After winning 107 games in 2021, the Giants have taken a big step backwards, with only a 63-68 record this season. Pretty much everything clicked during that dream season, but injuries and under-performance have marred San Francisco’s efforts this year, with the bullpen and much of the lineup being particularly inconsistent.
As a result, some notable changes could be in store for the 2023 club. In an interview on The Front Office on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (partial audio clip), Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said that “everything is on the table for us” this offseason, “including going out and being aggressive at the top end of the free agent market.”
Zaidi has yet to make any true big-ticket signings since taking over the front office in November 2018, preferring shorter-term deals with both free agents or in-house players. This isn’t to say that the Giants have been necessarily adverse to spending in general, considering that the club’s current payroll is around $162.3MM (as per Roster Resource). However, even that total is below the team’s spending levels prior to Zaidi’s tenure, as payroll topped the $200MM mark in 2018 before Zaidi was hired.
Of course, that payroll was inflated by several large contracts given to veteran players and stalwarts of the Giants’ three World Series championships, and by 2018, most of those players were no longer productive. Rather than entirely rebuild, Zaidi took a more measured approach to moving some but not all of those larger deals, and this strategy was a big part of the Giants’ sudden success in 2021. Such underperforming veterans as Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, and Johnny Cueto were generally healthier and much more productive on the field, with the revamped coaching staff helping these players find their old form.
Posey retired, while Cueto wasn’t re-signed and instead landed with the White Sox. Crawford was given a contract extension before the 2021 season was even over, and Belt was also retained when he accepted San Francisco’s one-year qualifying offer. As it turned out, it seems like the Giants may have simply waited a year too long with these players, as Crawford and Belt have struggled, and Longoria has hit well when healthy but has also played only 69 games.
“We had a bunch of veteran players when I came in whose contracts were going to be up last offseason and this coming offseason,” Zaidi said, describing this period “as a time of big transition for our organization.” Considering how well the Giants played in 2021, “it made sense for us to not be too aggressive with the transition and retrench a little bit with the guys who had had that successful season for us.”
With things not working out in 2022, Zaidi finally seems ready to turn the page on this version of the Giants roster. Belt, Joc Pederson, and Wilmer Flores are all free agents, while Longoria’s $13MM club option will likely instead be bought out for $5MM (and, Longoria might retire altogether at season’s end). Zaidi said earlier this week that the Giants have already talked to Pederson about an extension, and Flores has still been productive enough that he could be considered for another deal at a relatively low cost.
How many veterans are kept, however, will tie into Zaidi’s plan for a younger roster. As he noted in the Front Office interview, “we find ourselves in a position this offseason where we want to get more athletic. We want to have a roster that has a better chance of staying healthy, which usually means getting a little bit younger.”
This strategy will also impact the Giants’ free agent plans. Health is naturally always a concern for any team in deciding whether or not to sign a free agent, especially since most players are generally in their late 20’s or early 30’s by the time they earn enough service time to reach the open market. Looking at some of the top free agents available this winter, pretty much everyone has some level of injury history, though if youth is more of a factor for San Francisco, players like Carlos Correa (who turns 28 this month) or Trea Turner (who turns 30 in June) could be prioritized. Aaron Judge will be 31 in April, but the Bay Area native has been speculated as a natural target for his old hometown team.
Besides free agents, the Giants could also obviously look to add players in trades, though getting younger and more athletic types will naturally come at a higher cost in terms of trade return. Since the Giants have only around $89MM on the books for 2023, Zaidi could perhaps look to lower the prospect cost by taking on a larger contract, and using the Giants’ financial flexibility in another way than just spending on a free agent.