SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The splash of cold water came at 12:50 p.m. Thursday in the form of a tweet from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
Bryce Harper had chosen the Philadelphia Phillies.
It had been an optimistic morning at Scottsdale Stadium. Some in a bustling Giants spring training clubhouse smiled as they discussed the possibility of adding Harper’s thunderous bat to the lineup. Would he bat third? Fourth? How would the other dominos fall?
Quietly, the Giants had started to prepare for the possibility that Harper would arrive this weekend. They already knew where they would put his spring locker.
Then came the tweet, a flood of others giving terms of the contract, and the realization that Harper will not wear orange and black, despite the fact that ownership signed off on what would have been a record 12-year, $310 million contract.
The chase -- or nightmare, depending on your perspective -- was over, and the Giants were left wondering where they go from here.
The answer is a simple one: Exactly where we thought they would go all along, before word leaked three weeks ago that Giants CEO Larry Baer, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Bruce Bochy had boarded a flight to Las Vegas. Before Baer and Zaidi returned to Harper’s hometown Tuesday. Before an offer was made.
The Giants did not bring in Zaidi to hand out 12-year deals. He has talked of building incrementally, supplementing the core, turning around a farm system that has stopped delivering stars, reloading internationally, and finding hidden gems as he did in Los Angeles. That still can be the model, and it's the way the Giants have operated for 99 percent of their offseason.
As the Giants formulated a plan of attack with Harper, Zaidi kept tinkering. He added Gerardo Parra and Yangervis Solarte, two veterans who already have won over teammates. He built catching depth behind Buster Posey, but Posey’s teammates are optimistic that it won’t be needed. The feeling in the clubhouse is that Posey, healthy and spry this month, is poised for a big season.
Zaidi built rotation depth and held on to his bullpen pieces. The Giants believe they have the pitching to be competitive, led by Madison Bumgarner, who feels great physically and seems to have a chip on his shoulder.
The whole team does, really.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” first baseman Brandon Belt said Thursday.
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. The Giants are much deeper than they were a year ago, but they’re also lacking a star in the middle of the lineup.
They tried hard for Giancarlo Stanton last year and were told he wanted to go elsewhere. They tried hard for Harper, but the price got too high. Nolan Arenado would have been a target, and like with Harper, the Giants had been told that the Rockies star loves San Francisco and would enjoy playing for the organization. But he signed a long-term contract extension and won’t hit the market.
This stretch has made it abundantly clear that the Giants will not be able to count on signing their next star. They’ll have to develop, as they did with Posey, Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford and others.
But that was their plan all along.
[RELATED: Bochy disappointed but ready to move on without Harper]
The Giants have not used the word “rebuild” and they won’t, because it’s not good business but also because they brought in Zaidi to wear two hats. He had a plan to make the 2019 team more interesting and try to get the Giants back into a spot where September games matter, but he also is building long-term, overhauling the organization one minor move at a time.
The Giants will try to compete with a roster that has been subtly upgraded, and if they can’t, Zaidi will sell at the trade deadline and reload for future years. That’s where the Giants go from here. That’s where they’ve been headed since they fired their previous general manager.
We all just took a wild detour for a few weeks.