Giants manager Bob Melvin praises Farhan Zaidi’s offseason: ‘We’ve checked a lot of boxes’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bob Melvin had barely unbuttoned the ceremonial San Francisco Giants jersey he wore at his introductory news conference in October before he and club president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi began to discuss the roster.

Or, more to the point, what the roster needed.

More athleticism. More youth. More speed. More power. More surehandedness. More lineup continuity. More durability. And, if anyone from the marketing department were allowed to chime in, a little more sizzle wouldn’t hurt, either. But a trade and free-agent market in isolation offers only so many possibilities. The Giants’ shopping list was so long and so varied that they couldn’t hope to get everything they wanted. They’d have better luck sourcing all the ingredients for a gourmet meal at a gas station mini-mart.

Flash forward to Sunday morning and the official announcement that the Giants had signed Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, a player who is as close to Melvin as anyone who’s played for him in the big leagues. Melvin finally could gush about his guy out in the open. No need to append his thoughts with a hope-filled caveat. No if we get him or if it happens or but my focus is on the guys we have. Melvin didn’t need to tell reporters that he will be thrilled to reunite with Chapman on the opposite side of the Bay Bridge. Everyone already knew. Some telegraphs are noisier than others.

Melvin was smiling about more than Chapman. He stopped to consider the Giants’ free-agent haul of five players plus left-hander Robbie Ray, who was acquired from Seattle in a salary-dump trade. Then he considered all those needs that he raised with Zaidi in October. Melvin was astounded as he counted them down: The Giants brought in players that addressed virtually all of those needs. The organization that nobody supposedly wanted to join has committed more than $261 million to Chapman, center fielder Jung Hoo Lee, right-hander Jordan Hicks, designated hitter Jorge Soler and catcher Tom Murphy. Fold in the guaranteed money that they took on while acquiring Ray and the total outlay is more than $335 million — dwarfed by the Los Angeles Dodgers, of course, but dwarfing everyone else. And the Giants remain in talks with agent Scott Boras about Blake Snell in case a financial fit can be found with the 2023 NL Cy Young Award winner, who won’t come cheap even on a heavily discounted contract.

“It’s been pretty impressive,” Melvin said. “We’ve checked a lot of boxes along the way. A lot of boxes. So I’m very happy. Farhan has addressed everything we’ve been talking about and on top of that, he was in on the top two guys as far as you could go. It’s not his fault that we didn’t sign (Shohei) Ohtani or (Yoshinobu) Yamamoto. We couldn’t have gone any farther. He couldn’t have done any more than he did. But then you look at the guys he brought in plus how the offseason played out, it’s been really good. At least that’s my opinion.”

Not everyone shares Melvin’s opinion, of course. Biases and judgments don’t break down so easily these days, in case you haven’t noticed, and Zaidi’s detractors were in peak form when Ohtani and Yamamoto both spurned the Giants for the archrival Dodgers. Whether it was sharing “sleepy Farhan” memes on social media or seizing chairman Greg Johnson’s “somewhat break even” comment and twisting it into a sarcastic battle cry, the digital world has been a harsh place for Giants upper management.

And that bothers Melvin.

“Yes it does,” he said. “Because Farhan has worked really hard during this entire offseason. I’ve seen how hard he’s worked. And now we’re coming to a spot where everything we’ve been trying to identify is coming to fruition.”

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Bob Melvin and Farhan Zaidi worked together with the Oakland A’s from 2011-14. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

They wanted continuity

The first five seasons under Zaidi involved tons of roster churn and a seemingly endless wave of free agents on short-term contracts or with opt-out language. Some of those contract structures were unavoidable as the Giants were still learning what they had in the farm system and didn’t want to block prospects who might be ready to assert themselves. But it was a mode that was neither fan-friendly nor promoted stability within the clubhouse, and Zaidi pledged to shift away from that strategy this past winter.

He did. The Giants hadn’t signed a free agent to a contract longer than three years. This past offseason, they’ve signed two. Lee, 25, received a six-year, $113 million commitment to become a fixture in the leadoff spot and center field. Hicks received a four-year, $44 million contract to transition from a reliever with a 103 mph fastball to a high-upside starting pitcher — with the bullpen always available as a fallback. When the Giants announced Soler’s three-year, $42 million contract, Zaidi insisted that guaranteeing the third year wasn’t the lever that got the deal done. The Giants liked the idea of watching Soler take aim at the Coke bottle above the left-field bleachers through 2026.

With Lee at leadoff and Soler expected to bat cleanup, the Giants have the template for a stable lineup that Melvin can customize based on the matchups or who’s hot. And Giants fans will have a few jersey choices in the team store that won’t be on clearance in another year.

Chapman’s contract is the exception. He will make $18 million this season (with $2 million in the form of a signing bonus) and can opt out of a $17 million salary in 2025 (with a $2 million buyout) as well as an $18 million salary in 2026 (with a $3 million buyout). There’s also a fourth mutual option for $20 million in 2027 that would involve a $1 million buyout if the team declines.



How the Matt Chapman deal impacts the Giants — and where they go from here

The contract had to be structured that way to reel in Chapman, whose guaranteed money in the deal — $54 million over three years for luxury tax purposes — is a fraction of industry predictions and comes nowhere near the 10-year, $150 million extension he rejected from the Oakland A’s in 2019. Given the underwhelming market this offseason and the offensive tailspin he endured after April in Toronto while playing with a finger injury, Chapman wouldn’t have a prayer of making back the money he turned down in Oakland if he signed his one big deal now.

So he’ll preserve the right to go back on the market. And calling the deal a one-year contract, which was the curious language in the header of the Giants’ news release, allowed certain people to save a little face.

“We feel where we arrived at in the end is a win-win,” Zaidi said. “Matt had a sense of his worth and justifiably so. He’s been one of the most productive players in baseball and played through some injuries last year, which is a reflection on his durability. We talked through some longer-term scenarios because of the fit baseball-wise and culturally. But this allows us to bring him into the fold and accomplish a lot of what we wanted. And it also gives him an opportunity to re-enter the free agent market in the next couple of years after heathier and more productive seasons. You can understand the motivation from their side.”

If the fit is as good as Zaidi and Melvin envisions, there’s always the chance that Chapman’s deal gets renegotiated at some point.

They wanted defense

The Giants committed 117 errors last season, more than any other team. They finished with the sixth-highest batting average on balls put in play against their groundball-inducing staff. They didn’t turn enough contact into outs and they needed to clean that up for more than just the obvious reasons. They plan to graduate a lot of talented pitchers to the big leagues this season. They felt they had to create a more stable and supportive defensive environment that would give those pitchers every chance to have success and get settled.

The Giants already had a third baseman whose defense graded above average with J.D. Davis, who now appears to be a trade candidate. But Zaidi viewed Chapman as more than an incremental upgrade or as one of a broader cluster of transactions that would free up Davis as a trade chip.

“This move was made because we feel it improves our team drastically and is a great fit,” said Zaidi, “and not (because) it’s the first of several dominoes we necessarily have planned.

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Nick Ahmed was the Gold Glove winner at shortstop in the National League in 2018 and 2019. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Pitchers in camp are abuzz and not just over Chapman. Nick Ahmed, who homered for a second consecutive start on Sunday, is a two-time Gold Glove winner whose Fielding Run Value of 83 ranks only behind the Mets’ Francisco Lindor among major-league shortstops over the past eight seasons. As much as the Giants want to give rookie Marco Luciano a path to establish himself at short, his early at-bats this spring have been predictably rough for a hitter who has played 32 games above Double A.

With Ahmed and Chapman on the left side, the Giants could be downright dynamic. And Lee gives them a true center fielder, which allows Mike Yastrzemski’s defensive abilities to play up in right field. Adding Murphy as a steady backup catcher should allow the Giants to better pace Patrick Bailey, who was a Gold Glove finalist as a rookie last season, too.

They wanted speed and athleticism

Zaidi almost sounded embarrassed at Melvin’s news conference in October when he remarked that the Giants had finished last in the major leagues in stolen bases.

“I mean, that just can’t happen,” he said. “To be that much of an outlier just shows it was a real deficiency.”

In the first season of rule changes designed to increase risk-taking on the basepaths, the rest of the league left the Giants in its dust. While the Giants aren’t likely to pace the NL in steals this season, the addition of a player nicknamed “Grandson of the Wind” should change the dynamic atop the lineup. If Thairo Estrada hits behind him, then there could be a lot of bodies in motion ahead of LaMonte Wade Jr., Soler and the rest.

Chapman has always graded out as an above-average baserunner, too. And shedding the final two years of Mitch Haniger’s contract eventually could help clear a path for 22-year-old outfielder Luis Matos, who is turning heads with his stronger physique and quick bat.

They wanted power

Only two teams hit fewer home runs after the All-Star break than the Giants. One of them was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who got away with it — and advanced to the World Series — because of their hyper-athletic core of position players.

But as any seasoned baseball executive will tell you, the good teams are the ones that can beat you in different ways. They can sweep a series by outslugging you one night, shutting you down the next and doing the small stuff to win the squeakers. When the Giants stopped hitting home runs in July, they became far too reliant on following one or two specific scripts to win games.

“I think power really raises the floor for a team,” Zaidi said on Feb. 1. “Manufacturing runs can be aesthetically enjoyable, but it’s not something that usually gets repeated four or five times in a game, and certainly not over the season. So being able to score runs, to put a crooked number on the board with one swing of the bat, there’s some threshold at which you need that to be able to sustain being a competitive team and a playoff team.”

Enter Soler, who hit 36 home runs with the Miami Marlins last season and led the American League when he hit 48 for the Kansas City Royals in 2019. Soler might have the best chance of anyone the Giants have acquired over the past two decades to have their first 30-homer season since Barry Bonds in 2004. The Giants believe a healthy Chapman will hit for more power than he did last season, even if Oracle Park does no favors to his all-fields approach. And Murphy promises to be a rare offensive contributor as a backup catcher. He had a 142 OPS+ last season with Seattle and he has hit 38 homers in 718 at-bats over the past four seasons.

Almost everyone who comes off the bench, including Murphy, should have the ability to score runs with one swing.

They wanted to get younger

That’s a difficult goal to achieve when you take the free-agent route to address your deficiencies. It’s rare for players younger than 28 to hit free agency. The Giants signed two of them. Lee is just 25 and Hicks is 27. They went hard after Yamamoto, who turns 26 in August, too. Aside from Lee in center, the Giants didn’t brick wall the path for their prospects.

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Jung Hoo Lee is 5-for-11 with a home run and a stolen base in Cactus League play. (Zac BonDurant / San Francisco Giants / Getty Images)

And although some fans will howl if Ahmed is the Opening Day shortstop and Luciano is at Triple A, there’s a reason that the Giants brought Ahmed to camp as a non-roster player. Luciano didn’t master any level of the minor leagues right away. He needed time to graduate to the next stage. There’s no reason to expect Triple A to be any different.

They wanted starting pitching with upside

Zaidi signaled from the outset that the Giants weren’t interested in signing veteran rotation fillers. If they signed a starting pitcher, it would be someone who could serve as a solid co-ace or No.2 behind Logan Webb.

They tried hard for Yamamoto but still added high upside plays with Hicks, whose fastball hit 100 mph on his fourth pitch of the spring, and Ray, the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner who is expected to return from Tommy John surgery after the All-Star break. Alex Cobb is ahead of schedule in his rehab from hip surgery and the fact the Giants haven’t placed him on the 60-day injured list indicates that there’s a chance he could return earlier than projected. They still need enough rotation fuel to make it to the All-Star break, though, and Tristan Beck won’t be an option as he prepares to undergo surgery to repair an aneurysm in his right upper arm.

Objectively, the Giants need Snell more than they need Chapman. Even though Zaidi said “the offseason’s over as far as we’re concerned” on Sunday, the Giants continue to monitor the Snell market and they can have all the face time they want with Boras on Monday when he arrives for the Chapman news conference. Every indication is that if the Giants sense an opportunity to sign Snell for favorable terms, they would stomach exceeding the initial luxury tax payroll threshold of $237 million.

Of course, even at this late date on the calendar, it’ll probably be tougher to get that kind of deal from Boras. It’s one thing to explain away Chapman’s contract as a result of the finger injury. It’s a little tougher to take an L with a pitcher coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season.

There’s no guarantee that the Giants’ offseason will be a success. They signed seven free agents for more than $193 million last offseason, only to spend this past winter undoing several of those mistakes. Injuries and underperformance to their current crop of free agents might have them reaching for the vial of Liquid Paper again next winter.

For now, Melvin is impressed that Zaidi managed to get most of the ingredients on their list. And ownership approved more than $335 million in expenditures — none of it stretched out in deferred payments.

“I’m thankful and I know our players and staff are thankful to ownership in being really aggressive this offseason so far,” Zaidi said. “We haven’t done the extended 10- or 12-year deal where you’re amortizing the expense over a longer stretch. They’re all being added to our payroll in the next three to four years, which is a pretty significant addition over a short-term period.”

(Top photo of Bob Melvin: Andy Kuno / San Francisco Giants / Getty Images)

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