The San Francisco Giants are losers in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. That’s not really a surprise given that the Giants are frequent losers when it comes to playing at the top of the market (for whatever reason you care to supply). They are also losers in the battle with their supposed archrival to win the hearts and minds of fans.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are a better team and a better franchise than the San Francisco Giants. Now, has that always been the case? Hard to say. Will that always be the case? Hard to say. But coming away with yet another generational talent — this time without the aid of the loathsome Red Sox ownership group surrendering their best players for sweet cash — in the near-decade since the last time the Giants won a playoff series is brutal.
And when you look at all the free agency battles they’ve won — Greinke, Freeman, and now Ohtani are just a few signposts — it’s clear that the best players don’t want to play for the San Francisco Giants: they want to play for the Dodgers.
Ohtani deal with Dodgers, per source, includes “unprecedented” deferrals - the majority of his salary. The deferrals were Ohtani’s idea to ease the Dodgers’ luxury-tax and cash flow burdens to give the team the flexibility needs to be as competitive as possible, the source said.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 9, 2023
And so knowing that, you’re left with last offseason, where the Giants Plan C’d their .500 butt into spending $80 million for about 3 wins. That’s going to be the Giants every offseason for the foreseeable future if they continue their present course of trying to build while contending. That is, of course, unless industry reputation means absolutely nothing, which I don’t think is true at all. If you’re a great player, why do you want to be the best guy on a platoon squad against a division rival superstar team in the Dodgers?
If you’ve been saying “What about Carlos Correa?” this whole time, his situation is a lot like 2021: a fluke set of circumstances that can’t be counted on to happen again. In his case, those circumstances were both in the player agreeing in principle and a fluke medical that triggered irrational public behavior from Scott Boras.
If Ohtani had gone to any other team, this wouldn’t feel so dire, but as it’s part of a trend and it’s within the division, this undoubtedly has consequences for our favorite team. It’s a version of what Blue Jays fans are going through after so much of the week’s reporting seemed to point towards their team landing this unicorn player. And now:
Getting folks excited for the 2024 Blue Jays is going to be a Herculean task.— Nick Ashbourne (@NickAshbourne) December 9, 2023
After two boring seasons and very limited prospects for excitement based on the available players in the organization, this is already where most Giants fans were, pending some moves this offseason. But the de facto #1 player going to the Dodgers has the “here we go again” feeling and for the rest of free agency. I think it makes the Giants’ job that much harder. I’m not alone in thinking that!
Giants have had Yamamoto at top of board with Ohtani, feels like their best bet is to make a massive offer and try to move forward with a Webb, Yamamoto, Harrison core. But they’ll have to outbid NY teams … and there’s no escaping how tough a day this is for the organization.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) December 9, 2023
Yoshinobu Yamamoto might just be the best pitcher on the planet, but would he rather have to face the Dodgers’ lineup or the Giants?
Now, “Calm down” might be a response to all this, so let me consider that.
Hmm. No. Doesn’t feel right.
Every team and fanbase needs hope. It feels pretty hopeless against the Dodgers right now. That alone shouldn’t mark the end of all hope, but it creates more energy in that thought in the back of my mind that maybe players just don’t want to play for the Giants. In which case, it’s almost logical to remove from the mental calculus a hope that the team can get that one great player in free agency.
Hope is really important in sports fandom and competition in general. It’s a key part of the Giants’ pitch to players and fans every season. Don’t believe me? “Shoot for the Wild Card because once you get in, anything can happen!” has been the team’s plan since 2019. Bob Melvin’s used to pushing the underdog narrative, but he’s had more talent to work with in the past, so why don’t the Giants just focus on improving their prospects long-term? The next few years might really suck and watching Shohei Ohtani blast Kyle Harrison’s fastball 500 feet is going to dim a lot of that hope for “Third Wild Card magic!” whether or not Shohei Ohtani makes it all the way back to being an All-Star pitcher.
The Giants have been “stuck” for so many years, where all they could do is spend a lot of money to create a mediocre product, buoyed only by their success from last decade. I’m usually anti-tanking because it benefits ownership, but Giants ownership has already won and won’t be touched by anything negative that happens to the Baseball team. They leveraged the Giants brand to build a neighborhood and they’re getting all the money in the world. The on-field success of the team has no bearing on people buying shelter. Besides, no team hires Farhan Zaidi to be their President of Baseball Operations because they want him to land a big fish. They want him to create one in the aggregate for a tenth of the price.
Keep Logan Webb and Patrick Bailey and be willing to liquidate the rest, and if the rebuild takes too long and Logan Webb gets cranky, then trade him, too. The Giants aren’t one of those franchises with great international scouting or great player development right now (sorry, Roger!), but all signs point to a steady improvement over the past five years from the worst farm system in human history to approaching middle of the pack. Tanking speeds things up! They should try to improve their draft positions over the next few years. Zaidi should be willing to walk away from his 75-win minimum model to increase the money the team has to sign players. Larry Baer and the rest of the Giants’ ownership group were giddy about running the A’s out of town: well, now they can fully become them.
The Giants aren’t going to lose the fans who’ve always been interested in the minutiae of their day-to-day but Matt Chapman and Lucas Giolito on a marquee won’t drive ticket sales and 60 games of Mitch Haniger and 18 home runs from Michael Conforto won’t boost ratings. We all know now that free agents who wind up on the Giants had no better options.
I’ve been wrong about this before — the Giants should always compete until they’re out, I guess — but it’s hard to see a meaningful path forward over the course of the next few years. Develop while contending didn’t really work. Again, it’s not that Shohei Ohtani signed with another team, it’s that he signed with the Dodgers. The team that hurts the most.
The good news is that Farhan Zaidi and Bob Melvin have been here before. They know how to guide an irrelevant team through an uncertain path where the only hope is that your enemy messes up spectacularly. Even with Ohtani, Betts, Freeman, and Muncy, the Dodgers sure do need a starting rotation! They still have Dave Roberts! But we’re entering year 10 of rooting for the Giants to be good enough in hopes that one of their betters screws up and look where it’s gotten them: nowhere.
So, pivot. I mean, I’ll be rational for a second: they should pivot to the tank if they strike out on Plan B (which I assume is Yamamoto and Bellinger). The drumbeat the past couple of years has been that the Giants need star power. If they miss out on signing or trading for stars, a tank will be indistinguishable from the past two seasons, so might as well go for it. For those fans who only root for the front office, nothing that happened today changes the rooting interest, but for the rest of us, it’s a sign that we’ve been huffing copium for far too long. It’s Sho-ver.