What's next in Giants' free-agency chase for superstar? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN DIEGO -- At 7:03 a.m. on Wednesday morning, about two hours after Farhan Zaidi had been informed that his pursuit of Aaron Judge had failed, an email hit the inboxes of fans who are signed up for alerts about Giants tickets offers.
"Choose the best seats, discounts and perks for you for 2023," it read.
Given the time of morning, the email was certainly one that had been pre-scheduled to be sent out, but the timing of its arrival could not have been worse.
Missing out on Judge was the latest gut punch for the front office, but also for a fan base that has vocally been demanding a better product in recent years and voted with its wallets in 2022. It is well-known among rival front office members that the Giants just drew their lowest non-pandemic attendance in Oracle Park's history and have watched their season ticket base get cut in half in recent years. Agents know it, too.
They know the Giants need to go big, and this week they tried. Their offer of about $360 million to Judge was the second $300-million-plus pitch by ownership in the last three years. It was an attempt to juice the lineup and defense, but also ticket sales and fan interest.
Judge is the kind of superstar who would have led to thousands calling the ticket office at Oracle Park in the days after a deal was announced. Instead, he will remain a Yankee.
The Giants are still confident they can come away from this offseason with a much-improved roster. Mitch Haniger gives them some needed right-handed pop and should allow Joc Pederson to be the DH just about every day, a role in which Gabe Kapler said he will be an "elite" option.
They want to add another outfielder and another starter, and as they always do, they are active in pursuing pitchers who come with some red flags but also plenty of upside. They also hope to add another high-leverage bullpen arm, and the possibility of reuniting the Rogers twins by signing the left-handed Taylor has to be tantalizing.
The Giants have plenty of interest in Carlos Correa, although the 11-year deals to fellow shortstops Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts will lead that bidding to an uncomfortable spot, especially for a Giants front office that does have some concerns about Correa's ability to stay healthy into his thirties. Still, if the Giants decide Correa is their best bet at a star, it's hard to see any of the other suitors -- most notably the Twins -- outbidding them.
In the hours after Judge made his decision, Zaidi said he's confident he can pivot in a positive way. But this offseason is about more than that. Zaidi was asked if he can still have a winter that fans find compelling.
"Our goal is to be as good of a team as we can possibly be. I know we sound like a broken record there. We have great fans and they'll get behind a good team, a playoff team. I really believe that," he said. "We weren't a playoff team last year. I think some of the criticisms or some of the dissatisfaction is just an offshoot of the fact that we were sitting at home in October. If we're playing in October, which is our goal every year, I think that -- again that's not the ultimate goal -- but I think everything will go a lot better if we can reach that (postseason) goal on a regular basis.
"I think that's what our fans are looking for."
The problem for the Giants right now is that the last two years have put a dent in those beliefs. Coming off a 107-win season, the Giants drew 2,482,686 fans while playing .500 baseball in 2022, more than 200,000 fewer than in 2019, the last season without any COVID-19 restrictions. Late in 2021, en route to a stunning division title, they drew fewer fans than they expected.
Even with a splash, it likely would take years for the Giants to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic. They were always boosted by walk-up ticket sales from people who worked downtown, and it's unclear if the city's financial district and SoMa will ever get back to normal levels of occupancy. The Giants will need to be more reliant on people commuting into the city to attend games, and someone like Judge would have helped that effort quite a bit.
If the next move is Correa, the Giants will be coming away from this offseason with a new superstar to sell to fans, as well as a boost for the clubhouse. Correa has a great reputation within the game and it wouldn't take long for him to win over the entirety of the fan base, but there's likely no realistic offseason addition the Giants could make at this point that would have fans rushing to buy season tickets, especially on the heels of the failed Judge pursuit.
The next potential headliner is in the Judge mold, and the Giants expect to be near the front of the line if Shohei Ohtani hits free agency in 11 months. They were finalists for Ohtani in 2017 and felt the main impediment was the lack of a DH spot in the National League at the time, but an Ohtani pursuit will be much more difficult than trying to pry Judge away from the Yankees.
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Ohtani is perhaps the most unique player the game has ever seen and brings tremendous marketing opportunities, which means the Giants won't just be trying to outbid one other team. Ohtani would be a fit anywhere, and a Giants ownership group that has a string of runner-up finishes would have to outbid Steve Cohen and the Mets, the Dodgers (who are heavily rumored to be waiting on Ohtani), and many others.
Others will come available, including Juan Soto -- the Padres have to run out of money at some point, right? -- who hits free agency in two years. But as the Giants look for their next superstar attraction, they likely will have to turn to their past, some team officials said this week.
The Judge chase was a reminder that the best way to build around a superstar is to develop one, and while Judge is from Northern California, he now fully identifies as a New York Yankee. Judge would have been the long-term replacement for Buster Posey, but Posey himself hinted at a different method in September.
"You look at our run that we had in '10, '12 and '14, it was largely led by homegrown talent," he said after joining the ownership group. "Now, obviously you can supplement and you can add pieces to that homegrown talent, but the hopes and dreams is that there's a handful of guys down there in the system right now that want to come up and really understand the opportunity that they have to be the next group of players that the city of San Francisco and the fanbase of the San Francisco Giants is going to get to attach themselves to for hopefully 10, 12, 15 years."
Kyle Harrison will debut early next season and the Giants are hopeful he can bring the every-fifth-day buzz that Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner once did. Casey Schmitt will get his chance, as well, and perhaps he will turn into the next infield star that fans fall in love with.
Some Giants people still hear grumbles over the team losing Matt Duffy, and perhaps Vaun Brown or someone else will replicate that path to popularity. The Giants remain very high on Marco Luciano, even after a year filled with back issues, and it's possible that at some point soon they just move him to right field and hope that can accelerate the timeline to Oracle Park, where his power would be a draw.
The Giants missed out on Judge, but they're hopeful that the next group that brings fans rushing to Oracle Park is on the way through their system. Waiting for prospects takes tremendous patience, though, and as the Giants were reminded on Wednesday, the Bay Area is tired of waiting.