Around 2 p.m. local time, Jon Heyman of the New York Post, one of the industry’s most active newsbreakers, tweeted “Aaron Judge appears headed to Giants.” That sent everyone at MLB’s Winter Meetings in San Diego and across the baseball world scrambling to their respective panic stations.
Unfortunately, Heyman’s scoop was premature, and ultimately, incorrect. In the early hours Wednesday morning, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported Judge and the Yankees had agreed on a nine-year, $360 million pact, the largest annual average value for a position player in league history.
The wildest part? That wasn’t even Judge’s highest offer. Jeff Passan reported that the Padres swooped in late with a 10-year deal for $400 million. The Giants offered Judge nine years for $360 million before the Yankees did. But in the end it was the Yankees, it was always going to be the Yankees.
It’s an obvious reunion, one rooted in Judge’s desire to be a Yankee for life. The video of him in the San Francisco hotel room, his meeting with the Padres, the buzz about the Giants being the favorites, was all just a negotiating tactic to wring a ninth year out of the Yankees.
But for that brief moment in time, players, coaches and members of the media all believed that Judge was San Francisco bound. Giants starter Logan Webb responded to Heyman’s correction on Twitter with “not cool man.” Even though it’s been reported that Giants officials always believed that Judge would return to the Yanks, there was, for the rest of San Fran baseball land, a brief moment of legitimate hope that the Northern California native was returning home.
So now the Giants must pivot.
While ending up empty-handed and Judge-less is a real blow, there is still reason for optimism. Since becoming the head baseball operations honcho in the Bay in November 2018, Farhan Zaidi has reshaped the organization for the better. Even if that magical 2021 NL West-winning season was an aberration, the Zaidi-era Giants have consistently squeezed the most out of a relatively limited group of players.
It’s a solid roster with one glaring weakness: no superstars. When Buster Posey hung up his spikes after 2021, the Giants were left without a face of the franchise for the first time in over a decade. Their disappointing 2022 season showed the pitfalls of that stark new world, and it’s why Judge made so much damn sense on paper.
But Judge’s decision to stay on the East Coast means Zaidi & Co. might not get their superstar this go-round. Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Nimmo and Dansby Swanson are all phenomenal ballplayers, but none can match the pizzazz and franchise-altering potential of the 2022 AL MVP. Only Carlos Correa comes anywhere close.
That might very well be San Francisco’s pivot, as many have speculated. But there’s also a chance that the Giants’ front office doesn’t see Correa as the franchise cornerstone his price tag might imply. The Twins love the tall shortstop and have been very vocal about their willingness to spend big bucks to bring him back to Minnesota. The Dodgers have tons of money to spend and a hole at shortstop. The Giants aren’t the only team who could use a generational talent, so perhaps they keep the checkbook closed for now. Shohei Ohtani is a free agent next year, by the way.
The Giants could also Frankenstein their way to making up for missing out on Judge, by signing multiple second-tier free agents. Few players currently on the roster would be defined as must-keeps, but almost all the pieces could be valuable contributors on a good team (the opposite to San Diego’s stars and scrubs approach). That gives the Giants a lot of positional flexibility with where they might choose to add talent in free agency.
They’ve already signed outfielder Mitch Haniger to a three-year deal, and with their payroll projected at a paltry $136 million (with an additional $50 million or so coming off the books post-2023), the Giants could bring Carlos Rodón back and sign Nimmo and Bogaerts, while still remaining well below the luxury tax. But financial flexibility is only useful if you use it, and while the Giants have occasionally spent since their World Series runs (2010-14), they’ve yet to push in all the chips under Zaidi.
No matter how promising the future may be, no matter who else the club signs this offseason, Wednesday morning will remain a tough memory in Giants Land. Fans and some players genuinely believed, with good reason, that they’d landed one of the best free agents in baseball history. That was, for 10 minutes, cause for celebration. Alas, the dream went up in flames, blazed into a nightmare.
And it only gets harder to swallow from here. The Giants open up their 2023 season in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium will be completely sold out, a raucous home crowd on hand to welcome Judge back for good. Giants fans will just have to sit and watch and wonder what might have been.
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Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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