While the national baseball analysts mostly seem to agree that $35 million for two years of Tim Lincecum is the definition of guano, here’s what people seem to have decided around here:
— $35 million for two years of Lincecum is surprisingly steep, considering what we’ve seen over the past two years.
— The decision to re-sign Lincecum was based on a combination of reasons: the Giants are short on Major League starting pitchers; reinforcements from the minors won’t be ready until 2015 at the earliest; Lincecum’s history and current popularity make him worth more to the Giants than any other franchise from a marketing standpoint; he’s durable and maybe — just maybe — he’s figuring out how to pitch effectively with a 91 mph fastball; the Giants are unbelievably rich … more on that a little later.
— If the Giants patch together the rest of the roster and show up next Spring with roughly the same team, they’re in big trouble.
Which brings us to Masahiro Tanaka, the best starting pitcher available heading into the 2014 season. You may or may not have heard of him. He’s Japanese, he’s got a great splitter and he barely walks anyone (about 1.1 guys per nine innings). He won’t come cheap either. Tom Tolbert asked Bobby Evans about Tanaka, and here’s what the Giants Assistant General Manager said (emphasis added).
I mean, this guy is 25 years old and probably the hottest commodity coming out of Japan since Yu Darvish, and some people will say they’re neck-and-neck on who’s better. Yet, this kid’s younger. It’s going to be always a risk when you’re signing a Japanese player, but it’s definitely a conversation that we want to be a part of.
The hard part right now for any Major League club is really understanding what are the rules of engagement, because the agreement between Japanese baseball and Major League Baseball has expired. And so the posting system is now being negotiated. We don’t know what the end result of that posting system is going to be. Currently it’s probably the least fair system as far as competitive balance is concerned that exists in the game. That said, it may continue that way. Because anybody that has a free $50 or $60 million to post on a player, sitting in the bank and ready to pay up front is going to have an advantage over clubs that don’t have that, which would rule out most clubs.
Our interest is there. The player is phenomenal. Ultimately it really depends on how this negotiation goes and the system is set up. Is it going to be the top bidder? Is it going to be the top two bidders, the top three bidders and then a competitive negotiation begins with the player? All those things are up in the air, and the Japanese clubs of course and Major League Baseball have to come to an understanding of what that agreement looks like.
The Giants weren’t players in the Darvish sweepstakes, which the Rangers won with a $51.7 million posting fee and a six-year, $60 million contract. So the smart *money* would be on the Giants’ aggressiveness in regards to Tanaka being contingent on the rules changing and the posting system becoming more “fair.”
The teams supposedly interested in Tanaka? Does it need to be said? Okay: Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees. In light of Evans’ comments and other assorted rumors, the Giants are probably on that list as well.
The Giants have been a little quieter about their budget since the end of the 2013 regular season than in previous years, which creates uncertainty. Their payroll will almost certainly rise from the $137 million spent on the 2013 team, but by how much? A few things to consider:
— The Dodgers, also seen by many as another reason why the Giants wanted to keep Lincecum from hitting the market, are going to spend significantly more than the Giants for years, maybe decades. But the Giants have to at least make it look like they’re spending as much as they can.
— The Giants can spend more now than ever before, because the latest national TV contract — which delivers “more than a 100-percent increase in annual rights fees,” according to MLB.com — goes into effect in 2014.
— People forget about this, so here’s a reminder (courtesy of Chris Haft, who wrote this on Feb. 4, 2012):
As an estimated crowd of 36,000 celebrated Saturday’s FanFest by collecting autographs, listening to their favorite players and gathering freebies, the best prize for Giants fans might have been Larry Baer’s brief but telling reminder.
During a question-and-answer session, the Giants’ president and chief executive officer cited the seldom-repeated fact that the Giants will finish paying the debt service on AT&T Park in 2017.
“That should set ourselves up so we have a few resources. That’ll be a good thing for the Giants,” Baer said.
The Giants aren’t just selling lots of tickets, they’re becoming a Bay Area real estate giant as well. They own a beautiful ballpark in an expensive location that’s getting pricier, and that pesky debt service goes away in less than five years. The Giants aren’t stopping there, either. The Mission Rock project — a $1.6 billion development deal next to AT&T that’ll include office space, residential units, and businesses like Anchor Brewing Company — is going to happen, and the Giants will reap most of the profits.
“As the front door of our beloved ballpark, this property is of great strategic importance to the Giants and our community. Its successful development will enhance the neighborhood and diversify the economic position of the team, creating new revenue streams that will help us compete at the highest level,” according to the Mission Rock website.
There’s no doubt the Giants will be able to spend at the highest level in the future, the only question now is if they’ll do so in 2014. If the payroll rises by more than 10-15%, they may very well end up with their first high-profile Japanese player since Masanori Murakami, and their first Tanaka since … Kensuke.