The San Francisco Giants are late and surprising entrants into the ongoing derby for free agent outfielder Bryce Harper. That we’re within spitting distance of spring training and Harper is still among the unsigned is surprising in the extreme. So too is the Giants’ surging interest in him. And, no, it’s not just a rumor borne of hot stove boredom. Via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, here’s what Giants CEO Larry Baer told the masses at FanFest on Saturday: 

“Bryce Harper is an amazing player. It’s very hard, and these are competitions, and I can’t handicap it. I don’t know where we are. But we’re giving it a shot. That’s all we can do.”

At first blush, it seems like an odd pairing. Harper presumably wants to join a contender, and the Giants have an aging roster to go with a total of 187 losses over the last two seasons. If you squint, though, you can make some sense of things. At this point, Harper may be in “highest bidder” mindset, and the Las Vegas native is likely fond of the idea of playing on the West Coast. From the Giants’ standpoint, a number of factors are likely nudging them in this unexpected direction. To wit … 

Harper’s market may have dropped enough to entice them.

Self-evidently Harper has yet to receive an offer that motivates him to put pen to paper. Given the late hour, the Giants may suspect that his price has dropped. Months out of the current hot stove season, it seemed plausible that Harper would fetch, oh, half a billion or so. Following a quality but less than vintage season at the plate and his worst defensive campaign to date, Harper wasn’t in quite such a strong position. Since we’re coming up on the middle of February and Harper’s still looking for work, expectations still don’t align with market realities (such as they are). Maybe the Giants now see an opportunity. The bet here is that Harper still comes close to the biggest contract in MLB history (currently Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension with the Marlins) or maybe even breaks that record, but that would still be eminently affordable for a team like the Giants.

They have room in the budget for him.

Speaking of which, the Giants of course have a number of healthy revenue streams and could afford the payroll of their choosing. Teams, though, are increasingly treating the competitive balance tax threshold as a salary cap of sorts. On that front, however, the Giants still don’t have any excuses. Right now, the Giants appear to be roughly $35 million under that threshold for 2019, which should allow them to ink Harper to a long-term deal while still staying under the $206 million tax limit. 

The Giants badly need outfield help. 

Last season, the Giants ranked 23rd in the majors in combined WAR from all three outfield positions. Right now, they’re poised to open the 2019 season with some combination of Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw, Austin Slater, and Drew Ferguson as their starting outfield. Suffice it to say, that’s suboptimal in the extreme — to the extent that it projects as the worst outfield in baseball. Harper directs that shortcoming in a big way, especially, if his defense rebounds as expected. In matters somewhat related, the Giants last season ranked 14th in the NL in home runs and OBP. Harper is nothing if not a home run and OBP guy, even in his weaker seasons.

There’s still a strong organizational inclination toward going for it.

Former Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi not long ago took over as Giants president of baseball operations. That means he wields a great deal of power within the organization. The expectation was that Zaidi would undertake a teardown. That would be a perfectly defensible stance because, as noted above, the Giants have been old and bad over the last two seasons. However, that hasn’t happened, at least not yet. While Zaidi wields the most power of any non-owner in the organization, the Giants have a long-standing habit of trying to contend, even in the face of dismal projections. Last offseason, for instance, they were coming off a 98-loss campaign and still swung win-now deals for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. 

The hiring of Zaidi didn’t completely scrub away that franchise instinct … 

That’s franchise catcher Buster Posey shouting-out the Phillies efforts to build a 2019 contender while also praising his own club’s history of aiming for relevance. On another level, Posey’s probably signalling to Zaidi that he’s not fond of the idea of a rebuild (while also signalling his distaste for the increasing number of teams that seem not to care about, you know, winning baseball games). If Zaidi wants to reboot the Giants, then he’s going to have to pushback to a lot of ingrained resistance to such a thing. 

Can they become a contender in 2019? Probably not. Right now, the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter) tabs the Giants for a mere 71 wins in the upcoming season and gives them a 2.2 percent chance of making the postseason. Harper, obviously, would improve those odds, and the presence of that second wild-card spot means almost any team is a potential contender. Better health up and down the lineup could give the Giants a potentially interesting lineup … 

  1. Steven Duggar, CF
  2. Joe Panik, 2B
  3. Buster Posey, C
  4. Bryce Harper, RF
  5. Evan Longoria, 3B
  6. Brandon Belt, 1B
  7. Brandon Crawford, SS
  8. Mac Williamson, LF

You can squint and find better health for health for Panik and Belt; staved-off decline for Posey, Longoria, and Crawford; and perhaps some additional moves beget by any Harper signing and see something here. You can at least see enough to call the Giants interesting and worth watching, and the organization has subsisted on less at various points over the last decade. 

Harper’s young enough to bridge any rebuild

Of course, signing Harper doesn’t necessarily mean Zaidi’s plans are scuttled for the foreseeable future. Harper is going into his age-26 season, which means he figures to be at least useful for at least the next half-decade or so. That’s enough of a performance window to make him relevant not only to any Giants’ effort to contend in 2019 but also to the first good Giants team after any kind of pivot by Zaidi. 

Oh, and in case you doubted Harper’s capacity to surprise … 

Doubt it no more. 

No, a Harper-Giants pairing probably wouldn’t lead to a return to the postseason in 2019, but an investment in one of the biggest stars in the game today wouldn’t be all about 2019. It would, however, burnish the Giants’ reputation as a team that will find a way to go for it. These days, that’s a point of distinction. 

News

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here