The San Francisco Giants will close their disappointing 2017 season in six weeks with a complex, and contradictory, set of expectations for the 2018 MLB season.
San Francisco’s ownership and front office management are more than ready, though.
They’re promoting the embarrassing “Believe in the magic—we’ll be back next year” line to their fanbase, who are understandably more than eager to make the past three seasons magically go away.
Giants? What Giants?
It’s telling where Giants franchise is right now. Not just their Major League win/loss record, but the team’s reputation and image throughout the national baseball media, where references to San Francisco baseball are rare.
And not just this season– I think it began after the team’s 2014 back-door World Series win.
Anyone who watches the MLB Network, for instance, knows that the Giants are virtually never featured or even brought up in program discussions because there’s little to analyze or deeply discuss about a throw-back franchise that is so far behind the modern curve of the game.
Giants ownership and front office management can’t publicly admit it, but they must have a sense that this franchise is in a very deep hole. To climb out of that hole they will need to make a series of very smart moves over a period of several years.
We have talked frequently here about San Francisco’s expensive and unproductive 40-man roster, and their desultory farm system which won’t soon be producing the young impact MLB players this franchise desperately needs.
And we also know a Giants rebuild isn’t just off the table, it’s not allowed in the room.
Giants President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer did not construct the massive money-making machine known as the San Francisco Giants with an “off” switch.
The Likely Plan Moving Forward
I’m guessing that CEO Baer already has his marketing team developing shiny-object strategies for 2018 and beyond to distract the faithful and promote the cringing canard that new glory is just around the next corner.
And the Giants’ devoted, but generally compliant and unquestioning, fanbase is usually more than happy to drink the front office Kool-Aid.
Given all this, there are two available lifelines for the San Francisco Giants moving forward:
- Take a deep dive into the 2017-18 free agent pool. And then jump even higher and deeper into the wildly valuable 2018-19 free agent pool.
- Take on high-end massive salary dumps from other teams. Think Giancarlo Stanton, Zack Greinke, etc.
But there are several major obstacles in choosing the free agent or salary dump solutions to the Giants’ pitching and run scoring problems.
Let’s Talk Contract Commitments and Money
Here’s the first part of the math.
On Opening Day 2018, the San Francisco Giants will come to the plate with about $162 million in existing player salaries. That’s approximately 90% of their 2017 payroll, which totaled $180.8 million.
The wild card here is starter Johnny Cueto who was expected to opt out of his six-year $130m contract at the end of the 2017 season. If Cueto does opt out, it will add an additional $21 million a year to the Giants potential 2018 payroll pot.
But ironically, that “extra” money won’t be nearly enough to pay for a Cueto-level replacement.
Cueto’s recent injury issues might cause him to play it safe and not exercise that opt out clause. For the purpose of this piece, let’s assume (and hope) Cueto doesn’t opt out.
The 2018 MLB luxury tax line-of-death is set at $197 million for all MLB teams. If the Giants are determined to avoid paying the 50% fine on all luxury tax overages, they are left with about $35 million a year to toss at potential free agents after October.
Understand, San Francisco can easily pay for any level of payroll, and any amount of luxury taxes, without blinking an eye (or both eyes).
As we have discussed a number of times, Forbes.com has documented that the Giants have the wealthiest ownership group in the Majors. In fact, principal owner Charles B. Johnson is the 4th richest sports team owner in America ($5.8 billion).
The Giants are also ranked as the 5th most valuable team in the Majors ($2.65 billion, $428m in revenues), just behind the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs.
The difference between the Giants and the Yankees/Dodgers/Red Sox is that those teams have been more willing than the Giants to actually spend money.
Let’s Talk Needs and Gets
Right now the San Francisco Giants have a discouraging number of immediate needs just on the 25-man roster: specifically all three outfield spots, third base, two starting pitching spots, and at least two bullpen spots.
At the same time, they’ve seen very poor run production this season at 2nd base, 1st base, and shortstop.
The first big 2018 roadblock is the number of poor performing and declining players who will be returning to the Giants starting line-up.
Outfielders Hunter Pence and Denard Span will be making a combined $27.5m in 2018, and unless they are released or traded along with a boatload of their contract money, both players will be on the Opening Day roster.
Recent talk from the Giants front office has Span moving from center field to left field in 2018. Which is like moving the elephant in the room into another room; somehow you haven’t solved the real problem.
Subpar starters Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija will be making a combined $27m next season. Add to that the $7.5 buyout the Giants will pay Matt Cain to not pitch for them again, and that’s another $34.5m.
And please, stuffing poor performing starters into an already struggling bullpen only causes a dramatic increase of elephants in various other rooms.
The three-year hole at third base will continue to be a very big problem in 2018.
If 31-year-old Pablo Sandoval is the starter on Opening Day 2018 I predict alcohol sales at AT&T Park will go through the roof (which actually may be one of the Giants’ new marketing plans).
But Sandoval is a shiny object fan favorite at AT&T Park, and that’s currently more important to the front office than actual performance.
The Giants can’t climb out of the hole they’re in by signing, or trading for, non-impact players. So how many premier free agents can San Francisco realistically sign to begin to plug so many holes?
Darvish will want a 6 to 7 year deal worth around $30m a year. Arrieta will be at $30m+/year and Lynn should break the $20m/year level. One of these impact pitchers alone will cost the Giants 60-90% of the $35m available before they hit the luxury tax penalty line.
So just two quality free agent signings this off-season will put the Giants into luxury tax penalty territory, where they don’t want to go again.
Does anyone really believe that signing just two high end free agents this off-season will turn this franchise around in 2018?