Even if all of the Giants’ moves from this winter pan out, there presumably will remain a need that has persisted in the crowded Bay Area sports marketplace: a need for a billboard-level star.
Since Buster Posey retired after the 2021 season, the Giants have been bereft of a bonafide superstar. Most of the jerseys that line the Oracle Park stands feature names of the past — Posey, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Clark, Sandoval.
Logan Webb is a budding ace with an interesting, local background and likable personality, but he has yet to make an All-Star team. Brandon Crawford is a longtime legend nearing his Last Dance. Otherwise, fans have clamored for a reason to come to the ballpark every day in the summer.
San Francisco tried to solve this issue this winter, taking real stabs at top free agents Carlos Correa and Aaron Judge. Neither will don orange and black, despite rollercoasters of hype and an unprecedented hold-up.
Next winter, based on future commitments on the books, the Giants should have enough financial flexibility to sign a superstar to a massive contract and stay under the luxury tax threshold. So if they dip back into the big-name free agent waters next winter, who might be available to target in what portends to be a shallow cycle?
Manny Machado, 3B, 30
Machado would have to opt out of his contract, leaving five years, $160 million and a chance to play with a spectacular nucleus of talent in San Diego on the table. That’s a big if.
But if things go sideways with the Padres this year, Machado could decide to test free agency. The Padres may not be able to keep all four of Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. long-term, and if their collection of superstar talent somehow implodes in 2023, the grass might look greener elsewhere.
Machado has spent the last five years on the West Coast, first with the Dodgers and then in San Diego. He’s one of the best players in the game, with six All-Stars and a platinum glove on his resume. His bat should age well into his late 30s and he’s athletic and durable enough to stay at the hot corner. He’s also crushed pitching in Oracle Park.
Over the past three seasons, which have included two top-three National League MVP finishes, Machado has hit 76 homers and posted an .881 OPS. He’s the caliber of player where if you land him, you think about what comes next with prospects like Casey Schmitt later.
Aaron Nola, SP, 29
Nola, who led MLB in strikeouts per walks (8.10) last year, becomes an unrestricted free agent next winter. Although he might not rise to the level of name-brand superstar, he’s one of the most dependable aces in baseball.
Nola made 32 starts in each of the past two seasons, 12 in the shortened 2020 season, 34 and 33 in the previous years. He’s 78-62 with a career 3.60 ERA in eight seasons and has received down-ballot Cy Young votes three times.
The righty will be 30 when he hits free agency, and the clear-cut best starting pitcher available. The Giants haven’t shown any propensity for signing starters to long-term deals, so a partnership is far-fetched unless the front office reverses its precedent.
Jack Flaherty, SP, 27
When healthy, Flaherty is one of the most promising starters in MLB. He finished top-five in Cy Young voting in 2019, but he’s only made 35 starts over the past three seasons.
If Flaherty can avoid the injured list and return to 2019 form this season, he could enter free agency as a rare player still in his prime. But like with Nola, there aren’t many signs pointing to the Giants making a splash with a long-term contract for a starter.
Matt Chapman, 3B, 29
One of the best fielding third basemen in the game, Chapman has been inconsistent from the plate. But perhaps a return to the Bay Area could stabilize his average and on-base numbers.
Chapman hit 36 bombs in 2019 and 27 in each of his past two seasons. The three-time gold glover ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity last year, signaling that there’s even more power to unlock if he can reduce his chase rate.
Are the Giants high enough on Chapman to block upcoming prospects like Schmitt, Marco Luciano or even David Villar? The question is much trickier with Chapman than it is for Machado.
Teoscar Hernández, RF, 30
The two-time Silver Slugger has recorded 121 home runs over his past five seasons, including the shortened 2020 year. He has power, speed, and has at times hit for average.
If Hernández can capitalize on the new rules limiting pickoff throw attempts, perhaps he can unlock even more value by becoming more dangerous on the base paths.
Hernández ranks in the 98th percentile in hard hit rate and 84th percentile in sprint speed, but doesn’t grade out particularly well defensively. He’ll age into a designated hitter role eventually, but Hernández’s tools are probably worth betting on depending on how his platform year with the Mariners goes.
Shohei Ohtani, unicorn, 28
Ohtani, the two-way phenom, could rightfully become the first $500 million man. Simultaneously one of the best hitters and pitchers alive, Ohtani will change any organization’s fortunes.
San Francisco was interested in Ohtani when he was coming over from Japan, but the universal designated hitter rule hadn’t yet been instituted. That limited his fit to American League teams.
But after this season, Ohtani will have his choice to go anywhere. Angels owner Arte Moreno has decided not to sell the franchise, clouding its financial certainty. LA had a nice offseason, but if 2023 ends without a postseason berth — like it has for all five of Ohtani’s seasons — it seems plausible Ohtani will move on.
Every team, including the Dodgers and Giants, either already have or likely plan to move mountains to make themselves presentable for Ohtani. He’s a generational and incredibly marketable player. The best case San Francisco could make would be reaching the postseason in 2023 and offering Ohtani more money than anyone else.