How Giants could/should use Bryce Harper contract money in free agency

NBC Sports Bay Area

How Giants could/should use Bryce Harper contract money in free agency

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have been connected to Bryce Harper for months, but if you chatted with some coaches and players this summer, you often found people who preferred a different approach, one centered on adding three to four contributors.

Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' new head of baseball operations, surely would agree. His method over the years has been to build depth on the 25- and 40-man rosters. Under Zaidi and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers never gave a player more than $80 million, and even then, the check went to Kenley Jansen, a popular homegrown star. Sources told NBC Sports Bay Area last week that the Giants’ connection to Harper has been overblown.

[RELATED: Harper's agent explains why slugger loves San Francisco]

Still, there’s plenty of money to spend here. The Giants dipped under the luxury tax and wiped some serious salary off the books. At the top of the list is Hunter Pence’s deal, which expired at the end of the season and gives Zaidi a $18.5 million chunk to play with this offseason. Andrew McCutchen was shipped out in August, and that’s another hefty salary slot left open.

The Giants already picked up Madison Bumgarner’s option, and they’ll dish out somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million in arbitration. Depending on how aggressive they want to be, that still leaves them potentially between $30 million to $40 million to spend. Harper would take up all that, or nearly all of it, with agent Scott Boras seeking a record deal that could make him the first $400 million player.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s go to the high end of the free agent market. If the Giants have nearly $40 million to spend, and they’re not spending it on Harper, what else could they put together?

The Pitcher

The Giants would like to add at least one front-line starter, per sources, and there are plenty of options. Let’s assume the Giants don’t go straight to the top of the pitching market again, so Patrick Corbin is out. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi are intriguing options, but another name might make more sense.

Zaidi’s Dodgers gave Rich Hill a three-year, $48-million contract. MLB Trade Rumors predicts J.A. Happ -- basically a 3- to 4-WAR player in each of the last four seasons -- will get the Hill deal. So, we’ll slide Happ in here as as a strong rotation addition making $16 million next year.

The Swiss Army Knife

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi noted that “positional versatility will certainly be something we look at as a positive.” There isn’t a more versatile piece out there than Marwin Gonzalez, who could be the primary starter in left field while also backing up all four infield spots. MLB Trade Rumors has the 30-year-old costing $9 million per year.

The Outfielder

It’s not a deep class, but perhaps the Giants can find a steal on the second tier. They loved McCutchen, who is projected at $15 million by MLB Trade Rumors. Michael Brantley could be there at a similar price. Nick Markakis is at the $8 million to $12 million range on most prediction lists, and MLB Trade Rumors has him getting a two-year, $16 million deal. Markakis, who will be 35 next season, could be a nice placeholder in right field until Zaidi can build some prospect depth.

There are many ways to go here, and it’s possible that the market tanks as it did last winter and there will be some serious bargains in January. The point is, if the Giants want to be deeper and better, not just flashier, in 2019, they can pretty easily spread out the Harper money over multiple players. The Happ, Gonzalez and Markakis trio listed above combined for 8.5 WAR in 2018, per Baseball Reference, and none of them would require long-term commitments -- something the Giants should avoid, given their current payroll situation.

With a few adjustments here or there, the Giants still could bring back a Derek Holland or a Nick Hundley. Perhaps they could take on some money in a trade, adding an everyday outfielder that way. The possibilities, if your offseason is not focused on one player, are endless, and you can bet Zaidi already is exploring them.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey


    MLB Rumors: Phillies owner's jet is in Bryce Harper's hometown of Las Vegas

    MLB Rumors: Phillies owner's jet is in Bryce Harper's hometown of Las Vegas

    One team reportedly might be making their final push to sign Bryce Harper, and it's not the Giants. 

    Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton's private jet was in Las Vegas -- hometown of the free-agent outfielder -- on Friday, a "person in that city" told NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury. 

    This does not, however, mean the Phillies and Harper are quite ready to complete a deal, ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Friday night.

    Hours earlier, the Washington Nationals ruled themselves out of signing Harper. The Nationals drafted Harper No. 1 overall in 2010, and he has played all 927 games of his major league career in a Nats uniform to this point.

    MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Friday night that the Nationals want Harper to sign anywhere but with their NL East rivals. 

    Although the Giants are one of the last remaining teams in the mix, NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Friday that San Francisco doesn't "intend to do dollar-to-dollar" with Philadelphia. 

    [RELATED: When Giants' spring training competitions will start]

    Yet, that doesn't mean this all comes as a surprise to the Giants. They already saw the Phillies as the favorites to land Harper. 

    If Middleton's presence in Las Vegas leads to something larger, the Giants might not have to wait for Harper's official decision all that much longer. 

    Giants' spring competitions set to really get going on Saturday

    Giants' spring competitions set to really get going on Saturday

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Real baseball gets closer by the day, and on Friday morning, we finally got a 2019 Giants lineup. 

    Well, kind of. 

    The group that will take the field Saturday against the Angels includes potentially just one starter, depending on who you think will win the jobs in left and right. But there still will be plenty to watch. 

    Cameron Maybin and Yangervis Solarte will make their Giants debuts, hitting first and third, respectively. Mac Williamson, Austin Slater and Henry Ramos, all fighting for outfield jobs, will start. Drew Ferguson, the Rule 5 pick, is starting in center. Aramis Garcia, who hopes to win a backup job, will catch Chris Stratton. 

    Stratton may be in the toughest spot. He is out of options and seventh on the starting depth chart. 

    "He's a guy we look at as a starter and a long man," manager Bruce Bochy said. "The guys that are out of options, we've got to make a call there for sure."

    Stratton has had some dominant stretches at the big league level but hasn't shown consistency. Ditto for Ty Blach, who will be stretched out this spring but profiles as a reliever moving forward. Although you never know ...

    "You saw what happened last year," Bochy said, smiling. "He ended up being our Opening Day starter."

    Bochy plans to have Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Joe Panik in the lineup Sunday for the home Cactus League opener. He had previously said that Buster Posey, coming off hip surgery, will not play until March 1. On Friday, Bochy said Steven Duggar (shoulder surgery) and Ryder Jones (knee surgery) will also be held out until March 1. 

    Duggar still should have plenty of time to try to win the job in center. 

    "This was the plan," Bochy said. "But he's doing well. He's doing just about everything. We just don't want him diving for a ball."

    --- The main story today is on Mac Williamson, who battled a concussion last season. He opened up about how difficult the summer was. 

    --- Nick Vincent passed his physical last night and is officially a Giant. 

    "A good arm, a good pitcher," Bochy said. "He increases our depth on the bullpen side."

    [RELATED: Is Bryce Harper bidding now two-team race between Giants, Phillies?]

    The Giants will have some pretty good arms headed for Sacramento no matter how this all plays out. On a related note, the River Cats announced that they're lowering some of their ticket prices. Even before this, that was a place I have always recommended to Giants fans. It's a really fun place to watch a game.