[Editorial note: This is going to be an extremely negative column. If you are easily distressed by negativity and/or are still a Farhan Zaidi true believer, I won’t be offended if you skip this one. I also promise that if things change and he proves all of his detractors wrong–and I hope he does!–I’ll be the first to give him full credit.]
In last week’s column, I said this: “These next seven days have the potential to be insanely exciting for Giants fans or brutally disappointing.” Well, I think we know how that turned out.
- X Barry Bonds was not elected to the Hall of Fame and in fact got fewer than four votes from members of the Modern Era Committee.
- X Duane Kuiper did not receive the Ford C. Frick Award to enter the broadcasters’ wing in the Hall of Fame.
- X The Giants lost nine players in the Rule 5 Draft and claimed zero. (They did, however, trade for a Rule 5 guy from Pittsburgh via Cincinnati, C/OF Blake Sabol #FightOn.)
- X The Giants did not move up at all in the first ever MLB draft lottery. (Still better than the A’s, who fell from a possible second pick to sixth.)
- X After seven giddy minutes in which Jon Heyman and Susan Slusser (mis)led us to believe that Aaron Judge was going to sign with the Giants, he…didn’t.
The really devastating news is that the Winter Meetings came and went without the Giants making any major free agent signings. (No, Mitch Haniger is not “major.”) Now, some of you less knee-jerk types will remind us that there’s still “a lot of time” and “so many free agents still available,” and you’re kind of right, but kind of not. The “not” part is that, post-lockout and with a new CBA guaranteeing some stability, teams are spending early, often, and a lot–and the biggest names are signing in December, not January or February. Of Jim Bowden’s top 25 free agents, 16 have already agreed to new contracts. There are only nine of the top names left.
Here’s who’s still left as of the time I’m writing this:
- Carlos Correa (#4)
- Carlos Rodon (#7)
- Dansby Swanson (#9)
- Kodai Senga (#10)
- Nathan Eovaldi (#13)
- Chris Bassitt (#14)
- Andrew Benintendi (#17)
- Michael Conforto (#21)
- Martin Perez (#23)
That’s two shortstops, two outfielders, and five starting pitchers.
You might say, “Well, what about trades?” to which I say, “What about them?” Zaidi has yet, in his 4+ years as head of baseball operations, to make a significant trade, though he’s made plenty of insignificant ones. On what basis would we think we’re extracting Sean Murphy or Ramon Laureano from the A’s, Bryan Reynolds from the Pirates, etc., etc.? We know from the Soto fiasco last July that the Giants are not perceived to have enough talent in their farm system to compete for desirable trade targets (though oddly, that “lack of talent” didn’t seem to be an issue when other teams were raiding our AA team during Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft). And they arguably have even less talent at the major league level.
No, the Giants’ best chance to return to any kind of relevance was to flex their financial muscle this offseason. Everyone thought they were going to do it. They even said they were going to do it. And yet so far…nothing, or close to nothing. And as I’ve noted above, the difference-making options are rapidly slipping away.
So What’s Gone Wrong?
Before I answer that, we should probably give a nod to what’s gone right. The Giants retained Joc Pederson and signed Mitch Haniger at price tags that look like bargains in today’s overheated terms. The 2023 Giants will be better with Pederson and Haniger than they would be without them. Also, the Giants did not lose Will Wilson in the Rule 5 Draft, and that could turn out to be important if they come up short in the chase for Correa (or Swanson, if they’re even pursuing him, which I haven’t heard).
But that’s the end of the good news. Here are some of the possible missteps and problems the Giants are facing as they try to get someone, anyone to take their money.
- They wasted precious time in a foolish and doomed pursuit of Judge.
- Having wasted time on Judge and watched free agents fly off the board, they do not appear to be pivoting to the remaining options with any sort of urgency. In Andrew Baggarly’s article on the Giants missing out on Judge, Larry Baer said: “I’d say that we’re going to continue to pursue the best players in baseball that make sense for us.” Translation: ownership will agree to stupid money/years for Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge, but…if we don’t get them, expect more Tommy La Stellas and Mitch Hanigers. There’s nothing in between. And “Zaidi said it was natural to ‘take a breath’ after the resolution of an effort that involves so much time and so many people.” Uhhhh…dude. There’s no time to “take a breath.” See point #1.
- Despite desperately needing a starting pitcher of the ace variety, they do not appear to be seriously pursuing either their own departing ace (Rodon) or to have considered the two other high-end aces (Jacob DeGrom and Justin Verlander). We know that they hosted Senga a few weeks ago, but (a) we’ve seen this movie before (Ohtani and Suzuki over the past few years) and (b) is Senga really a worthy replacement for Rodon?
- Despite desperately needing another outfielder and one who can play above-average center field, they signed Pederson (not an outfielder) and Haniger (a corner outfielder), while watching two good CF options (Brandon Nimmo and Cody Bellinger) go elsewhere this week.
- Despite desperately needing more talent in the bullpen, so far they’ve done nothing except retain Scott Alexander on a modest arbitration-year deal.
As Grant Brisbee put it in his article on Friday:
…time is running out to hit the offseason jackpot, and it’s starting to look like the Giants might have missed their chance. The word “might” is working hard in that sentence, though, because there’s a lot of offseason left. There are chances to get creative.
…With all of the other strong free agents going quickly, the Giants will have to scramble and pivot like few teams before them. There’s still a path to an offseason win, but it’s growing increasingly narrow.
So what is going on–or not going on? I’m obviously not in those meetings or conversations, and neither are you. And every free agent has their own priorities, whether it be going back to the team that drafted them (Judge and Nimmo) or getting away from that team (DeGrom, Xander Bogaerts) when some other team offers them way more money. Some players have wives or parents they’d like to please as to location. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.
But I’ll speculate a little bit. If this offseason doesn’t get salvaged in some way, it’s a combination of:
- a plan that turned out to be short-sighted and unsuccessful (Judge);
- not having a better plan and/or a backup plan to pivot to;
- a line in the sand about years and dollars that they won’t cross (“players that make sense for us“). Another way to say this is that ownership and the front office is stubborn and behind the times, which is ironic when you consider that they shoved out Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans, and Bruce Bochy so that the Giants could get with the times.
- Zaidi not being nimble. We saw this in 2018-19, Zaidi’s first offseason, when he promised to bring in two major league outfielders, and instead, the Opening Day lineup included two waiver claims, Connor Joe and Michael Reed, both of whom were gone a few weeks later. At the time, Zaidi said he’d planned to trade for outfielders but found the trade market harder to crack than he’d thought. He waited too long, thought too hard, and didn’t want to take any risks.
Four years later, it appears that nothing has changed. Zaidi hasn’t learned or grown with the job.
As Brisbee said, there is still time and there are several scenarios by which the Giants could still salvage a decent-to-good offseason. I hope that in the next week or two I get to write about those, instead. But right now I feel existential dread. Until I see something different, I fear that our beloved Giants are doomed to irrelevance and futility for many years to come. Until I see something different, I believe that Farhan Zaidi is the barrier to a Giants turnaround, not the instrument of it. I don’t want to think that, and as I said at the top, I’ll be thrilled to be proven wrong. Lefty out.