The Giants could be one of the most aggressive teams this offseason, given their limited payroll commitments and many areas of need. The club’s president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recently spoke about how “everything is on the table” this winter, “including going out and being aggressive at the top end of the free agent market.” Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that they would “love” to go after one of the top shortstop free agents if they don’t sign Aaron Judge.
Judge will undoubtedly be the top free agent on the market, based on his career track record and incredible platform season. He’s already hit 55 home runs on the year and has produced an overall batting line of .307/.410/.679. That amounts to an unbelievable 202 wRC+, indicating Judge has somehow been 102% better than the league average hitter. When combined with solid outfield defense and 16 stolen bases, he’s already racked up 9.3 wins above replacement on the season in the estimation of FanGraphs and 8.7 at Baseball Reference.
Given that Judge grew up in the Bay Area, he’s often been speculatively connected to the Giants, though it would take a sizeable commitment on the team’s part for that to come to fruition. Back in April, Judge and the Yankees failed to reach an agreement on an extension, with the slugger reportedly turning down a seven-year, $213.5MM deal. Judge was apparently looking for $36MM over nine or ten years, a range of $324-360MM. Now that Judge is having his best season yet and will soon be able to court offers from the 29 other teams, it’s entirely possible that he will now try to do even better than that.
The Giants haven’t operated at anywhere near that level since Zaidi took over in November of 2018, having not yet given out a contract longer than three years in his tenure. However, that means that the team’s ledger is fairly clear, giving the club the opportunity to change course. There’s only about $89MM committed for next year’s team, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That doesn’t include raises for arbitration-eligible players like Mike Yastrzemski or Logan Webb, but it does include $22.5MM for Carlos Rodon, who is almost certainly going to opt out and return to free agency. They have just over $20MM committed to 2024 and nothing for 2025 and beyond. Given that they had an Opening Day payroll of $155MM this year, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and have been as high as $200MM in 2018, there’s room for a big splash if they want to make it.
If the club can’t successfully bring Judge back to the neighborhood, it seems that pursuing a shortstop will be another option they will consider. Of course, the club already has a shortstop in Brandon Crawford, who has been a mainstay there for over a decade, having made his debut in 2011. Last year was a revelation for Crawford, as he suddenly produced the best campaign of his career after a few rough seasons. He hit .298/.373/.522 in 2021, producing a 138 wRC+ that was 25 points better than his previous career high. When combined with his excellent defensive work, he produced 6.3 wins above replacement, in the estimation of FanGraphs, easily eclipsing his previous high of 4.4.
In the midst of that excellent showing, the Giants and Crawford agreed to a two-year, $32MM extension, though the first season has been a disappointment. Crawford has been battling a knee injury for most of the year, going on the IL twice because of it. When healthy enough to take the field, he hasn’t been able to produce at anywhere near his 2021 output. He’s hitting .226/.305/.346 on the season for a wRC+ of 85, with his defensive numbers also not as impressive as last year.
Crawford still has one year remaining on that extension but will be turning 36 in January. Given his age, knee issues and diminished performance, it seems the Giants are willing to consider a bold move to strengthen their infield. Since the field of available shortstops is going to be strong again this year, it might be prudent to strike early, even if it means Crawford and another shortstop sharing the roster for one season. Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson are both on the cusp of free agency, with Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts both expected to opt out of their respective contracts and join them.
The Giants have also been significantly held back by their defense this year, with a collective -30 Outs Above Average and -33 Defensive Runs Saved, both of those numbers placing them 28th in the majors. Ultimate Zone Rating gives them a -28.6, which is 29th. Second base has been a particularly rough area, with the team’s collective numbers at the keystone coming in at -5 OAA (25th), -15 DRS (29th) and -2.1 UZR (21st). Having a shortstop-quality defender take over at second base, either Crawford or an outside addition, might be a good way for the club to take a step forward next year, especially with the ban on extreme defensive shifts going into place next season.
Thairo Estrada and Wilmer Flores have taken the bulk of playing time at second base this season, though each is capable of playing other positions and arguably better utilized away from second. Estrada has a -10 DRS at second and Flores a -6 this year, with each of them putting up better numbers at the other positions they’ve played. Estrada has yet to reach arbitration and Flores is eschewing free agency after agreeing to a two-year extension, reported earlier today.
Each of the Turner/Swanson/Correa/Bogaerts group will likely command a lesser contract than Judge, though that doesn’t mean they will be cheap. All four of them are currently younger than 30 years old, with Xander crossing that threshold on October 1. That means each of them will likely be looking for lengthy contracts. This past offseason, Corey Seager got ten years, Marcus Semien got seven, with Trevor Story and Javier Baez each getting six. Correa ended up settling for a three-year deal, though with a high average annual value of $35.1MM and opt-outs after each season. Similar to any Judge contract, the Giants would likely have to break their pattern of sticking to short-term deals in order to make an impact in the shortstop market. Should they miss out on all of the upper tier options, there’s a significant drop to the next level, which will be occupied by players like Jose Iglesias and Elvis Andrus.
All told, it should be a fascinating winter for the Giants and their fans. The club has been keeping its books mostly clear for years and has stayed busy on the waiver wire, grabbing just about any role player they could find. That’s left the roster in a position where they have solid depth all around the roster but a lack of truly outstanding players. 10 different position players have produced at least 0.5 fWAR for the Giants on the season but none higher than 2.3 so far. Perhaps the conditions are right for them to raise the ceiling in the months to come.