Giants show frustration with MLB's slow free agency as offseason ends


Giants show frustration with MLB's slow free agency as offseason ends

SAN FRANCISCO — As Giants executives and the team’s stars talked about Bryce Harper on Friday morning, a veteran stood in one corner of the sprawling room on the suite level at Oracle Park and pointed to Dereck Rodriguez.

“Those are the types of guys I’m really thinking about,” he said.

Harper will get his payday, whether it’s tomorrow or in March, $250 million or $350 million. He’ll be fine. Same with Manny Machado. The Giants who gathered Friday at Oracle Park had a general sense of dissatisfaction with the kinds of offers Harper and Machado have received as two of the best free agents in MLB history, but the list of concerns goes much deeper.

Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford mentioned how many other quality free agents remain out there. Several of Nick Hundley’s former teammates quietly grumbled that the popular catcher was sorting through minor league deals. Many of the players in the room talked of the need for change, none more forcefully than Jeff Samardzija. He spoke passionately about the need to overhaul a system players believe is broken.

This is where someone like Rodriguez comes in. He broke through last season at the age of 26, but as a pre-arbitration player, he’s likely to simply have his contract renewed at or near the MLB minimum. Perhaps Rodriguez will get a raise of a few thousand dollars, but he’s two years from being able to get a real bump in arbitration, and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. 

For years, players have slogged through all of this knowing they would cash out as free agents. That’s no longer the case. 

“We’re going to have to get arbitration moved up a year earlier and get guys to free agency earlier,” Samardzija said. “It seems like there might only be one way to get that, but we’ll see. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that because we want to keep the fans happy. We want people coming to the stadium and watching a great product, but they need the best product available, and having 50 guys sitting at home that are big league players is not the best product.”

If your eyes widened at part of that quote, you read it correctly. 

“You know, striking is the last thing you want to do, but you have to be willing to do it,” Samardzija said. “But I think there are other things before then that can get the ball going the right way."

Part of that involves getting the game’s biggest stars involved, and that’s already happening. Evan Longoria has taken to Instagram and Twitter to advocate for change. Buster Posey, who usually stays away from any hint of controversy, tweeted about the situation on Friday. A day later, he doubled down.

“Somehow the notion that it’s okay not to be competitive for any window of time has become acceptable,” Posey said onstage at FanFest. “That’s my issue.”

The increased chatter -- Justin Verlander of the Astros joined in Monday on Twitter -- has been noticed. Giants president and CEO Larry Baer spent the middle of last week at owners meetings in Florida, and said the concerns will be addressed. 

“If this is a market that doesn’t work then we’ve got to change the system in ways that maybe work better," Baer said.

At the same time, the owners and players agreed to this CBA, and Baer pointed out that they’re just two seasons into a five-year deal. The players were caught off guard last offseason. This offseason they have grown angry, but front offices are unlikely to start operating in a different way. They mostly have come to the same conclusion in recent years.

“You have a lot of really accomplished free agents still out there, but our job is less about what a player has done in the past and more about what we think they’re going to do going forward,” new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “I think that’s some of the slowdown that you see in the market, is players valuing themselves based on what they feel they’ve earned in their careers and front offices maybe being a little more oriented towards what can we expect for this player in 2019 and going forward.”

Zaidi has shied away from big contracts throughout his front office career, but he is currently trying to bring Harper to San Francisco. If that chase fails, ownership and the front office could hear increased grumbling from the clubhouse. The Giants have committed less than $10 million to free agents this offseason, and for the players, that’s not an encouraging sign. 

[RELATED: Bookmarker lists Giants as betting favorite to sign Harper]

On Tuesday, pitchers and catchers will take the field at Scottsdale Stadium and officially begin their season. A week from now, position players will join. They’ll smile and joke and enjoy the fact that they’re getting paid to play a game they love, but in quiet moments, you can expect the business discussions to continue.

Players are concerned about the direction of their game, and that’ll be a part of the story of this season, and possibly the two seasons that follow. 

"Everyone kind of went along with it last year because (teams were) saying Machado and Harper are going to be available and we want to save funds for that," Samardzija said. "Well, now that's happened. I'm sure every team knows whether they're in or not on Machado or Harper, so they can allocate their cash elsewhere, because I'm pretty sure a lot of teams know they're not getting them. But then they're not allocating that cash elsewhere, which they said they were going to do.

"To me, they're just taking a tactical approach as owners to shorten the window for guys to sign, and (they hope) two things come from it. They get guys to panic and sign bad deals as veterans, and also they get guys to sign pre-arb deals because they don't want to test the waters of free agency. That's what's happening now. Hopefully as players we can get on the same page and figure out how we ourselves can change the rhetoric of what's going on."

Where Bryce Harper market stands after Manny Machado-Padres contract

Where Bryce Harper market stands after Manny Machado-Padres contract

In a $300 million tortoise race, the first domino has fallen. Manny Machado beat Bryce Harper in finding his team for 2019 and beyond, but will Harper beat him in the bank? 

Machado reportedly agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres on Tuesday, good for the largest free-agent contract ever in American sports. It felt like the two superstars were always playing a game of chicken to see who would sign first. Now that the infielder has, the outfielder can step to the plate. 

And Harper will surely want a fatter wallet than Machado. 

The Phillies went into the offseason vowing to spend "stupid money," and talks between Philadelphia and Harper were reportedly "heating up" on Sunday. The team has long been seen as favorites to land the 2015 NL MVP, and recent rumors have re-affirmed that. But as we've learned all offseason, anything can happen. 

Harper is now "unsure" about signing with the Phillies, Andy Martino of SNY reported on Tuesday.

And here come the Padres. Despite handing out such a lucrative deal to Machado, San Diego is not ruling out a possible Harper signing, reports FanCred's Jon Heyman. 

As far as the Giants go, their willingness to back up the Brink's truck remains a mystery. Brandon Crawford's wife can keep trying to recruit Harper and his wife to San Francisco, but the simple fact is, a short-term deal, which has been Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi's staple, won't get Harper here any time soon. 

[RELATED: Giants continue discussing trade options as they wait for Bryce Harper]

Machado giving San Diego their first superstar in ages should speed things up with Harper handing a rose to someone soon.

But where, and how quickly, is still anybody's guess.

Brian Sabean remembers how Giants brought Bruce Bochy to San Francisco

Brian Sabean remembers how Giants brought Bruce Bochy to San Francisco

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As Bruce Bochy did an interview with MLB Network on Tuesday morning, the news broke that Manny Machado will be a San Diego Padre. Bochy's last season in the NL West just got a bit tougher, but for most of his tenure in San Francisco, the relationship between his old team and his new team has been a lopsided one. 

The Giants overtook the Padres on the last day of the 2010 regular season and went on to win the first of three World Series titles in five years. The Padres haven’t had even a .500 season since, and they remain mired in a lengthy rebuild, perhaps just now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. In recent years, Petco Park has been jokingly known as "AT&T Park South" when Giants fans invade for the three series the teams play there a year. 

There was a day 13 years ago, though, when the Giants turned to the Padres for a boost. 

Felipe Alou’s contract expired without an extension in 2006, and the Giants began a search process that would zero on some coaches who have since become familiar names. Bench coach Ron Wotus was considered, along with Angels pitching coach Bud Black, who later managed the Padres, and Mets third base coach Manny Acta, who would go on to manage the Nationals and Indians.

As Brian Sabean sorted through his options in late October, he got on the phone with Padres GM Kevin Towers, one of Bochy’s closest friends. Sabean remembers talking to Towers, who passed away last January, while watching an Arizona Fall League game. Towers told him that Sandy Alderson, CEO of the Padres, would be making some changes. Bochy had one year left on his deal. 

“He said, ‘(Bochy) may have a chance to talk to other organizations,’ and that’s really how it started, that we knew there was a real possibility,” Sabean recalled Monday. 

Bochy had gone 951-975 in 12 seasons with the Padres, leading them to the 1998 World Series. He was well-respected, and fit a lot of what Sabean, Peter Magowan and Larry Baer were looking for. The three executives and their wives met with Bochy and his wife for a dinner, and Baer remembered one thing that stood out about Bochy: “He was very humble,” he said Monday.

“Through all the championships, he never made it about himself,” Baer said. 

Back then, Bochy didn’t have a postseason resume that would get him into the Hall of Fame. But he was popular with players. Just as important, he was a name that would resonate with a new fan base. 

“We were very fortunate as far as our succession of managers,” Sabean said. “There’s a reason we hired Felipe after Dusty (Baker). Dusty was iconic and every bit as popular as Barry Bonds, so we thought that we had to have a ‘name’ manager. Same as when Felipe’s tenure was up, we thought that it was in the best interest of the organization, that we needed name recognition.

“I think whether it’s us as baseball people or our fans, we were appreciative of some of the stuff that he had done or how he kind of weathered a lot of storms in San Diego.”

There have been storms in San Francisco, too, particularly in those early years, and over the past two. But Bochy has weathered them, adding 975 more wins in addition to those three titles. He’s the only manager in MLB history with 900 wins for two organizations. 

[RELATED: Buster Posey appreciates Bochy's longevity, passion for the game]

Bochy will reach 1,000 wins with the Giants, but won’t go much further. He announced Monday that this upcoming season will be his final one. It was a shock to much of the clubhouse, but not to Sabean, who took his own step back after the third title.  

“I wasn’t at all surprised. Nobody has to tell you,” he said. “Somebody didn’t have to tell me that I had to reinvent myself after 2014 and it was (Bobby Evans’) turn. It’s like life, you rise at different junctures. Your head and your heart become one.”