebbia-level experiment who might not help out the 2023 team until the second half while he rehabs from TJ. That’s nearly 30% of spending to maintain the status quo.

The point of the dare was to get them to spend to be better! I wanted them to commit to using one of their primary competitive advantages — financial resources — to shore up a roster that had disappointed in 2022 and projected to disappoint — by their own admission — again in 2023, knowing that the only real way the Giants will be Actually Good, Maybe Even Great can come through their player development system.

Now, maybe David Villar excels with regular playing time. Maybe Kyle Harrison hits the ground running. Maybe Joey Bart does break out or at least improve at the plate. Heliot Ramos could, too. These are all plausible scenarios. It’s clear the team did not approach the offseason with these being probabilities, though, and so I wonder if they went far enough.

That $228.31 million spree gives the Giants projected competitive balance tax payrolls of $209 million in 2023, $113 million in 2024, and $53 million in 2025. Remember, though: the dare wasn’t to spend to get their competitive balance tax number up beyond $200 million, it was to get the “real money” spend to that level:

[...] two hundred million dollars.

That’s the minimum bar for entry if you want to be taken seriously as a professional baseball team. Here are this year’s NL playoff contenders with their [2022] Opening Day raw payrolls (according to Cot’s MLB Contracts), and their competitive balance tax (CBT) number in parenthesis:

LAD - $280.8 million ($302.3)
NYM - $264.4 million ($287.9)
PHI - $228.7 million ($237.1)
SD - $211.2 million ($230.3)
ATL - $177.6 million ($206.1)
STL - $155.3 million ($174.4)
MIL - $131.9 million ($149.5)

Annnnnnd the Giants:

SFG - $155.4 million ($171.6)

Here’s how that looks heading into Spring Training 2023 (CBT in parenthesis; percentage increase in brackets):

NYM - $345.9 million ($364.4) [+30.8%]
SDP - $244.7 million ($267.3) [+15.9%]
PHI - $237.2 million ($244.9) [+3.7%]
LAD - $210.38 million ($238.38) [-25.1%]
ATL - $195.1 million ($234.3) [+9.9%]
SFG - $182.54 million ($208.9) [+17.5%]
STL - $174.8 million ($195.1) [+12.6%]
MIL - $115.1 million ($133.7) [-12.7%]

Hey! That’s... basically the same, from the Giants standpoint. They’re in the bottom three with St. Louis and Milwaukee. And new for 2023: the Cubs, whose real money payroll increased 23% to $176.1 million and has a CBT figure of $216.2 million. So, the Giants are the financial kings of the midwest.

Here’s where I point out that 6% of their 2023 real dollar figure is the $10,780,000 they’ll pay Tommy La Stella (who gets the remaining $720,000 on the $11.5 million he’s owed via the Mariners, who signed him to a major league deal last week). So, more than one third of the team’s financial commitments don’t really fall under the banner of improvement.

Let’s look at the remaining moves. I’m going to take Ken Rosenthal’s tweet as being true:

The Giants wanted Judge and Haniger — fine. What about Michael Conforto? That signing came right after the Correa deal fell through. Would it be reasonable to speculate that they turned to him after Judge used them to get his Yankees deal? I think so. It makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense because the timing wouldn’t be quite right is turning to Conforto as they realized the Correa deal wasn’t going to work out. Knowing that there was at least a chance Conforto wouldn’t be ready or 100% by Opening Day would’ve meant that they wouldn’t have seen him as an equal value replacement option. In other words, Haniger + Conforto did not equal Judge/Correa in the Giants’ eyes.

Did they see Stripling + Manaea equaling Rodón, though? At the end of 2022, I looked into it and the data said nnnnnnnope. But looking at some more numbers, and I can see the shape of their design. Logan Webb + Alex Cobb + Ross Stripling + Sean Manaea + Anthony DeSclafani + Alex Wood + Kyle Harrison + Jakob Junis is better than what they had last season. Maybe not much better, but, inherently, more certain. They’re more likely to get 850+ innings from this group than last year’s group that was around 760, though not without risk.

Indeed, the Giants have taken quite a few risks. Beyond offering Judge and Correa the most money, they handed out big money to Conforto and Haniger, who’ve combined to miss 35% of games over the past five seasons due to injuries (Haniger didn’t opt out of the COVID season so much as he was unable to play due to injury and there were only 60 games). Ross Stripling pitched a career-high in innings in his age-32 season — 134.1. Sean Manaea lost his rotation spot last year and has a career FIP of 4.07.

We should keep in mind that the Giants were willing to look the other way when it came to the aging curve for tall players like Aaron Judge. The severity of the prognosis for Correa’s ankle can’t be ignored. Thirteen years was simply beyond their risk tolerance for that situation. But initially, they offered thirteen years.

Most of the money the Giants spent this offseason focused on improving the 2023 team. All of the moves they made were geared towards landing a big fish, too, whether he was Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa. Conforto and Correa became the pivot after Judge and after Correa there was no pivot because the team has a policy that forbids them from handing out long-term deals to starting pitchers (which will be really interesting to watch them hold to as Logan Webb approaches free agency) so the table is missing a centerpiece.

I think the Giants dared themselves. It just didn’t work out. As Captain Picard said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”