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 project 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, with 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, they let the Arizona Diamondbacks, a desert wannabe in a mid-sized market, deliver the most attractive offer for Greinke — six years for $206.5 million, with a present value of $190 million before deferrals — in an astonishing development 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.
And please don’t insult me and herald Jeff Samardzija, who went 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA after the July trade deadline, as a smarter play at $90 million over five years. Going on 31, he is a wild card at best, fraught with risks and the loser of 13 games in each of his four years as a starter. He led the majors in many categories, all right: hits allowed (228), runs (122) and earned runs (118) allowed, while also leading the American League in home runs allowed (29). Oh, and the Giants lose the 19th pick in the draft, too, for the privilege. They’ll add another arm, perhaps Mike Leake, who didn’t wow anyone in his two months here, and maybe an outfielder like Justin Upton, though he doesn’t like hitting on the waterfront. But unless they can trade for pitcher Shelby Miller, the prize everyone wants now, the optics suggest a conclusion that didn’t have to be.
The end of a beautiful era at AT&T Park.
“You look at his track record, you look at the presence that he brings to the mound, you look at the back-to-back-to-back 200-plus innings seasons, you realize that this guy is a force to be reckoned with,” general manager Bobby Evans said on a conference call.
Again, don’t insult me.
As for losing Greinke to the D-Backs, is there any consolation in the Dodgers not re-signing him? “The reality is, we’re going to face him the same number of times. Victory would have been the American League or Japan,” Evans said.
No one’s laughing.
The convenient response is to blame the baseball bosses, Brian Sabean and Evans. It goes much deeper than them. They answer to CEO Larry Baer, who answers to men who love socking away money, including principal owner Charles B. Johnson, an 82-year-old retired businessman with a current net worth of $6.4 billion. If Johnson and other ownership group members put a limit on Greinke spending, ask them why they suddenly have amnesia about the financial benefits of Mission Rock.
Greinke always has been a little different, introspective and aloof. So no one should be surprised that he joined the Diamondbacks, who are dipping into a new local TV deal that still doesn’t come close in value to those of the Giants and the TV-rich Dodgers, and that he blew off two baseball bluebloods. 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 efforts to Greinke, they were allowing the Boston Red Sox — who are acting like a top-tier team — 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, for $110 million over five. Also, as Greinke was joining hands with Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart, John Lackey was signing with the Chicago Cubs for $34 million over two years.
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, and we know the deal in California: 13.3 percent. So the Giants are going to be slaves to income taxes? Please. 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 team on the come.
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, 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. The Warriors, formerly that East Bay thing, are about to take over The City.
Which underscores, among other reasons, why the Giants needed 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 who went to Harvard, MIT or Dartmouth. If you happen to win a championship while crunching all the digits and spinning the codes, so be it.
In a five-year run that almost seems impossible now, 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. They had 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.