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The Giants’ theoretical payroll for a “pivotal” offseason

Whether leading or flagging, the indicators all point to the team having severe payroll restrictions.

San Francisco Giants Introduce Bob Melvin Photo by Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants have been here before. A pivotal offseason where they’ll need to take some big swings. Land a big fish. Spend “stupid money.” You know, be cool as hell.

It hasn’t quite worked out. They’ve spent money to a consolatory degree but the team is far from being cool as hell. Or cool at all. Or winning... approaching competitive... interesting...

The point is nobody likes them. Everybody hates them.

That very well could include free agents, who have turned spurning the Giants into an art form. Last offseason, the front office got meta and joined in by executing Farhan Zaidi’s “The Aristocrats!”* but this year very well could be his Get Out — specifically, that scene where Allison Williams is trying to find the car keys so that she and Daniel Kaluuya can get away and then there’s the turn where she reveals that she’s had the keys all along!

Well, Giants fans are far from being as cool as Daniel Kaluuya, but Farhan Zaidi could very well be faking desperation in a search for the car keys/top of the market free agent player. He got his job because he sold himself as being invaluable to an owner’s bottom line thanks to his patented formula — guaranteed to make your hair grow or your money back!

Greg Johnson as the ownership rep rightfully got blasted with his “somewhat breakeven” line which did get walked back by Buster Posey, but the truth is that we don’t really know what the Giants payroll is, which has absolutely nothing to do with what we think it ought to be. And there’s been nothing in his transactions to suggest that Farhan Zaidi is not managing within a “lower than you’d think” budget.

We don’t know how much of the Giants’ debt service on their $65 million Arizona training complex impacts their annual baseball operations budget. We don’t even know their baseball operations budget, with all the minor league players and coaches, scouts, data infrastructure, travel, facilities, equipment, etc.

Cot’s MLB Contracts in concert with MLB Trade Rumors’ pretty accurate arbitration projection formula can provide us with a quick and dirty estimate of the payroll figure, in both real value and Competitive Balance Tax figure, but even examining the historical flow of payroll it’s not easy to get a real sense of the budget.

Podcaster Ben Kaspick has pointed out at some point this season that every team received a one-time $30 million payment from Disney to conclude the league’s sale of MLB Advanced Media and it looks like the Giants were one of the few teams to invest virtually all of it back into their payroll. They were at $155 million in 2022 and $187 million in 2023 with their Opening Day payrolls. Basically +30 million.

Prior to that (COVID year excepted), the Giants’ Opening Day payrolls looked like this:

2021—$149.5 million
2019— $170.2 million
2018—$200.5 million
2017—$180.8 million
2016—$172.1 million
2015—$173.2 million
2014—$149.1 million
2013—$136.9 million
2012—$131.4 million
2011—$118.2 million
2010—$96.3 million
2009—$82.6 million

That’s a 127.5% increase over the past 15 years and suggests that the total Baseball Ops budget has gone up commensurately. If, say, the entire baseball ops budget the past couple of seasons was $300 million, then every dollar of major league payroll gets subtracted from that with whatever’s leftover going to everything else needed to run the baseball side of an organization. And that’s just an estimate! We really have no idea!

Cot’s does us all a solid by adding up pre-arbitration salaries ($8.2 million), the share the Giants have to kick in for the arbitration bonus pool established by the latest CBA ($1.67 million), 40-man roster players in the minors ($2.25 million), and the team’s healthcare contributions ($17 million). That’s $34.32 million before you start getting into the names already on the roster — but, it’s unclear if the Giants factor in the benefits with that figure.

Perhaps that’s a cost absorbed by the entire organization if everybody’s on the same health plan? Let’s be irrational and back it out from the payroll figure for now, even though someone like Ohtani might cost more from an insurance perspective! So, $17.32 million. And, again, that’s just a Cot’s estimate.

Mitch Haniger is scheduled to be the highest paid player on the Giants in 2024 with a $20 million salary. The structure of his deal makes his tax hit $14.5 million per season, but for the purposes of a baseball operations budget, the “real dollar” figure matters most.

Now, obviously, it can be argued that a Shohei Ohtani might change the calculations in terms of revenues which could serve as a budget offset, but it makes the most sense to say that outside of Ohtani, there isn’t one player who moves the needle that way. A collection of names could replicate that effect, but multiple players is a more expensive proposition.

We don’t know what the final price tags will be for top of the market free agents Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamato, etc. but if last year’s any indication, they will probably be higher than we think and the Giants will probably have to go over the top of those numbers just to stay in the game. Too, the Giants aren’t 1-2 players away from being an interesting team. They’re closer to 4 or 5.

As I write this, Conforto’s decision regarding his opt-out is unknown, so I’m going to keep his name in this collection. The team has $85.5 million committed to nine players: Haniger, Conforto, Ross Stripling, Anthony DeSclafani, Taylor Rogers, Alex Cobb, Logan Webb, Wilmer Flores, and Luke Jackson. Meanwhile, MLB Trade Rumors projects $29 million total for the six arbitration-eligible players: Mike Yastrzemski, Thairo Estrada, LaMonte Wade Jr., Austin Slater, and Tyler Rogers.

Taken together, that’s $131.82 million in real dollars versus $146.13 million in CBT figures. (And a Conforto opt out reduces that to $113.82 million and 128.13 million, respectively.)

This offseason will be a multi-part test:

Is the Giants’ real money payroll in the $185-$190 million range or was that just because of the one-time $30 million payment from Disney for MLBAM?

  • If “no,” then they’re going to have to be very creative to improve on a roster that costs about $150-$160 million. This might be reflected by a trade/non-tender or two. They could still land a big fish this way, but one of us will probably wind up saying “That’s it?” at some point.
  • If “yes,” then the Giants can spend to that limit and dazzle. Yamamoto has a posting fee, which, per CBS Sports, works like this:

Once posted, Yamamoto will have 45 days to negotiate a contract with MLB teams. The posting fee owed to Orix is tied to the size of the contract and, for a contract over $50 million, the posting fee is $9.375 million plus 15% of the guarantee over $50 million.

But this doesn’t have to be the move. The posting system is the same for Korean league players. Lee Jung-hoo would certainly receive a guarantee greater than $50 million, but the final amount might still be half of Yamamoto’s. What about Bellinger & Chapman? Or Snell & Lee? Many such journeys are possible...

Will the Giants spend for show or spend to win?

Did overpaying for the cremains of Mitch Haniger and the ghost of Michael Conforto do anything beyond give a couple of agents a good night’s sleep? No. They obviously can’t afford to be so silly again even if they know they have to overpay by 20-30% to get anyone to listen. So, blow it all on one guy, but don’t overpay for another Conforto. Use that money creatively. Haniger, Conforto, Stripling, and Manaea were safe Sabean moves.

I think it’s better to spend the money on a great player rather than overpay for a guy you hope will rebound, don’t you? The Giants should have the courage to face the music if they don’t sign any of Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Lee Jung-hoo — a situation that should only arise if each of those guys tell them to their face that they just don’t like the idea of playing for the Giants — which they might! Plenty of players already have. Not only do the Giants have Greg Johnson around, but also Larry Baer. A tough combo to overcome.

But look, this is me negotiating against myself. I don’t really care about the budget. I’m not that interested in how creative the front office gets managing expenses, building contract escalators and opt outs, or simply staying under the CBT. I want the team to have a $230-$250 million payroll in real money. I just know they won’t. They don’t want to. So, here I am trying to look at it from their perspective as I understand it. I’m probably wrong and grotesquely naive.

I’ll end by turning this post into a game. Given that Farhan Zaidi mentioned the team would be sticking to the top of the market in their pursuits — that includes starting pitching — and given all the things discussed above, copy-paste this form with your predictions below.

What will the Giants’ Opening Day payroll be?
Shohei Ohtani — TEAM, DEAL (total $/years)
Yoshinobu Yamamoto —
Cody Bellinger —
Blake Snell —
Lee Jung-hoo —
Aaron Nola —
Matt Chapman —
J.D. Martinez —
Shota Imanaga —
Rhys Hoskins —
Bonus: what do you think the total Baseball Ops budget is?

The prize will be the satisfaction of knowing you’re smarter than everyone else.

*-look, if you want to say that it was more Scott Boras’s doing than the Giants, that’s fine, but the Giants have been the ones on the apology tour all year