Huge free agency awaits SF Giants after disaster 2022

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The Giants were supposed to be in the thick of the playoff chase in the National League. After shunning a free agent market last winter mostly populated by expensive players on the wrong side of 30, the Giants doubled down on their plan — or processif you prefer — of filling out their roster with inexpensive options while waiting for their trove of prospects to reach the majors.

It was a fine plan for a rebuilding team; after all, what sense would it make to dedicate years and payroll to free agents who’d likely be ineffective by the time those prospects were ready? You can sell a plan—er, process — like that to fans in the midst of a rebuild. It makes perfect sense.

When you win 107 games and a division title, though, plans and processes change. More importantly, expectations change. Fans aren’t content with a seemingly unchanged roster — arguably a weaker one — struggling to get to a .500 record. And fans that aren’t happy don’t buy tickets.

That’s why this upcoming offseason is so important, perhaps tea most important one of the last 20 years. It’s make-or-break time. Last year accelerated the Giants’ timeline, and most fans aren’t going to accept another listless winter while the front office waits for prospects to develop. The Giants need to act.

Luckily, the free agent market seems to be a bit more in line with the front office’s sensitivities this year. If the Giants want to make a splash signing or two, this is a good winter for it with the likes of Aaron Judge and Trea Turner hitting the open market. Judge is a particularly interesting name, since he’s the likely league MVP who also happened to grow up in Northern California idolizing Rich Aurilia. A Bay Area homecoming would be a great story, and it would also give the Giants a bona fide superstar to build a lineup (and ticket sales) around.

If this season has proven anything, it’s that the Giants as currently constructed simply aren’t good enough to compete with the top teams in the league without significant additions up and down the roster. Expanded playoffs mean that more teams are in contention down the stretch, and the Giants aren’t even treading water in the Wild Card race right now. There’s an excellent chance they finish behind the God-awful Diamondbacks in their own division. If they have any hope of contending soon, they need to add talent wherever they can find it.

But for that to happen, the Giants are going to have to SPEND, and this regime hasn’t shown a willingness to do long-term, big-money deals in its brief history. Yes, they supposedly kicked the tires on Bryce Harper, but that resulted in absolutely nothing. A player like Judge is going to need a massive overpay to make him want to hit at AT&T Park while simultaneously paying California taxes, and it isn’t a given that this front office or ownership group is willing to do that, even for a superstar of Judge’s caliber.

And what about pitching? The Giants have already shown their appetite for long-term starter deals is minimal by letting Kevin Gausman walk, so when Carlos Rodon opts out in search of a big payday, how likely is it that the Giants will give it to him? Rodon is without a doubt the best option on the market relative to age and production, so he’s not like the Giants can just sign someone else to replace him. Will they be willing to bend to his demands to keep Rodon at the top of the rotation with Logan Webb?

But these are all in the weeds compared to the real question facing the Giants: What kind of team do they want to be? Are they going to stick with their process, treading water until their top prospects break through before spending in free agency, even if that’s a few years away? Or has fan sentiment and the general malaise that has surrounded this death spiral of a season enough for them to shake things up? Nobody expected them to win the division last year and accelerate their window of contention, but there’s no changing that. Will fans continue to accept a frugal rebuild with the playoffs still fresh in their minds?

It’s also fair to wonder what this offseason will mean for both Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler. Neither is going anywhere, but it’s easy to imagine their seats getting warmer if there’s another underwhelming winter from Zaidi and underperforming summer from Kapler. That is, unless, ownership is tying Zaidi’s hands and limiting spending. The Giants have ranked ninth, ninth and 13th in payroll the last three years, according to Spotrac, well below where the Johnson family’s enormous wealth and the team’s robust business should land them. If they have another middle-of-the-pack payroll next year, fans deserve to know why. How much is the Mission Rock development project costing them, exactly?

The Giants owe their fans some excitement. October baseball would have been better, but they’ll settle for January fireworks. The most consequential offseason in a generation is almost here. Buckle up.

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