So what was all that damn politicking about, anyway, if the Giants wouldn’t commit an extra $34 million to Zack Greinke? Why did they ask voters to pass Proposition D — allowing the franchise a financial windfall for a real-estate development called Mission Rock — if they weren’t serious about outbidding the competition for an epic pitcher who could have helped them win two or three more World Series, who has the kind of rubber arm and cerebral approach that evoke finesse images of Greg Maddux twirling into his 40s?
They print so much money down at the ballpark, the ink scents are overwhelming the garlic. The Giants are a top-six revenue producer in Major League Baseball. The sellout streak is a source of immense internal pride. And yet, somehow, they let the Arizona Diamondbacks, a desert wannabe in a mid-sized market, deliver the most attractive offer for Greinke — a reported six years for $206.5 million, with a present value of $190 million when factoring deferrals — in an astonishing event that should disgust both Giants fans and the city electorate as the National League West becomes a three-team derby that makes postseason berths very difficult now.
Don’t blame baseball boss Brian Sabean. Don’t blame general manager Bobby Evans. They answer to CEO Larry Baer, who answers to men who love counting money, including principal owner Charles B. Johnson, an 82-year-old retired businessman with a current net worth of $6.4 billion according to Forbes. If Johnson and other ownership group members put a limit of Greinke spending, ask them why they suddenly have amnesia about the Mission Rock project.
Greinke always has been a little different, introspective and aloof. So no one should be too surprised that he made the correct business decision and blew off two baseball bluebloods in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But in remaining loyal to their tried-and-true principles — be smart, don’t overpay or overextend for pitchers — the Giants blew it this time. They still don’t have a legitimate No. 2 starter to pair with Madison Bumgarner, and as they were devoting all their efforts to Greinke, they were allowing the Boston Red Sox — who are acting like a top-tier team that can’t fathom missing the playoffs — to sign David Price for $217 million and the Detroit Tigers to sign a slightly lesser arm talent (though one who could have helped the Giants) in Jordan Zimmermann, who signed for $110 million over five years. Also, as Greinke was joining hands with Tony La Russa, John Lackey was signing with the Chicago Cubs for $34 million over two years.
Who’s left? Johnny Cueto, who rejected Arizona, was both brilliant and bad in his three months in Kansas City and might not be the clubhouse fit that Greinke would have been. Jeff Samardzija and Mike Leake? Last we saw Leake, he was struggling down the stretch as the July pickup of Sabean and Evans. Samardzija? When he pitched for A’s two seasons ago, he was so startled by San Francisco housing prices that he stayed at the Four Seasons and St. Regis. Sound like a guy any more committed to liking it here, only compounding his baggage after an erratic contract year with the Chicago White Sox?
Obviously, the Giants are doing something wrong. Last offseason, they lost Jon Lester to the Cubs despite sending Bruce Bochy, Buster Posey and Tim Hudson to Georgia on a recruiting mission. If that miss was understandable — Lester was tight with Cubs boss Theo Epstein — this is not. If it came down to what Sabean has bemoaned as a state income-tax problem, well, isn’t that why the Giants wanted voters to pass Prop D? As Baer told me before the vote, “Revenue from this development will allow the Giants to remain strong and stable as we compete with teams in larger markets.’’ The Diamondbacks are not in a larger market.
Yes, Arizona maxes out at 4.5 percent on income tax, while you know the deal in California, at 13.3 percent. So the Giants are going to be a slave to income taxes? Bid higher. Of course, Greinke was all about the money, saying at one career point that it’s “obviously the No. 1 thing. I could play for the worst team if they paid the most. … If the last-place team offers $200 million and the first-place team offers $10, I’m going to go for the $200 million no matter what team it was.”
The fair-to-middling team offered $206.5 million, which gives Greinke the largest average salary in baseball history. He joins Paul Goldschmidt and A.J Pollock in making Arizona a serious team.
The Giants? They may play at the royal address of Third and King, but if they haven’t noticed, they were staggered by two blows in their most recent odd-numbered year. Not only did they lose their title as World Series champions, they’ve been displaced as local lionhearts by the Warriors. Oh, the people still adore Buster, still sing along to “Fire On The Mountain’’ as MadBum warms up and still melt when Hunter Pence proposes to his girl at Disney World, yet even with three trophies in six seasons, they’ve suddenly taken a side seat to the greatest spectacle in sports and the global miracle who has become bigger than the Pope.
That’s what one magazine says about Stephen Curry, who has been discovered by every form of media the world over and now exchanges jerseys on Instagram with Lionel Messi — get it, the planet’s two reigning sports stars. When Baer invited Curry and his family to the ballpark one spring night, little did he know the little devil was about to explode into a happening much larger and wider reaching than his own. Now, a new arena is going up down the street from AT&T Park. The Warriors, that East Bay thing, are about to take over The City.
Which explains, among other reasons, why the Giants needed to sign Greinke.
The invasion of numbers geeks, alive and not well in sports, has given rise to a new and disturbing revolution in baseball management. Everyone thinks he’s brainier than the next guy now — each and every front-office executive proud to go by the name Al Gorithm — and the objective isn’t to win a World Series as much as assembling the best roster for the smartest amount of money. What started with Billy Beane has been perpetuated by so many Theos, Andrews, Jeffs and St. Louis hackers. If you happen to win a championship while crunching all the digits and spinning the codes, so be it.
Over a five-year period that almost seems impossible, the Giants managed to win the smart game and the big trophies three times. But this was the offseason where they needed to abandon analytics and cost-efficiency and remember why they’re in business as a big-time franchise in a economically thriving metropolis: To win now, with their core stars squarely in their prime years.
By failing to outbid some desert rats for Zack Greinke, I think it’s time for a recall on Prop D.