It is extremely difficult to talk about the continuing free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado without finding yourself trapped in a valley of nihilistic despair, with no hope of escape besides the sudden appearance of a “mystery team” savior. With five days until Spring Training begins, everyone on all sides seems content to run out the clock as long as necessary until the money is right. Except for a random quote from Aaron Judge, there’s been no obvious recent movement on the markets for either player. That is, until the San Francisco Giants had a meeting with Harper that became public knowledge on Wednesday.
First of all, it’s at least good that more teams continue to engage with Harper as he remains unsigned. The Giants meeting brings the total number of teams who have met with Harper up to at least six, which, even if ideally every team should want to meet with him and if some teams like the Dodgers never seemed that serious about actually signing him, is still a superficially respectable competition. Or better, at least, than such a coveted player being forced to choose between only the Phillies and the Nationals. But while San Francisco’s supposed interest is a slight boost in a soul-sucking market, it’s entirely unclear how or why Harper would go play in the Bay Area, with obstacles both financial and practical standing in his way.
Money is the number one reason why this Giants meeting feels like a sham. This franchise is currently committed to several years’ worth of expensive contracts for players over 30 who range from respectable to washed. Thirty-three-year-old Johnny Cueto is making $21 million for each of the next three years. Jeff Samardzija is making nearly $40 million over the next two. Evan Longoria will be making $19.5 million in 2022 when he is 36. Mark Melancon, who hasn’t pitched over 40 innings in a year since 2016, is making $19 million in each of the next two seasons, which, damn, good for Mark Melancon. More sentimentally, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Brandon Crawford are all entering well-deserved and well-paid victory laps as their numbers start to decline.
Just listing how much money a bunch of baseball players make and expecting that to suffice as a satisfying explanation for why they can’t sign a 26-year-old former MVP is lame, I know, but it serves as a window into San Francisco’s current outlook. The Giants as an organization have a shitload of money, and the team’s current total salary cost of $165 million still gives them plenty of room to sign Harper and stay under the $206 million luxury tax threshold, if that’s important to them (it is). But with already the sixth-highest payroll in the league, and a championship window recently closed with three World Series to show for it, the Giants aren’t under the same kind of pressure as the Phillies and White Sox to hand out big new contracts, and so they likely won’t.
But even if they did, Harper would be wise to pick any of his other suitors over the Giants, who—as you can see—have invested a lot into a bunch of players several years older than him who would probably struggle to post a winning record even with Harper socking dingers into the Cove. Unlike the Phillies, the Giants are assuredly not just a few pieces away from serious contention. And unlike the Padres or White Sox, they fail to boast the treasure trove of talented can’t-miss kids who would compliment Harper’s prime. A big contract with the Giants would essentially put him in baseball exile for at least the next three or four years.
So, yay, we’re all wasting our time in the week before pitchers and catchers report. At best, this is a half-hearted stab from the Giants at a potential bargain that is far too good to be true, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi basically hinted at that strategy when he explained his reasons for signing Drew Pomerantz last month.
“As the market evolves, there might be guys that you had kind of questioned or doubted the feasibility of at one point that you now circled back on,” Zaidi said. “It’s our job and responsibility to keep tabs on all parts of the market, and we’re continuing to do that.
Anyway, today is PECOTA day. Let that distract you from this depressingly slow sequence of free agency events, which show no signs of speeding up anytime soon.