ORACLE PARK — Rumors circulated early Saturday indicated that there would be an announcement by the San Francisco Giants, possibly at FanFest, possibly relating to free agent Bryce Harper.
The appointed time for that announcement came and went, and a league source said that there was no announcement imminent from the Giants.
A day after President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said that there was mutual interest between the All-Star outfielder and San Francisco, club president and CEO Larry Baer stoked speculation even further.
During a brief Q&A in which he took no fan questions, Baer heaped praise on Harper, and provided some details about the club’s formerly clandestine meeting with Harper last week.
On Monday, Baer, manager Bruce Bochy and Zaidi were scheduled for a two-hour meeting with Harper at the Bellagio Hotel in Harper’s home town of Las Vegas. The meeting went for four hours.
Baer and the late Peter Magowan similarly wooed Barry Bonds before they even had ownership of the team in 1992, and had an agreement with him at the Winter Meetings. Bonds went on to break the single-season and all-time career home run records with the team, and lead them to the 2002 World Series. With this offseason’s slow-moving market, Giants fans have been clamoring for some sign of things to come, and particularly for Harper — another left-handed slugger.
“It’s not always successful,” Baer said. “It was in ’92 with Barry. We want to be in the flow, the deal flow, so to speak. We want to be able to pursue players to bring championships back to the Giants fans, and Bryce Harper is an amazing player. It’s very hard, and these are competitions. I can’t handicap it, and I don’t know where we are, but we’re giving it a shot, and that’s all we can do.”
The 1993 season was a true inflection point for the franchise. After losing 90 games the year before, Baer and Magowan’s group brought in Bonds, bought the team and oversaw a complete turnaround. In 1993, the club won 103 games and saw an increase of 1.1 million in attendance. That helped set the stage for the construction of what is now Oracle Park.
“We needed to turn around everything — the psychology — to get the fan base again, and show them that we were serious,” Baer said. “One player can make a difference. It’s a different sport than basketball, but one player can make a difference.”
After losing 187 games over the last two seasons, the Giants are still drawing over 3 million fans per year, but those numbers have dipped each of the last two seasons. That’s why the club decided to go in a new direction with Zaidi, the former general manager of the rival Dodgers.
With Zaidi in charge, the Giants have not made the kinds of big-name, high-dollar free agent signings they had in years past — Andrew McCutchen, Mark Melancon, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, for instance. In fact, San Francisco’s biggest signings this year were one-year, low-dollar deals to bring back left-handed starter Derek Holland, bring in right-handed starter Drew Pomeranz and adding switch-pitching reliever Pat Venditte.
Zaidi has made the kinds of moves he’s said build a franchise from the bottom up, moves that may not be sexy, but moves that Bochy said on Friday help improve organizational depth and make the big club resistant to tolls taken by injury.
The lack of big moves, though, has made fans nervous.
“I’m aware of it, and I like having a restless fan base, because that means that they care,” Zaidi said on Friday. “An indifferent fan base is far worse than an antsy and restless fan base in the situation we’re in. I view it as a sign of our organizational health that we have such passionate fans.”
That was part of the pitch that the Giants braintrust made to Harper.
“This is just stuff he’s said publicly, and others have too, is that they love coming into this ballpark, and the electricity and the vibe,” Baer said. “That’s something we have going for us, but I don’t know. I’m not in his head, and I don’t want to make any forecasts or predictions or anything.”
Just entering his prime, Harper, represented by Scott Boras, is a six-time All-Star with a career .279 average and 184 home runs and 521 RBIs in seven seasons. He is reportedly looking for a contract bigger than the record-setting deal signed in 2016 by Giancarlo Stanton, worth $325 million over 13 years (average annual value of $25 million).
There are mixed reports on just how big the Giants’ payroll is for this season, but most estimates place it comfortably below the $206 million competitive balance tax threshold, between $173 million and $180 million. That would give them roughly a Bryce Harper-sized gap until they reached competitive balance tax territory, and as Zaidi told media on Friday, there are certain situations for which San Francisco would go over the threshold.
The Giants currently have several big-money contracts they want to draw down, and with the team likely not a contender for the next three years, signing big, multi-year deals hasn’t seemed like it’s in the cards. That said, Harper is a generational talent, not unlike a 28-year old Bonds, who Baer and his group signed to the richest contract in baseball — six years, $43.75 million —once upon a time.
The move certainly would have the support of the rank-and-file.
“We will always take a Bryce Harper on your team. Always. 100 percent,” said Samardzija.
Center fielder Steven Duggar, who would ostensibly see the young group of outfielders of which he is a part dwindle with the addition of Harper, said it would be “fun, for sure” to play with him.
“I mean, we’ll take him in our lineup,” third baseman Evan Longoria said. “If he comes here, we’ll be happy. That’s as simple as that.”
The emcee for the FanFest Q&A event, Bob Fitzgerald, asked Baer, hypothetically speaking, if he could say how many crab sandwiches Harper would eat, and for how long he would want to eat them — euphemistically referring to contractual details.
“Hearing him, one thing he did volunteer, is his workout regimen is, I would venture to say that there would be no crab sandwiches, because he is amazing,” Baer said. “You guys have seen him and know him. He is an amazingly fit athlete, and very, very disciplined on how he works out and how he eats and everything. It’s impressive. And, he’s 26-years old, too.”