Giants

Cueto's decision puts Giants in sticky situation with luxury tax

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USATSI

Cueto's decision puts Giants in sticky situation with luxury tax

SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto’s camp waited until the final moments Saturday to announce that Cueto would not be opting out of the remaining four years on his six-year contract. Cueto had hoped the Giants would tweak his deal, perhaps guaranteeing his 2022 option or adding a no-trade clause, but general manager Bobby Evans said this week that there were no negotiations. 

The contract stayed the same, and Cueto chose to honor his original pact, surely knowing that he couldn't hope to get $84 million guaranteed after a down year that included elbow discomfort and lingering blisters. For the Giants, Cueto’s decision locked a potential ace back into their rotation -- and they're happy about that -- but it also set off another round of meetings. 

Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans, Bruce Bochy and the rest of the brain trust planned to spend the early part of this week waiting to find out just how much leeway they have to add to the roster. It’s a call made at the ownership level, and after three straight years of paying the Competitive Balance Tax, there are many in the organization who feel free agency is not the best way forward. 

“Obviously it’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Sabean said of the payroll number. “(Cueto’s opt-out) wasn’t a coin-flip in our minds but you have to be prepared for the worst. Now that he’s folded in, it’s a big number to fold in. (This week is) critical to map out what our threshold is. We don’t know the answer to that. We do have some preliminary thoughts and ownership has passed on some of their guidelines, but it’s going to take a session with Larry (Baer) and Bobby and myself.”

The front office had a strong sense of the math coming into free agency, but the numbers weren’t finalized until the last week, when Cueto made his decision and the team officially picked up 2018 options on Madison Bumgarner ($12 million), Matt Moore ($9 million) and Pablo Sandoval ($500,000). 

The Cueto, Bumgarner and Moore deals mean the Giants now have 10 players scheduled to make at least $9 million. The tax numbers are a bit different because it counts an average annual value of your entire deal, but that total isn’t any prettier. 

According to numbers compiled by Cot’s Contracts, the Giants already have a tax number of about $187 million when you account for arbitration-eligible players, the remainder of the 40-man roster and benefits that are included in the final tax number. That leaves them only about $10 million of wiggle room until they hit the tax for a fourth straight year, which would continue to penalize them in multiple facets of team-building. They also would again be taxed a 50 percent penalty on any dollar over the $197 million limit. 

You can see why it’s such a sticky situation. Bringing Nick Hundley back as the backup catcher would wipe out a chunk of that remaining room. The Giants want to add a veteran lefty reliever, and that player would also just about put them at the tax. This is why Sabean again hinted Monday that the best route might be a trade, where the Giants could potentially pick up a pre-arb or early-arbitration center fielder who won’t cost more than a couple million. 

As for third base, the need for power, the bullpen, the bench … well, it’s a tough puzzle unless the Giants are willing to blow past the tax number, and over the last year team officials have indicated multiple times that they’re hoping to dip under at some point soon and reset their penalties. 

“It’s complicated because we admit after a 98-loss season that we do have some glaring weaknesses,” Sabean said. “More and more you play the shell game. There are certain things that are musts (to acquire). We’ve met over and over again and tried to shrink what we can control.”

Projection system loves Giancarlo Stanton at AT&T Park

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AP

Projection system loves Giancarlo Stanton at AT&T Park

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have made a habit in recent winters of “kicking the tires,” so to speak, on as many free agents as possible. General manager Bobby Evans is committed to being thorough, but at times there is probably no need. 

Hitters have made no secret of the fact that they prefer friendlier confines, and if you’re a power hitter, you’re going to ask Evans for a significantly larger check to play 81 of your games at the harshest power park in the majors. That’s what makes Giancarlo Stanton, readily available via trade, so intriguing. But would Stanton be fully immune to the realities of AT&T Park?

The numbers, at least in a small sample, suggest he would. Stanton has played 27 games in San Francisco and taken 108 at-bats. He has nine homers, 11 doubles and a triple. His .676 slugging percentage at AT&T Park isn’t far off his mark at Coors Field (.714), and his 1.048 OPS is higher than his OPS during the 2017 season, when he hit 59 homers. 

The damage has been done in limited time, but the Giants clearly believe it’s fully sustainable, and a recent study done by ESPN’s Dan Szymborski backs that up. Szymborski ran his ZiPS projection system to estimate Stanton’s stats over the next 10 years for a variety of suitors. The numbers in orange and black are overwhelming. 

The projections have Stanton at 46.2 WAR over the next 10 seasons, including 7.1 in 2018 and 6.8 in 2019, the two seasons the organization should be focused on given Madison Bumgarner’s contract situation. ZiPS projects Stanton at 46 homers next season if he plays for the Giants, followed by 43, 42, 39, 35 over the following four years. For comparison’s sake, Brandon Belt led the Giants in homers each of the last two seasons and he has 35 total during that span. 

Any sort of projection system needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, especially with a player who has had injury issues in the past. But ZiPS believes Stanton -- who plays in a huge park already -- is a rarity, the kind of power hitter who can keep crushing well into his 30’s and put up huge numbers even if he is limited by the realities of getting older and getting hurt. Szymborski’s projections have Stanton playing just 102 games in 2025, but he’s still projected to hit 23 homers, 20 doubles and post an OPS+ of 121. Even in the 10th year of the projections, ZiPS has Stanton down for 16 homers. 

There are no sure things in this game, but as Evans continues to chase a blockbuster deal, he can be confident that Stanton is one player who should be able to provide power for years to come, no matter what AT&T Park does to hold hitters down. 

Former A's slugger Gomes offers Ohtani scouting report: 'Big fan of the dude'

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AP

Former A's slugger Gomes offers Ohtani scouting report: 'Big fan of the dude'

Former A's left fielder/DH and Bay Area native, Jonny Gomes, last played Major League Baseball in 2015. The next year, Gomes looked to continue his career in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. 

Gomes struggled in Japan, batting just .169 in 18 games. While in Japan though, Gomes saw firsthand the two-way talent of Shohei Ohtani. 

"The dude throws 100 miles per hour consistently," Gomes said Tuesday to MLB Network Radio. "That plays."

With MLB, the Players Association, and the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization agreeing to a new posting system, Ohtani should soon be available as a free agent to MLB teams. Gomes was adamant that Ohtani will live up to the hype. 

"If you have the arm speed to throw 100 miles per hour, guess what your slider's gonna do -- yikes. And he also has a split, which is yikes with that arm speed. And he also has a changeup, and he also has a curveball. You're talking about five plus, plus, plus pitches.

"If he was in the draft, I think it would be a no-brainer right now that he'd be No. 1 overall," Gomes said. 

Since turning pro as an 18-year-old, Ohtani has been a dominant force on the mound. The 6-foot-3 right-hander owns a 42-15 career record with a 2.52 ERA and 1.076 WHIP. 

What makes Ohtani, 23, so intriguing is that he's not only the best pitcher in Japan, he may be the best hitter too. In 2017, Ohtani hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games. The left fielder/DH owns a .286/.358/.500 career slash line with 48 home runs. 

"Now hitting wise, is it gonna transfer, is it not? I've seen the dude hit a fly ball that hit the roof of the Tokyo Dome," Gomes remembers. "So, what does that tell you? That bat speed's there, that power's there, that he's generating a lot out front.

"To be able to hit the roof of the Tokyo Dome is way more impressive than hitting any other roof in the states. It would be like hitting the roof in Seattle when it was closed, it's way up there."

Everyone knows about Ohtani off-the-charts talent. The stats are there. What we don't know as much about is his personality. Gomes does and he believes his leadership will make him be a star in the states. 

"I'm a big fan of the dude," Gomes says. "I saw his work ethic, I saw how players treated him, I saw how respectful he was. Over there it's all about seniority. Granted he was the biggest star on the field at any given moment, but still gave the utmost respect to seniority guys on his ball club."