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Free agency mailbag

The most exciting time of the year is upon us.

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Shohei Ohtani in the warm-up circle at Oracle Park. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Well, free agency has arrived. It’s the time of year to get excited about potential San Francisco Giants signings, or perhaps stock your liquor cabinet with contingency plans for what your cynical self expects to happen in the coming weeks/months.

Seems like a good time for a mailbag. Why not?

Thanks for the questions, everyone.

Old friend scout_6 asks: What is the realistic plan if Johnson doesn’t release the money to pay for the FA they need?

Thankfully I think this is probably only a hypothetical; rag on Greg Johnson’s tone deaf statements at Bob Melvin’s presser all you want (and I have ... and I will), but the contract offers to Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, and Bryce Harper make it fairly clear that he’ll sign off on a large contract; it’s the sum of all the contracts that he’s frustratingly concerned about.

So I think the real question is: what’s the realistic plan if the Giants once again strike out with the top free agents? Fans will have healthy cynicism, but I think it’s very fair to predict that if the Giants fail to land a big fish then they won’t do what they did last year, when the re-allocated the Judge/Correa money to Sean Manaea and Michael Conforto.

Farhan Zaidi has made it clear that the Giants aren’t pursuing many of those mid-minor contracts, and I think he’s being honest. The Giants, while lacking in star talent, are certainly not lacking in decent talent. It’s hard to imagine any of those one-two year deals in the $10-20 million annual range actually helping them much.

So that’s comforting. I do think that if the Giants don’t sign a star then they’ll fight like hell to trade for one. There’s no star that we know to be on the market, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Juan Soto, Pete Alonso, or Mike Trout were available. Given the Padres ways, their financial situation, and his volatility, one could even see Fernando Tatis Jr. being dangled.

And I think there are opportunities for exciting moves that don’t break the bank. We won’t get a repeat of Manaea or Conforto, but MLB Trade Rumors predicts Jung-hoo Lee to only get a five-year, $50 million contract. There are moves (including trades) such as that one that could make San Francisco competitive enough that if Melvin has the type of impact on the team’s rookies that we saw him have in Oakland, the Giants could be sneaky good at best, and building a solid foundation at worst.

This is a great question but it’s a very hard one to answer. Zaidi is far from perfect when making trades, but we do know that he prefers to find a trade based more on extracting maximum value than targeting a specific player or need.

The J.D. Davis trade that you mention is really the ultimate example. The Giants got Davis in exchange for Darin Ruf, who was basically the same player as Davis, except older, worse defensively, under contract for a shorter amount of time, and needed to be platooned. And in exchange for trading a player for a much better player, the Giants were rewarded with three very interesting prospects, at least one of which I wouldn’t be surprised to see make the Majors this year.

So the Giants didn’t get Davis because they loved him and targeted him. They got Davis because they found a decent player whose team dramatically underrated him, and then they pounced. Which makes it hard to predict who the next Davis will be.

I think if the Giants make trades for non-superstars, it will be similar to the Davis deal in that they’ll get someone with a fair amount of team control. Grant Brisbee mentioned Randy Arozarena the other day, which serves as a good reminder to always check the players entering arbitration for cheap franchises.

But if the Giants make some trades that leave them short of proven MLB talent and in need of some band-aids, a rental like Mark Canha could also make a lot of sense.

Now, to avoid fully copping out of your question, here are a few under-the-radar names that I’m just pulling out of a hat: Michael Stefanic, Willi Castro, Connor Joe, Jonathan India, Andy Ibáñez, Jonathan Aranda, and Kyle Farmer.

This is a fascinating question, and it brings me to a funny point. This time of year I’m always amused by the fan sentiment, because it seems to primarily contain two talking points: anger that the Giants have not signed a star free agent, and disgust at the contracts that star free agents are likely to get.

Now admittedly, that’s not true at the very top. I think most Giants fans would be ecstatic to land Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, regardless of cost. But most of the projected contracts for Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Aaron Nola, and the like would probably elicit a fair amount of vomit emojis from fans reacting to the news.

So no, I don’t think fans would be happy, per se, if the Giants landed a few nine-figure free agents but don’t get the top guys. But it would still earn Zaidi and Co. some brownie points. Seeing the team A) spend money and B) win free agency battles would go a long ways towards restoring the fanbase’s faith, even if it’s not their preferred players.

That said, it is worth noting that the fanbase can’t be won over in a single offseason. There’s only one thing that will convince Giants fans that Zaidi knows what he’s doing: the presence of a Giants team that consistently wins 90+ games and competes for the division. One good season, off or regular, isn’t enough to sway public opinion too much; remember, even after the team won a franchise-record 107 games, the fanbase was sold on neither Zaidi nor Gabe Kapler. It takes sustainability.

I’ve heard plenty of fans express that signing Ohtani would be a mistake, pointing to his age, his injury history, and the belief that the Giants would be putting all their eggs in one basket instead of building a more comprehensive team. Yamamoto is, in my eyes, one of the five or 10 best pitchers in the world, but without having any MLB resume to point to, plenty of fans will be wary about the $200 million figure that he’ll likely cruise past.

Signing stars and spending money is a start, but fans will still question the team’s drafting and developing, the analytics and platoons, the ability to build a balanced lineup, etc. Adding Ohtani would put a smile on most fans’ faces, but if that’s the only move, and Marco Luciano and Kyle Harrison struggle while the Giants platoon an outfield of Mitch Haniger, Austin Slater, Mike Yastrzemski, and Conforto, and end up with 82 wins, I don’t think there will be much happiness among the faithful.

The Winter Meetings are the first week of December, and that’s usually a fairly safe time to expect the dominos to start to fall. That said, there’s usually a decent move or two at some point in November, from players who already have a pretty clear idea of where they want to go.

Last year, for instance, of all free agents (not just the stars, but the hundreds of Major League free agents), only 14 signed before the Winter Meetings (assuming my counting is correct). Most of those were small deals — players jumping on an opportunity while it was available. The biggest of those deals were Edwin Diaz and Anthony Rizzo, who were returning to their teams. José Abreu was the biggest name to change teams before December 5.

One thing worth keeping a note on: Bellinger and Lee are the top center fielders on the market, by a sizable margin, and both are represented by Scott Boras. Lee’s ankle injury means he won’t be posted for a few weeks which could delay his signing. It will be interesting to see how Boras plays that out, and whether he wants them building each other’s markets up at the same time, or if he tries to get Bellinger signed before Lee is available.

I’m going to answer this and then immediately duck from all the tomatoes thrown my way, but I think the most likely answer is Haniger.

Haniger is one of just two Giants to have a 30-homer season in his past (Conforto is the other), and he blew past the number fairly easily, with 39 dingers in 2021 ... which wasn’t long ago! That season was an outlier primarily because of health, not performance: for his career, Haniger has hit a home run once every 5.3 games, which means if he sustained that pace he would hit the 30-homer mark if he played 159 games in 2024.

I think we can rule out the playing 159 games part, but if that’s his average, then it’s well within his possible range to bop 30 dingers in 140 or so games. And that’s before getting to the point that playing in San Francisco is actually a boost for Haniger ... per Statcast, his 39-homer season would have been a 42-homer season if all of his games were played at Oracle Park. So you can see it happening without squinting.

I’m not saying this is likely. There’s no one likely to do it, which is why this streak is now old enough to drive. After Haniger, I’d say the most likely is Luciano. I’m not banking on it happening in 2024, but if Luciano can stay healthy and play well enough to become an MLB regular, I think you can virtually bank on him hitting 30 homers a few times in his career.

Conforto’s 33 homers in 2019 would have been 31 in San Francisco, per Statcast, but it feels like a reach that he’ll repeat that performance and get the playing time do so.

It’s probably most likely that it comes from an outside player: Bellinger and Chapman have 30-homer power, and Ohtani could do it twice in one season. Looking further down the line, I think Vaun Brown and Bryce Eldridge very clearly have 30-homer power. Perhaps Victor Bericoto, Grant McCray, and Tyler Fitzgerald as well, and maybe even Aeverson Arteaga. And Reggie Crawford, on the off chance that he can stick as a hitter.

In summation: dingers, plz.

I get a lot of comments like this one, not gonna lie. And not just when I’m soliciting questions. I do think this is the year where we see far fewer mid-level free agents, though. Unlike in past offseasons, the Giants have a lot of such players already, and a lot of youngsters ready to take on some of those roles.

I know I’ll get “Farhan’s puppet” replies to my response here, but it’s worth remembering that there are 30 teams in the Majors. And for the big free agents, there are usually 10 or so teams trying to sign them. Every team is going to lose more than they win — far more than they win — in free agency.

I do understand the frustration though. That said, I think they’ll only finish a close second (or third, or whatever) for one player: Ohtani. I think the rest of the free agents they’ll either get or not try to get. Probably finish second in a trade, though.

Yeah, I think you have to. Chapman is 30 and Ohtani is 29. Juan Soto is all of four months older than Casey Schmitt. So the timeline is too good. Sign Soto, and trade Chapman if you have to in order to facilitate payroll space. And then print money with all the butts you put in seats with that team.

I like this reality.

Yes, I think so. And I’m not saying that to defend Johnson. I’m saying that to remind everyone that two middle of the pack players are usually more expensive than one star player, which is to say the Giants have room to sign not just one star, but two stars without even spending more money than they did last year.

With Joc Pederson, Brandon Crawford, Alex Wood, Jakob Junis, and Manaea entering free agency, the Giants have about $61 million coming off the books. Using MLB Trade Rumors’ estimates, Ohtani and Yamamoto will make $69 million annually, combined. Needless to say, if you remove Ohtani from the picture, they could mix and match any two — or many three — free agents and still stay within last year’s budget.

Of course, the players eligible for arbitration will make a little more money, and Haniger’s front-loaded contract gets larger this year. But all of that amounts to paperwork. I’m sure the Giants would go a little over last year’s salary for a much better team, and they have plenty of players who can be traded to free up salary space: I don’t think they’d have to attach much of interest to Conforto to get off his $18 million deal, for instance. Smaller contracts like Wilmer Flores’ and Davis’ have active trade value, while I think San Francisco could pretty easily shed Ross Stripling and Anthony DeSclafani’s deals.

So yeah. For as tough as it was to hear Johnson’s comments, the fact remains that the Giants were well under the tax threshold last year, and are shedding enough salary to easily fit two star contracts into last year’s budget, should they want to.

Absolutely I do. I anger fans every time I mention it, but I really do think the Giants will trade a few of their pitcher prospects this offseason. The starting rotation is the strength of their Major League team, and that’s before adding another frontline starter, which they seem determined to do. It’s also the strength of their upper Minors prospects, and it’s a quality asset among their low and mid Minors prospects, too.

If we’re assuming that the Giants enter the season with two frontline starters in Logan Webb and a free agent, plus veteran depth from Alex Cobb, Stripling, and DeSclafani, with exciting MLB-ready prospects in Kyle Harrison and Keaton Winn, to make no mention of Tristan Beck, with Carson Whisenhunt and Mason Black waiting in the wings (and Hayden Birdsong, Trevor McDonald, and Carson Seymour close behind), well ... it makes it pretty clear what direction the team will go in with a trade. They can trade two or three pitching prospects without a tangible hit to the Major League team, and potentially shore up an area of weakness in the process.

Don’t expect it to be Elly de la Cruz, though. He’s too good of a prospect. Between his talent, his ceiling, and the unwillingness of teams to part with great homegrown talent, I think the Giants would need to offer Webb and Harrison just to get Cincinnati to pick up the phone. But some of the other prospects from the Reds or Cardinals, who are both desperate for pitching? You can bet your butt Zaidi will be exploring those.

Depends on what you label a “big free agent acquisition.” If the bar is simply a nine-figure contract, then yes, I think this is the offseason where the Giants emerge with at least one such player. If the bar is Ohtani, Yamamoto, or Bellinger, then we’re entering toss-up territory.

I think Ohtani will sign during the Winter Meetings, or shortly after. And I think building the statue is probably a really good recruiting tactic, so they should do that first.

So I’ll say that the statue is unveiled on November 30, Ohtani agrees to a contract on December 15, and the Wall of Fame plaque goes up as part of his December 20 introductory press conference (after the Giants notice something wrong with his ankle on the physical but ignore it).