Shohei Ohtani has dominated the baseball airwaves since the start of the offseason. For weeks we wondered where he would sign, and what the process would look like. Then we were treated to a flurry of (mostly false) reporting as things heated up. The mystery and speculation was the biggest story in baseball.
And then reports of his newly-minted contract — the largest in sports history — became public. And then that became the biggest story in baseball.
Soon, Ohtani will stop being the biggest story in baseball (until the regular season, that is), as the remaining free agents — and perhaps some trade candidates — find new homes. That process began in earnest for Giants fans on Tuesday, when the team inked Jung-hoo Lee to a six year, $113 million contract.
But we got a hiatus from offseason roster-building to return to the man who is never far from being the biggest story in baseball: Ohtani.
Shortly after the Lee news broke, Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi hopped on a conference call with beat reporters, speaking to the media for the first time since the Winter Meetings, when every word he spoke was some variation of “sorry, sworn to secrecy, can’t talk.”
Since Lee’s deal is not yet official (words that send a shiver down the spine of every Giants fan), Zaidi couldn’t comment on the largest free agent he’s signed since taking over the job. Though that didn’t stop him from getting in a hilarious (and seemingly good-natured) quip towards NY Post reporter Jon Heyman, the author of the infamous “Arson Judge appears headed to Giants” tweet.
Farhan Zaidi, asked about @JonHeyman report that Giants are in agreement with Jung Hoo Lee: "Jon Heyman? I'll say this, he's got a better chance of being accurate if he actually spelled the guy's name correctly."— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) December 13, 2023
11/10, no edits, Farhan.
While Zaidi couldn’t talk about Lee, he did finally disclose details about the team’s chase for Ohtani. I was desperately hoping we’d learn what contract the Giants offered the two-way superstar, half out of curiosity and half to get some information as to how hard they were actually pushing for star free agents.
And what we learned was essentially this: it was less the Giants offering Ohtani a contract, and more Ohtani proposing a contract to all his suitors before deciding where he wanted to play.
According to Zaidi, when the Giants first met with Ohtani, they opened with a large offer.
Giants president Farhan Zaidi confirms Shohei Ohtani visited SF. He was offered what would have been the biggest contract in MLB history early in the process. Giants then took their feedback and boosted offer to match what they wanted.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) December 13, 2023
But as the process continued, Ohtani broached the same contract he ultimately signed with the Dodgers: 10 years, $700 million, with a staggering $680 million of that in deferred payments, aimed to limit the payroll and Competitive Balance Tax hit for the team, so that they could better build around him.
The Giants, to their credit, were ready and willing to meet Ohtani’s demands — the same demands that are now in his contract. But the superstar, as had been predicted for months, if not years, seemed to have a clear preference.
Zaidi says Giants had agreed to everything Ohtani finalized with LA.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) December 13, 2023
Zaidi on commitment from Giants ownership on Ohtani: "Every financial target or request that was made was met and was met pretty quickly." Preference for SoCal won out, Zaidi contends.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) December 13, 2023
And if you’re wondering whether front office members are as drawn in by Twitter reports as fans ... well ... yes they are.
Zaidi said he immediately asked Ohtani's agent about the Blue Jays rumors when everyone was tracking that flight on Friday and was told Ohtani wasn't on the plane. Zaidi: "As a Shark Tank fan, it was pretty exciting for me to see how that turned out."— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) December 13, 2023
If you want any other details from the pursuit of Ohtani, Zaidi revealed that the only people from the organization who met with Shohei were Zaidi, Bob Melvin, Buster Posey, and Greg Johnson. And Zaidi told reporters that it went well, and that they had optimism at times, but ultimately felt that Ohtani wanted to stay in LA.
The news of San Francisco meeting Ohtani’s contractual desires is cause for optimism or pessimism, depending on where you’re sitting. On the one hand, there’s been a sentiment among fans that ownership is unwilling to pay for stars; the fact that the Giants met the eventual contracts for Ohtani and Judge is fairly firm opposing evidence. On the other hand, the Giants met those prices and still lost out on the services of those players. Signing Lee helps, but the Giants still have a long ways to go in proving to fans that they can convince A-list stars to sign with them.
Still and all, it’s good to know that the Giants didn’t miss out on the best player in the world because they weren’t willing to pay the price. Not that we’ll take much comfort in that when we first see Ohtani don the Dodger blue.