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.
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 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.
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