Giants' payroll commitments clearing up as Judge chase nears

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SAN FRANCISCO -- In his first decade in baseball, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi saw the extreme lengths that organizations are willing to go when it comes to payroll.

Zaidi got his start with the A's, who often seem to be attempting to prove you can put together a contender with a roster full of guys making the MLB minimum. He then moved on to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers have pushed the upper limits while chasing one superstar after the next.

Over the last four years, Zaidi has lived in between. The Giants had the 13th-highest payroll in the game in 2022, coming in just about $5 million above average, according to Spotrac.

San Francisco entirely has avoided long-term deals since Zaidi took over as president of baseball operations in 2018, but the front office has shown a willingness to spend somewhat lavishly on a year-by-year basis, most recently with Carlos Rodón's two-year, $44 million deal. 

This offseason, that's all likely to change.

The Giants have made no secret of the fact that they plan to go big, with Aaron Judge their first and most important target. While there's a lot of debate within the game about where Judge's contract ultimately ends up, there's little doubt that he surpasses Mike Trout's $36 million per year and sets a new mark for highest average annual value for a position player. 

The good news for the Giants is that they're in a position to pretty easily swallow that kind of deal.

This front office has spent years avoiding big contracts in part because they view them as inefficient -- hello, Colorado's Kris Bryant -- but also in part to clear the books for a superstar or two. With Judge about to hit the market, the Giants now find themselves with a pretty blank slate.

They currently have about $103 million committed to the 2023 roster, but that number likely will drop dramatically before free agency starts. Rodón is a lock to opt out of the $22.5 million left on his deal and the Giants are unlikely to pick up the full $13 million option on Evan Longoria's contract; even if they do bring him back, which seems likely, it should be at a slightly lesser number, something even Longoria has admitted is reasonable. 

Without Rodón, the Giants have just $72.5 million committed for 2023 before they make a decision on Longoria, but there's a caveat to that. They have a large and talented arbitration class that is expected to add about $30 million to next year's payroll.

That still only puts the Giants with just over $100 million committed to next year's roster, although they will have to replace Rodón with a similar player -- or the actual Rodón, just on a much bigger contract -- if they want to contend. Regardless of what they do with Rodón and Longoria, the Giants will have plenty of room to chase marquee hitters before they reach last year's payroll number (estimated around $168 million) or where they've been in the past.

It wasn't long ago that the Giants regularly went just above or bumped up against the CBT number, and in 2016 and 2017, they were just above $200 million from a tax perspective. If the Giants were to get back to that point, they would have roughly $100 million to play with this offseason before having to worry about the tax, as the threshold was raised to $233 million for 2023 during last year's CBA negotiations.

Of course, this is still an organization that tries to find value in every transaction, and Zaidi was brought in partly because he's able to build winners without blowing the budget, as he proved in 2021. When asked recently how much budget room he has to work with this offseason, he was coy. 

"If there are those opportunities and it pushes our payroll up to a level beyond what it's been the last couple of years, I think we'll certainly have that support from ownership and they've said so publicly," he said earlier this month.

"I think we're prepared to be in that area but it's going to come down to the opportunities that we have and if we do have those opportunities and feel we can execute on them, we know we'll have the support from ownership."

RELATED: Report: Giants will do 'whatever it takes' to land Judge

When Zaidi took over, he was tasked with whittling down a payroll that had ballooned in losing years, but he did chase a superstar in his first offseason. Ownership signed off on offering Bryce Harper more than $300 million at a time when the Giants were trying to cut costs, and three years later, Judge will get a similar deal. 

This time around, the Giants can make the offer much more comfortably, and not just because of what the 2023 budget looks like. 

Next season is the last under contract for Brandon Crawford, Alex Wood, Alex Cobb and Tommy La Stella, who make up the majority of the money currently committed to the 2023 roster.

The Giants will have to commit more money to arbitration-eligible players like Logan Webb and Thairo Estrada, but at the moment, the only Giants under contract beyond next season are Anthony DeSclafani and Wilmer Flores.

The front office has just about a completely blank slate moving forward, and the timing couldn't be better. 

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