MLB free agency: What would Bryce Harper do to Giants' payroll plans?

MLB free agency: What would Bryce Harper do to Giants' payroll plans?

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants were careful about their phrasing last year, repeatedly saying there was “no mandate” to dip under the tax line, but that it would be preferred. 

Ultimately, they did, with then-GM Bobby Evans shedding salary in-season to reset the organization’s penalties and set the Giants up for future runs at marquee free agents. Evans is no longer around, but as the Giants discuss Bryce Harper, that work could come in handy. 

It’s unclear what Harper is looking for at this point, and unclear if the Giants will ever get to the point of making an offer. They have not yet. But if they do get to the point of seriously considering where Harper fits in their payroll, it’ll be a close call as they try to make their numbers line up. 

According to, the Giants currently have a payroll of about $173 million for tax purposes. That puts them well beneath the $206 million threshold for 2019, but there’s more math to be done.

For instance, the publicly known figures on Madison Bumgarner’s deal are said to be slightly different than the actual number used for competitive balance tax purposes. Tony Watson is listed at $3.66 million, but his contract included performance bonuses that Evans used to keep the Giants under the tax line in 2018. That creative accounting helped slide Watson onto the roster late last offseason, but his 2019 salary is considerably higher than the publicly available figures. 

The Giants are said to be closer to $180 million when it comes to calculating their payroll for tax purposes. The initial estimates on Harper had him aiming for close to $40 million per year, but this late in the offseason, the odds of that are slim. There’s a reason, after all, that Harper’s side has engaged with the Padres and Giants in recent weeks. 

Even an average annual salary of $30 million would get the Giants back into the tax, but Farhan Zaidi has spent the offseason talking to other teams about salary swaps, so there are ways to dip back under $206 million. For instance, if the Giants were to sign Harper, they could turn around and trade someone like Sam Dyson, who is owed $5 million. 

There would be ways to add Harper and keep the Giants under the CBT line for a second straight year. That, of course, assumes they would like to stay under, and given the way this offseason has gone, it’s fair to assume just about every team has that goal. 

[RELATED: Giants fan first knew about Bryce Harper meeting with team in free agency]

There’s another path, though, one that is much more straightforward.

The Giants hoped to stay under $206 million this year and never really thought Harper would be realistic. Now it’s February, and he all of a sudden has come back into their plans. There are some players worth paying the tax for, and Harper certainly would qualify. 

Giants acquire Connor Joe, who has shot at making Opening Day roster

Giants acquire Connor Joe, who has shot at making Opening Day roster

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants swapped out a Rule 5 pick who wasn't going to make the team for one who now very well might. 

Drew Ferguson, an outfielder picked up from the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 Draft, was designated for assignment Thursday to clear a roster spot for Connor Joe, a utility man who was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds. Joe is under the same restrictions, and given that the Giants picked him up one week from Opening Day, there seems a good chance that Farhan Zaidi will try to tuck the former Dodgers prospect onto the roster. 

Joe, 26, has moved all over throughout his minor league career, primarily playing first base, third and the outfield. As a right-handed bat with a .363 career OBP in the minors, he fits a lot of what the Giants are looking for on their bench. That also could lead to some interesting decisions next week. 

The Giants already were trying to decide how to squeeze Yangervis Solarte, Alen Hanson and Pablo Sandoval on the roster, with the latter two looking like tough calls. They also could try to put Joe in the outfield mix, perhaps at the expense of a player like Mac Williamson or Cameron Maybin. 
Joe had a .935 OPS with 17 homers in Double-A and Triple-A for the Dodgers organization last season. He was the sixth player selected in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings, and hit .275 this spring for the Reds. 

[RELATED: Five reasons to be optimistic about the 2019 Giants]

The Giants had hoped Ferguson would fill these holes, but he had a poor spring and was not in position to make the club. The Giants would have had to offer him back to the Astros next week, with very little hope of keeping him in their system. 

To acquire Joe, the Giants traded minor league right-hander Jordan Johnson and cash considerations to the Reds. Johnson had a 4.37 ERA in 86 minor league appearances for the Giants. 

Brandon Belt putting up exceptional numbers for Giants at plate in spring

Brandon Belt putting up exceptional numbers for Giants at plate in spring

Before I start this post ...

I know ... "spring training stats don't matter." But Brandon Belt is hitting the you-know-what out of the ball right now in the Cactus League, and going 9-for-9 isn't something that should be ignored -- even during games that don't count.

Now that we got that out of the way ... 

Baseball Reference is one of the few sites that has spring training stats, so shout out to them. And this is what Belt is working with as we head into Opening Day.

A .485/.553/.818 line with three home runs and six RBI in 13 games. 

Not bad ... not bad at all.

And he seems to be having fun despite a small mishap cutting half of his eyebrow off prior to Photo Day, but who hasn't done that?