Last week, in a despondent edition of Out of Left Field, I said this: “…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.” Well, as the saying goes, “the darkest hour is just before dawn.” After the Winter Meetings Week From Hell, things got a lot brighter for Giants Nation this week.
I wasn’t at all excited to hear that the Giants signed left-hander Sean Manaea, who had an awful year with the Padres and is a back-of-the-rotation starter at best. I perked up a bit when the news broke a day later that the Giants also signed Ross Stripling to a contract identical to that of Manaea: two years, $25 million, an opt-out after year one. Stripling had an excellent year for Toronto. If the Giants weren’t going to pony up for 6-7 years of Carlos Rodón, and I never kidded myself that they would, I could see the value of a rotation that is 7-8 pitchers deep (Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Stripling, Manaea, Jakob Junis–with Kyle Harrison, Sean Hjelle, and Tristan Beck in AAA), even if it doesn’t have a lot of star power. There were way, way, way too many “openers” and “bullpen games” last year.
So I was cheering up some when we went to bed on Tuesday night. We were on vacation in Mexico this past week, and it’s an hour later where we were than it is in California, so I woke up an hour or so later to my phone repeatedly buzzing with texts from SisterLefty, and yes, I woke the Mr up and told him, too. After weeks of rumors, the Giants had landed their big fish: Carlos Correa.
The Transformational Moment?
“That was a hugely pivotal moment to get a good player like Iguodala,” ... “I often talk about that moment as transformational. Up until that point, we hadn’t had any free agents want to come to our team.”
—Bob Myers, GM of the Golden State Warriors, on the acquisition of Andre Iguodala in 2013.
In 2013, the Golden State Warriors executed a sign-and-trade deal for free agent Andre Iguodala. As GM Bob Myers noted in the quote above, the Warriors had a long history of futility when it came to luring high-quality free agents to Oakland. Under coach Mark Jackson, the Warriors in 2013 had made the playoffs for only the second time in the past 20 years and stunned Iguodala’s Nuggets, the third seed, in the first round. Even so, nobody was confusing the Warriors with Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, with the perennially good Spurs, or with LeBron James’s Miami Heat.
I tell this story because on December 13, 2022, the San Francisco Giants may have had their “transformational moment,” at least for the next era of Giants baseball, when they signed their first major free agent hitter since Barry Bonds, 30 years ago last week.
I can confirm that the Giants and Carlos Correa are in agreement on a 13-year, $350 million deal. It's twice as big as any other contract in franchise history. They have their new face of the franchise for years to come.
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) December 14, 2022
After the Judge fiasco, when I saw SisterLefty’s text, I went right to Twitter to see who broke the news. When I saw that ESPN’s Jeff Passan was first and that Alex (who did NOT jump on the Judge-to-the-Giants rumor at the Winter Meetings) had instantly confirmed it, I finally exhaled. That “existential dread” I felt last week? Poof. Gone.
December 6, 1992; June 5, 2008; December 13, 2022: Bonds signed, Buster Posey drafted, Correa signed. I still remember where I was when I heard the Giants were signing Bonds, and I remember Posey being drafted, too. Will Correa’s arrival be of similar significance?
The Giants Finally Receive a Rose
Bobby Evans said Giants made multiple offers. Lester called half hour ago with news. Evans: "We did not receive a rose."
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) December 10, 2014
I loathe and despise the TV reality series “The Bachelor/Bachelorette.” It’s gross. For those of you who are blissfully unfamiliar with this abomination, the premise is that 25 gals/guys pursue one guy/gal (the bachelor/ette). At the end of each episode, contestants are eliminated. The ones who get to stay are asked, “[Name], will you accept this rose?” Once it gets down to the final two or three, the lucky “winner” gets the last rose. Lefty Jr and her friends LOVED this show when they were teenagers, and there was always a gaggle of them at our house for Monday night viewings.
I would never, ever talk about this awful TV show if it weren’t for then-GM Bobby Evans, whose memorable quote about the Giants’ failed pursuit of premium free agent lefty Jon Lester at the Winter Meetings in 2014 has been repeated every time the Giants miss out or come in second on a desirable free agent or trade target. Zack Greinke in 2015? Giancarlo Stanton (via trade) and Shohei Ohtani in 2017? Bryce Harper in 2019? Aaron Judge in 2022? Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. No rose. It became such a thing that Buster Posey, who was pressed into service for the failed recruitments of Lester, Greinke, and Ohtani, used to joke that they should stop involving him because obviously he’s bad luck.
What Does It All Mean?
There have been numerous articles over the past few days about the implications of the Giants signing Correa, so let’s round them up in one neat list.
- National reactions: Keith Law of The Athletic, who had Correa as #1 on his free agent list, called the signing a good investment; Chris “Mad Dog” Russo said that the deal was “desperate” and “crazy” and will go down as “one of the worst moves in franchise history”; Tim Kawakami called the deal “rational irrationality”; and Ken Rosenthal mused about when/if MLB will start cracking down on these ridiculously long contracts (including the deals for Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts in addition to Correa’s) that are clearly intended to push the limits of/subvert the luxury tax. MrLefty likes to call this the “Bobby Bonillafication of major league baseball.”
- What about Brandon Crawford? That’s been one of the first and most persistent questions since the news broke. In an article on Thursday, Andrew Baggarly shared comments from Crawford suggesting that no specifics as to where he’ll play have been discussed yet. Baggarly’s article caused some stir within the fanbase because Crawford made it clear that no one had discussed a position change with him until after Correa’s deal was finalized. There was a lively discussion both in the comments section in The Athletic and on Twitter about whether the Giants had disrespected a franchise icon in the way they handled things. But a couple of commenters pointed out that until it was a done deal, how could they discuss it with Crawford? If Correa didn’t come to the Giants, now you’ve told your incumbent shortstop that you were trying as hard as you could to replace him. Awkward, no matter how you slice it, and Baggs’s article made it clear that it was, indeed, awkward.
- What about Marco Luciano? Luciano’s situation has been discussed less than that of Crawford, but it’s an obvious question. Luciano is the Giants’ top prospect, and they just signed a guy in his prime to a 13-year deal to play the same position. In a post-Correa Giants Talk podcast, Alex Pavlovic and Cole Kuiper discussed two possibilities: (1) Luciano is now trade bait and (2) Luciano was always expected to move off shortstop sooner or later (by scouts), so they might as well start teaching him to play somewhere else right now (second base? third base? right field?). This question is obviously less urgent than the Crawford question because Luciano is only in AA and was probably going to switch positions at some point, anyway.
- What does this do for the Dodgers-Giants rivalry? LOL, it certainly spices things up. Correa is loathed by the Dodgers’ fanbase, a factor that reportedly took the Dodgers out of any serious consideration of bidding for his services. The Chronicle’s John Shea wrote about Correa’s role in the 2017 Astros’ trash can scandal, but here are my thoughts about that: (a) Correa was 23 years old in 2017, and how was he supposed to stand up to Carlos Beltran, a living legend in Correa’s homeland? (b) If Farhan Zaidi, who was the GM of the Dodgers when they lost the 2017 World Series in seven games to the Trashtros, isn’t holding a grudge, why should we? That said, Correa can expect to be heartily booed at Dodger Stadium for the rest of his career, and he’ll even hear boos in his home park, given how many Dodger fans show up there.
OK, what now for the 2023 Giants?
The national media (with the notable exception of Russo) was complimentary about the Correa signing but quick to opine that it won’t help the Giants rise above third place, at best, in the NL West. I was already planning to write about “what next” in my column, and then Grant Brisbee published an article about it on Friday. Here are a few thoughts and comments, some (but not all) borrowed from Grant.
- The Giants still need an outfielder, especially one who can play center field with some competence. The free agent options are quite limited at this point, and the trade options (such as Bryan Reynolds) would be very costly as to prospects. My thoughts: (a) Mike Yastrzemski is an above-average defensive CF. As only a part-time CF in 2022, he was the 16th best CF in MLB among players who spent 500+ innings there. If he were allowed to concentrate on CF, he might be even better. The Giants have already guaranteed Yaz over $6 mil for 2023, so they might as well get the value from him. (b) The Giants have several very good CFs in the minor league pipeline, including Vaun Brown, Grant McCray (whose scouting grade for fielding is 60), and Luis Matos, who won a minor league Gold Glove in CF. If they can hit on just one of those young guys, they could have a homegrown CF for years without having to sell the farm for Reynolds or overpay Brandon Nimmo for eight years. (c) The problem is a backup for Yaz. The obvious choice, Austin Slater, was by the metrics one of the worst CFs in baseball last year. (You know who was worse than him?–Reynolds.)
- The Giants still need a reliever(s), particularly a late-inning guy who can take the pressure off Camilo Doval. With seven starting pitchers on the roster, you figure a couple of them, likely Alex Wood and Jakob Junis, will start the season in the bullpen as bulk innings guys. But even with them and the four incumbents (Doval, Tyler Rogers, John Brebbia, and Scott Alexander), there are still two more spots. There are internal options (Sam Long, Cole Waites, Thomas Szapucki [out of options], and several others), but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Giants spend some money to bring in an established late-inning reliever (Tyler’s twin?).
- The Giants are still pursuing a second catcher. Right now it’s Joey Bart and Austin Wynns, and I guess they liked Wynns well enough last year, but they were in on trade discussions for A’s catcher Sean Murphy (who went to the Braves) and are discussing a reunion with Curt Casali. There’s also Rule 5 acquisition Blake Sabol, who’s listed as an OF on the Giants’ 40-man roster, though he apparently can also catch. (No, Sabol was not claimed by the Giants in the Rule 5 Draft–he was claimed by the Reds who then traded him to the Giants–but he still counts as one, meaning that he has to stay on the Giants’ 26-man roster for the whole season or be offered back to his original team, the Pirates.)
- It’s not entirely clear who will play first base. Considering internal options, a platoon of LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores seems the most likely. A reunion with Brandon Belt, if he’s healthy, doesn’t seem out of the question, but see “roster crunch” in the next bullet point. It would be a shame, though, to have all that firepower at SS and 3B (assuming that’s where Crawford and his QB arm land) and not have someone really great at scooping throws over there.
- The Giants as currently constituted have a roster crunch. With the addition of Correa, they now have the following infielders on the major league roster: Correa, Crawford, Flores, Thairo Estrada, J.D. Davis, David Villar, and Wade Jr. if you want to count him as a possible 1B. Oh. And Tommy LaStella, who says he “feels really good.” That’s eight, and a team would typically carry no more than six. Villar has minor league options and could be the victim of the numbers game. As for the outfield, there’s Yaz, Slater, Wade Jr. (if you count him as an OF), Mitch Haniger, Luis Gonzalez, and Sabol, and of those, only Gonzalez can be optioned (well, Yaz could, but he won’t be).
- The Giants still have room (about $31 million) on their 2023 payroll if they want to stay under the first luxury tax line. Maybe even more importantly, they have almost endless flexibility after 2023, with a lot of money definitely or potentially going off the books after next season. By 2025, the only players definitely under contract are Correa and Haniger, who can opt out at that point if he wants to.
Taking all this together–what the Giants still need, the roster crunch that possibly necessitates a trade(s), and the ongoing payroll flexibility–I assume that the Giants are not done with what has already turned into an enormous offseason. Before the news on Thursday that the Yankees signed Rodón, the Giants were actually leading MLB in the most dollars committed to free agents. But with the Giants having gone this far, it seems unlikely that the roster as of today, December 17, is going to be the one we’ll see in Scottsdale in February or opening at Yankee Stadium (!!!) on March 30.
The Warriors’ “transformational moment” took a couple of years to play itself out. Andre Iguodala’s arrival didn’t translate to instant success for the Warriors, who were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 2014, which marked the end of Jackson’s coaching career. But under new coach Steve Kerr, in 2015 the Warriors won their first championship since 1975 and the first of four in eight years. More good free agents, most notably Kevin Durant in 2016, wanted to join the Warriors after that. But it started with Iguodala.
It’s been over nine years since Iguodala agreed to join the Warriors, and we now have the benefit of hindsight. The analogy to the Giants isn’t perfect. The Giants have had success much more recently than the Warriors had in 2013–three World Series championships in the 2010s and a franchise-record 107 wins just last year. But the Giants needed someone to break the long string of “bridesmaid” finishes. They needed someone to give them that final rose. At the end of last week’s gloomy column, I also said this:
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.
I’m still dubious about Farhan Zaidi, but it can no longer be said that he can’t close on a big free agent deal. (I do wonder, though, if Larry Baer was shoving him, kicking and screaming…the Correa deal does not seem like it’s in Zaidi’s comfort zone. But whatever–it still happened.) Can Zaidi make a big, creative trade? Can he and his staff, especially new GM Pete Putila, improve on the Giants’ dismal drafting outcomes? (And to be fair, that trend didn’t start with Zaidi.) Will he slow down on the counterproductive churning we saw last year? So I’m not entirely walking back my criticisms. But credit where it’s due: We got the rose this time. Carlos Correa is a Giant, and hopefully it will be happily ever after. Lefty out.