With the Winter Meetings set to kick off next weekend, we’re moving to the tenth installment of this series. Here are links to the previous team payroll projections:
If you have questions about financial information made available to the public and the assumptions used in this series, please refer to the Phillies piece linked above.
Today, we look into a club whose on-the-fly re-stocking in 2018 largely backfired, keeping them out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season for the first time since 2009: the San Francisco Giants.
Unlike many of the teams that we have examined in this series, the Giants’ ownership structure is highly diversified and somewhat secretive. 2008 began with Peter Magowan’s 15th year as managing general partner of the club. Magowan began the year in turmoil in the aftermath of the Mitchell Report and ended the year having transitioned his management role to Bill Neukom. Neukom ran the show only until 2011 at which time Charles B. Johnson became the plurality member in the LLC that owns the ball club. Johnson reportedly owns approximately 25 percent of the team as part of a group of approximately 29 co-owners.
Despite the complicated ownership structure, the front office enjoyed tremendous continuity. Brian Sabean ascended to the role of general manager in 1997 and held that job through the 2014 season before climbing to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, with Bobby Evans handling day-to-day operations starting in 2015. No more. Sabean was reassigned out of Baseball Operations following the 2018 season, at which time Evans was fired.
The executive tasked with re-imagining the San Francisco front office? Former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. Zaidi spent a decade in the Bay Area with Oakland before spending the last four years in Los Angeles. As the new President of Baseball Operations, Zaidi will oversee the first major transition in San Francisco’s baseball management in two decades.
Before hitting the numbers, please recall that we use data from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, we’ll use average annual value (“AAV”) on historical deals but actual cash for 2019 and beyond, and deferrals will be reflected where appropriate. And, of course, the value of examining historical payrolls is twofold: they show us either what type of payroll a team’s market can support or how significantly a given ownership group is willing to spend. In the most useful cases, they show us both. We’ll focus on a 15-year span for the Giants, covering 2005-18 for historical data as a means to understanding year 15: 2019. For the Giants, this time frame covers a period of rebuilding that ultimately fueled three World Series winners. We’ll also use Opening Day payrolls as those better approximate expected spending by ownership.
Those payrolls were remarkably stagnant through 2010 before taking a leap in 2011 that became an annual tradition throughout much of the years that followed.
During this period of increased spending, the Giants did reach luxury taxpayer status for the first time in 2015, remaining there for each of the next two seasons before resetting their status in 2018 by falling under the threshold. The team paid just $8.8 million in aggregate luxury tax payments over those three seasons, so the tax hasn’t substantially impacted team spending over our time frame.
While Major League spending has increased dramatically over the time period above, the Giants haven’t allocated substantial resources to international amateur bonuses. It seems as though the cash increases were focused nearly exclusively on the Major League roster that made regular trips to late October throughout this decade.
Get ready for lots of big numbers for multiple years.
The big-money, long-term commitments are staggering.
Cueto, owed $71 million over the next three years presuming that the Giants buy out his 2022 option, was a star during his debut season with San Francisco in 2016, producing 5.5 WAR in leading the team’s rotation as they made their most recent playoff trip. Cueto’s 2017 season was marred by numerous injuries, including the dreaded forearm strain that served as a precursor to a nightmarish 2018 spent largely on the disabled list before he underwent Tommy John surgery last August. As a result, the Giants likely expect little to nothing from him again in 2019.
Like Cueto, Posey underwent a significant operation in August. Unlike Cueto, Posey has produced at a consistently elite level throughout the course of his contract, until this year’s career-worst 106 wRC+. While Posey’s hip operation figures to hamper his efforts to prepare for the season, he should be ready around Opening Day.
Samardzija was solid during his first year in San Francisco before a strong second year in 2017. Unfortunately, the remarkably durable righty finally succumbed to the injury bug, losing most of 2018 to a shoulder injury that lingered into the start of the offseason. With only two years left on his deal, it’s possible that the Giants have received as much value as they’ll be getting from that contract.
The next two players are both longtime Giants who played key roles on championship teams but have settled into roles as solid regulars instead of impact stars. Both Belt and Crawford are young and talented enough to rebound in 2019, but neither contract represents excellent value, especially Belt’s as the first base market has largely collapsed since he signed his extension.
The next two contracts look bad. Really bad. Melancon arrived in San Francisco to shore up the back of a wobbly bullpen. However, bouts with forearm injuries have limited his chance to make an impact. When he has pitched, he’s been solid but certainly nothing close to what the Giants expected from him given his contract. Longoria appears headed down a startlingly similar path, struggling mightily in his first season since arriving from Tampa Bay via trade. At 33, Longoria faces long odds to reattain star status, but the Giants would likely be happy if he returned to being a solid regular for at least a few more years.
We’ll skip to Watson for a moment. The veteran lefty structured his contract in such a way that the Giants stayed just under the luxury tax threshold, and he rewarded the team by delivering the finest season of his career in 2018, despite an across-the-board drop in velocity.
Now for the skipped contract: Bumgarner. The longtime ace and World Series hero finds himself at a crossroads that would have been inconceivable two years ago. Bumgarner made at least 31 starts each year from 2010-16, but an April 2017 shoulder injury suffered in a dirt bike accident, perhaps combined with years of significant usage, has changed his trajectory going forward. The Giants are willing to listen on their ace as he heads toward free agency next year.
In the aggregate, San Francisco is as committed to their current roster as any team in the league. Overhauling the roster would require a bevy of big-salary moves from Zaidi.
Given this amount of guaranteed money, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Giants have very little in the way of arbitration-eligible talent. After they said goodbye to Hunter Strickland and Gorkys Hernandez, key reliever Will Smith is, incredibly, the only arbitration-eligible Giant who hasn’t already agreed to terms with the club. Here are their arbitration projections, noting that both Sam Dyson and Joe Panik have already come in at salaries south of those projected by MLBTR and Matt Swartz:
While Smith missed all of 2017, he returned in 2018 and filled the role of bullpen ace that Giants leadership hoped to see Melancon fill.
What Does Team Leadership Have to Say?
Very little regarding the specifics of the 2019 payroll. Given their recent payroll push into the baseball stratosphere of spending, the Giants are largely expected to maintain a significant payroll next year. While Zaidi has hinted at something of a mini-rebuild — perhaps including a Bumgarner trade — there’s no indication from management or ownership that payroll will plummet.
Kerry Crowley of The Mercury News expects payroll to stay in line with that of current years, coming in shy of the luxury tax line but among the top figures in the league.
Probably. It’s a bit tougher to see a Machado fit given that the Giants would likely have a whale of a time trying to move Crawford or Longoria right now. But Harper makes plenty of sense for a team in need of youth, power, and an influx of talent. He certainly checks all three boxes. As a kid from Nevada, it’s likely that the Giants at least get a chance to pitch the young slugger on the benefit of playing on the West Coast.
What Will the 2019 Payroll Be?
The Giants are much tougher to peg than most other teams given the relative silence of their front office and the equally likely possibilities that they rebuild on the fly or go for a return to glory in 2019.
Entering the next phase of the offseason, the Giants hold a payroll of $156.0 million, $162.8 million for luxury tax purposes.
If the Giants can get Harper to commit to the team, I expect that his commitment will be accompanied by ownership’s commitment to enter taxpayer territory for the next two or three years in order to field a viable winner. It’s going to take additional cash to get there.
If Harper doesn’t come to town, expect to see the team remain under the tax line, albeit arriving close to that figure. With the tax threshold at $206 million and somewhere north of $13 million counting for player benefits, the Giants figure to want that tax payroll to come in around $190 million to leave them with a bit of wiggle room.
Projected 2019 Payroll: $185 million cash ($204 million for luxury tax)
Projected 2019 Payroll Space: $29 million