Giants finally have financial wiggle room at perfect time


With no salary cap and no floor, you have to read between the lines to figure out how much an MLB team plans to -- or can -- spend in a given offseason. When it comes to the Giants, this actually used to be pretty easy.

In the years following the third championship, the Giants were usually paying, or flirting with, the competitive balance tax. Often, you could pinpoint exactly what they had to spend by team officials' statements about which side of the line they planned to be on.

The Giants paid the tax from 2015 through 2017 and were going to be over in 2018, as well, before Bobby Evans made a midseason deal to shed salary. Since Farhan Zaidi took over that November, a big part of his focus has been clearing the books. 

Zaidi has given out just one multi-year deal -- two years for Wilmer Flores -- and has not guaranteed a yearly salary higher than the $9 million Kevin Gausman signed for last December. However, Gausman will double that if he accepts the qualifying offer this week. 

The Giants no longer talk much about their overall spending habits, although there continue to be hints about what ownership is capable of. We know there's a Giancarlo Stanton-sized rainy day fund out there, one that was nearly used a year later on Bryce Harper. The pandemic has changed the equation, but the Giants still are doing better than just about any organization. Even as San Francisco shut down in the spring, construction continued on the massive and lucrative Mission Rock development since some of the housing there is affordable and thus made the whole project "essential" in the city's eyes. 

The Giants will be fine, which is why it was so disappointing inside and outside Oracle Park that they laid off about 10 percent of their workforce last month. That seemed a harbinger of a slow offseason for the baseball ops department, but the commitment to Gausman indicates that maybe won't be the case, and rival executives expect the Giants to be one of the busier teams in free agency. 

Whether Zaidi and Scott Harris decide to spend now in a depressed market, or wait to make a splash in late 2021, they're in a good position payroll-wise. Zaidi inherited a roster with eight players making at least $12 million, but three of them are now gone. Madison Bumgarner signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks (the Giants appear to have dodged a huge bullet there), Mark Melancon's final year was traded to the Braves, and Jeff Samardzija's five-year $90 million deal came to an end when the 2020 season did. 

There still are five big contracts on the books, but four of them expire after the 2021 season. Buster Posey will return to a $21.4 million salary, but that's his final guaranteed year on a contract he signed seven years ago. The Giants hold the option for the 2022 season and can buy their way out of that year for $3 million. Johnny Cueto also has a club option in 2022 that seems unlikely to be picked up, meaning 2021 will almost certainly be the final year of his six-year contract, with the Giants owing him $21 million. 

The Brandons both signed extensions years ago that are up at the same time. Belt is due $16 million next year and Crawford $15 million. Neither has an option for 2022. 

The only player in this group who is guaranteed past the 2021 season is the relative newcomer, Evan Longoria, who is due $18.5 million next year and $19.5 million the year after that, although the Rays are paying part of that, saving the Giants about a couple million per season.

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There are others -- Alex Dickerson, Austin Slater, Reyes Moronta, eventually Mike Yastrzemski -- who will be part of the mix via arbitration, but in terms of guaranteed contracts, the Giants are winding them down at the perfect time. The 2021 free-agent class is expected to be one of the best in hot stove history, and right now the Giants will enter those bidding wars with just Longoria on their books. 

After two years of being careful with their spending, they also could pivot and jump on the best players in this 2020 class. It's unclear if the Giants are ready to do so, but if they want to be aggressive after missing the playoffs by one game. They can spend this winter knowing that they're no longer anywhere near the tax line, and that they have more than $70 million coming off their books after this upcoming season.

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