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Examining the projected contracts for Giants free agent targets

How much money will the players you want get? And should the Giants give them that money?

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Cody Bellinger with a batting helmet standing on third base talking to Matt Chapman. Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

I don’t say the following to disparage San Francisco Giants fans, baseball fans as a whole, or sports fans in general. Because one of the time-honored traditions and privileges of being a fan is that you get to be irrational and nonsensical, and I encourage everyone to use this hobby perk frequently and ferociously. But here goes nothing.

Fans are hilariously contradictory with contracts sometimes.

An example: had I tweeted in the summer of 2022 that Carlos Correa would sign in the winter for 13 years and $350 million, it would have been met with an overwhelming amount of “LOL good luck to whatever GM is dumb enough to do that” responses. The Giants then attempted to sign Correa to that exact contract, but backed out when they decided that entering a 13-year athletic relationship with someone with questionable medicals wasn’t the best idea. And then I spent all year reading messages from fans angry that the Giants let something as trivial as an MRI dissuade them from signing a star like Correa.

Again: not a disparagement. Just an amusing thing that happens every year.

This year is no different. Fans of all 30 teams want their organizations to pony up and sign the top free agents. Most of those same fans are deeply uncomfortable with the contracts that it will entail.

Some of that is due to the increasing length of star contracts, which I fully understand and empathize with. I am nearing an age where the Giants could feasibly sign a player through my 50th birthday, and if you want to know how I feel about that, good luck communicating to me under the seven blankets and 22 pillows I’m hiding under.

But much of it is due to the fact that the bulk of high-end contracts are, uhh ... not great. And while it’s maddening that the Giants have mostly avoided them, it’s not a coincidence that the sport’s model franchises — the Dodgers, Braves, Astros, and Rays, among others — have largely done the same.

So this sentiment, while funny and contradictory, does make sense. And it’s why I think there’s value in entering free agency as an informed fan. We’re probably about a month away from the big contracts getting signed, so there’s plenty of time to tune our hot take guitar and make sure our contract expectation equation is leveled out. Or something.

To aid all of us in this goal, I’ve taken a look at the main players I expect the Giants to be interested in, and compiled their contract projections.

I’m using four of the most trusted sources in contract projection: Kiley McDaniel at ESPN+, Ben Clemens at Fangraphs; Tim Britton at The Athletic, and the sensational MLB Trade Rumors Crew of Tim Dierkes, Anthony Franco, and Steve Adams.

Looking at multiple projections is vital, because (as you’ll see), while most projections are decently aligned, some people view things very differently. Sometimes this is a sign that someone has more info from teams or agents on that player; sometimes it’s just a different read of the market; and sometimes it’s merely a writer valuing a player more or less than their peers. And seeing that difference is a reminder that different people view different players differently ... and that includes the people who are ultimately making these decisions.

I should note that, historically speaking, contract projections are usually a little bit low. It’s very difficult to project how much a market — often motivated by desperation — will drive up the price.

So here we go. Each player’s contract projections are listed in order from highest total dollar figure to lowest, with the average annual value in parentheses. Listed ages are how old a player will be on opening day.

Tier 1: The big fish

DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani (29)

MLB TR: 12 years, $528 million ($44M AAV)
Fangraphs: 13 years, $527 million ($40.5M AAV)
ESPN: 10 years, $520 million ($52M AAV)
The Athletic: 12 years, $520 million ($43.3M AAV)

It’s pretty rare to see a player of this caliber have such similar projections. The years and AAV may vary, but all four of these publicans have Ohtani making within $8 million of each other.

Even with Ohtani’s pitching future in jeopardy — and him already being shut down on the mound for 2024 — the most entertaining player in baseball is set to blow past Patrick Mahomes and earn the largest contract in American sports history.

And he deserves every penny.

With the exception of McDaniel’s projection, Ohtani would make less annually in these projections than the Giants paid Brandon Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Alex Wood last year. And those three players are coming off the books.

Convincing Ohtani to sign with San Francisco will not be an easy task. Deciding whether or not to pay him any of the above contracts, however, should be a very easy one.

RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto (25)

MLB TR: 9 years, $225 million ($25M AAV)
ESPN: 7 years, $212 million ($30.3M AAV)
The Athletic: 7 years, $203 million ($29M AAV)
Fangraphs: 7 years, $196 million ($28M AAV)

I would be stoked about any of these contracts. Beyond stoked. There’s a very real chance that Yamamoto is one of the five best pitchers in the world, and he’s entering free agency at an age that very few players ever do — and very, very few pitchers.

People will be skeptical that the Giants would sign these contracts based an Farhan Zaidi’s general aversion to long-term contracts for pitchers. But I think that’s missing the point because of Yamamoto’s age. If the Giants sign Yamamoto to a seven-year deal, as most of the projections expect, then he would be signed through the same age that Logan Webb is signed through.

There’s a difference between not wanting to give 30-year old, oft-injured Carlos Rodón a long-term deal, and not wanting to give 25-year old, fully-healthy Yoshinobu Yamamoto one.

As with Ohtani, the Giants will have work to do to convince Yamamoto to sign with them. But I have to think they would be more than happy with any of the above contracts.

It is worth noting that Yamamoto will come with a posting fee, which would exceed $30 million for any of the above projections.

Tier 2: The unheralded guy that the Giants really want

CF Jung-hoo Lee (25)

ESPN: 5 years, $63 million ($12.5M AAV)
Fangraphs: 4 years, $60 million ($15M AAV)
The Athletic: 4 years, $56 million ($14M AAV)
MLB TR: 5 years, $50 million ($10M AAV)

At the risk of spoiling an article that I may never get around to writing, if I had to predict one player that the Giants sign this offseason, it’s Lee. I’m not even thinking twice about it, or considering anyone else. It feels so obvious to me, even though nothing in free agency is obvious and so I’m permanently putting something on the internet that will make me look like an idiot.

just kidding, I can edit articles after the fact, and you will never find a bad take from me on this website as such

My thinking for why Lee is the most likely free agent for the Giants comes down to five reasons.

  1. They’ve been open about the fact that their biggest priorities in free agency are a defensively-minded center fielder, younger players, and more athletic players. Lee is a five-time KBO Gold Glove center fielder, has the athleticism one would expect of a defensively-excellent center fielder, and is only a few months older than Schmitt and Patrick Bailey.
  2. The Giants clearly like him. They have not really tried to hide this fact.
  3. The contract he’s projected to get.
  4. Like I said, the contract he’s projected to get.
  5. No, seriously, have you looked at the contract he’s projected to get?

Now, it’s worth noting that, by the admission of the fine writers making these projections, the predictions for Lee could be very wrong. It is exceptionally hard to project what contracts players from Pacific Rim leagues will get. Masataka Yoshida got five years and $90 million. Ha-seong Kim got four years and $28 million with an opt-out.

These projections are coming from writers who aren’t fully convinced of Lee’s ability to translate his skills to the Majors: among the four publications, the highest Lee sits in terms of free agency rankings is No. 14 (by both ESPN and Fangraphs). If teams see things differently, that price will rise, especially since he’s represented by Scott Boras. So take all contract projections with a grain of salt, but especially this one.

But ... I just feel like if Boras went to Zaidi and said that any of the above contracts was the price to beat for Lee, that Zaidi would laugh, tack on an additional $25 million, and get it done right then and there. Maybe this is misreading Zaidi and Pete Putila’s interest in Lee. Maybe, like Seiya Suzuki and Kodai Senga, Lee is in search of something other than money that the Giants simply cannot provide.

But I would be shocked if the Giants got outbid for Lee if his contract is anywhere in the above ballpark, even when adding on his posting fee.

Tier 3: Really good position players

CF/1B Cody Bellinger (28)

MLB TR: 12 years, $264 million ($22M AAV)
The Athletic: 6 years, $162 million ($27M AAV)
Fangraphs: 6 years, $150 million ($25M AAV)
ESPN: 7 years, $147 million ($21M AAV)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a free agent with this level of disparity in contract predictions, especially a player who has already been playing in the Majors. It’s kind of wild to see.

MLB Trade Rumors certainly is the outlier in the projections here, and I recognize that I’m in the minority, but I lean towards them being the most accurate. For Bellinger’s sake, I hope they are. For the Giants’ sake, I hope they’re not.

Bellinger will get a big bag one way or the other. He’s young for a free agent, coming off a very strong season, is good on both sides of the ball, can play multiple positions, has a proven postseason track record, and has a great season in his past that allows teams to dream about upside.

There are a lot of reasons why the higher number could be accurate. He’s the only high-impact hitter on the market other than Ohtani, and the only MLB-proven quality center fielder in free agency. He had the 13th-highest wRC+ in the Majors last year. Even in a down year defensively, he’s an above-average fielder in center and at first base. He has maintained that his past struggles were due to an injury that he tried to play through; if you believe that, then you not only will buy his resurgent 2023, but might predict him to trend closer to his dominant 2019 as he continues to shake off the rust. He’s trending in the right direction with a new era of baseball, and set a personal high in steals last year. And Boras is his agent.

There are an equal number of reasons why the lower numbers could be accurate. One bounce-back season isn’t that much when it comes after two consecutive seasons of hitting well below the league average. Even if you buy the injury explanation, you still have to accept that Bellinger has an injury history. Last year was a significant step back defensively.

The Bellinger conundrum can easily be displayed through a pair of comparisons. See if you can guess the players.

Here’s the first comparison:

Player A: 28 years old, premier defensive position, two-time All-Star, one-time MVP, one-time Gold Glove winner, one-time Silver Slugger winner, one-time NLCS MVP, 120 OPS+, +21.6 fWAR

Player B: 27 years old, premier defensive position, two-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger winner, one-time World Series MVP, one-time NLCS MVP, 131 OPS+, +21.8 fWAR

And here’s the second comparison:

Player C: 350 plate appearances, .165/.240/.302, 35 plate appearances per home run, .542 OPS, 44 OPS+

Player D: 731 plate appearances, .172/.232/.292, 38.5 plate appearances per home run, .524 OPS, 44 OPS+

As you probably predicted, Player A is Bellinger, right now. And Player B is his former teammate Corey Seager when he entered free agency two years ago and signed a 10-year, $325 million deal.

Player C is Bellinger in 2021. Player D is Madison Bumgarner’s entire career as a hitter.

So yeah. That’s the Bellinger conundrum. Experts disagree by 117 million freaking dollars, and for good reason. I can easily see seven years, $147 million looking like a horrible contract as everyone wonders how someone who spent their age-26 season hitting like a pitcher got a massive deal. And I can easily see 12 years, $264 million looking every bit as good as Seager’s deal now looks as Bellinger puts up a few years dominating both sides of the field.

Pick your fighter. Or, more accurately, let the market pick it for you and then see how you feel.

3B Matt Chapman (30)

MLB TR: 6 years, $150 million ($25M AAV)
Fangraphs: 5 years, $120 Million ($24M AAV)
ESPN: 4 years, $100 million ($25M AAV)
The Athletic: 5 years, $95 million ($19M AAV)

It’s not as comical as with Bellinger, but there’s still a pretty big disparity with Chapman’s projections. I think most fans would be willing to overlook the fact that Chapman was an awful hitter for the final two-thirds of the season if he signed a five-year deal for just eight figures. And I think most fans would stare at their computer blankly for about 20 minutes if the Giants handed him six years and $150 million. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re Chapman or someone he sends Christmas presents to), the high-end projections are usually the most accurate ones.

Chapman feels a touch redundant on the Giants given that J.D. Davis is a quality player and Schmitt is an intriguing prospect. But there’s a lot to be said for putting a four-time Gold Glove winner (including in 2023) next to Marco Luciano to keep the left side of the infield gobbling up baseballs for the Giants ground ball-heavy pitching attack. And for a Giants team that seems to always be scrambling for available players, it’s worth noting that Chapman has played in 784 out of 870 games over the last six seasons.

He’s a good player. And if the Giants give him and Bellinger a combined $242 million this summer I’ll be pretty thrilled. If they give him and Bellinger a combined $414 million this summer ... look, it ain’t my money, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some investment in it.

Tier 4: Good starting pitchers

RHP Aaron Nola (30)

The Athletic: 6 years, $180 million ($30M AAV)
MLB TR: 6 years, $150 million ($25M AAV)
Fangraphs: 5 years, $140 million ($28M AAV)
ESPN: 5 years, $120 million ($24M AAV)

LHP Blake Snell (31)

MLB TR: 7 years, $200 million ($28.6M AAV)
ESPN: 6 years, $150 million ($25M AAV)
Fangraphs: 5 years, $140 million ($28M AAV)
The Athletic: 5 years, $135 million ($27M AAV)

LHP Jordan Montgomery (31)

MLB TR: 6 years, $150 million ($25M AAV)
Fangraphs: 5 years, $140 million ($28M AAV)
ESPN: 5 years, $106 million ($21.2M AAV)
The Athletic: 5 years, $105 million ($21M AAV)

RHP Sonny Gray (34)

MLB TR: 4 years, $90 million ($22.5M AAV)
Fangraphs: 3 years, $78 million ($26M AAV)
The Athletic: 3 years, $72 million ($24M AAV)
ESPN: 3 years, $69 million ($23M AAV)

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (30)

Fangraphs: 4 years, $92 million ($23M AAV)
MLB TR: 4 years, $82 million ($20.5M AAV)
The Athletic: 5 years, $80 million ($16M AAV)
ESPN: 4 years, $72 million ($18M AAV)

LHP Shota Imanaga (30)

Fangraphs: 4 years, $88 million ($22M AAV)
MLB TR: 5 years, $85 million ($17M AAV)
ESPN: 4 years, $68 million ($17M AAV)
The Athletic: 4 years, $52 million ($13M AAV)

RHP Marcus Stroman (32)

Fangraphs: 3 years, $66 million ($22M AAV)
ESPN: 3 years, $63 million ($21M AAV)
The Athletic: 3 years, $63 million ($21M AAV)
MLB TR: 2 years, $44 million ($22M AAV)

This is something of a grab bag, and the Giants — like most teams — will be hoping that Yamamoto signs before the bulk of these players. I think it’s abundantly clear that San Francisco would prefer any of the four projections for Yamamoto to any of these projections. But I do expect them to pivot to one of these front-to-near-frontline starters if they don’t land Yamamoto (or maybe even if they do, which would make it that much easier to trade some young pitchers for a position player).

Gray and Snell both have a history with Bob Melvin, with the former praising the new Giants manager at every possible turn. I suspect that the Giants would prioritize this group of players based more on how the market shapes up than on anything else. It’s a large basket of talented pitchers, so the Giants can afford to try for the best deal rather than targeting a specific player.

A lot of these pitcher contracts are palatable. A lot of them are not. Zaidi will hope that Yamamoto has already put black pen to orange paper before even looking at these deals, but there’s certainly a lot of potential out there if they need to dip into the market.

There are more players beyond these listed ones that the Giants will consider. Perhaps they make a modest offensive upgrade with a player like Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler, or Jeimer Candelario. Maybe they bolster the catcher and designated hitter positions with one fell Mitch Garver of a swoop. Perhaps they reunite with Sean Manaea.

But these are the main players that we have our eye on as free agency kicks off in earnest. And now we wait to see.