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Checking In on the Giants' Big Free Agent Misses


Yankeees' OF Aaron Judge; Photo via Keith Allison

The San Francisco Giants had one of the more memorable offseasons in recent history in 2022. This club was in desperate need of a new face of the franchise. The market for those players was plentiful in 2022, featuring names like Dansby Swanson, Jacob deGrom, and Trea Turner. By signing players like Michael Conforto, Sean Manaea, and Mitch Haniger, the Giants committed to improving the roster. Unfortunately, they were not able to land the All-Star caliber player they hoped for. Instead, what unfolded in San Francisco left baseball fans with ammunition to make fun of the Giants for years to come.


To set the scene, the Giants rank at the bottom part of the league for just about every relevant offensive statistic in the game. Their team batting average is .238, 24th best of the 30 teams in baseball. They average 4.32 runs per game, coming in at 21st best. Their batters strike out 9.41 times per game, which is 28th in the game. The best part about this group of hitters is their ability to draw walks, which is still smack in the middle of the pack at 15th in the league All of that is good for a 23rd-best team wOBA of .306. These ranks do a great job of putting the subsequent statistics in context, as it is easy to see what kind of impact the players below could have had on the Giants’ ability to produce at the plate.


Aaron “Arson” Judge


The Giants had their sights set on the biggest fish for the 2022 free-agent market: Aaron Judge. After breaking the American League single-season home-run record in 2022 and taking home the AL MVP award, Judge was ready to get paid. Leading up to his signing decision, he traveled to San Francisco, toured the Giants’ facilities, and met up with some of the players and coaches. This created a large buzz on social media, and it was clear that Judge was deciding between the Yankees and the Giants for his next contract. Judge ultimately signed with the Yankees. His 9-year, $360 million contract gave him the highest annual salary of any outfielder in baseball history. This contract was hard-earned by Judge. He essentially was the entire Yankee offense in 2022.


Judge’s signing with the Yanks came after writer Jon Heyman tweeted his most famous (or infamous) tweet: “Arson Judge appeared to be headed to Giants.” Heyman set the baseball world on fire with that tweet, and it was even the source of several “Arson Judge” #99 Giants jerseys when the regular season started in 2023.


The Giants sure could use someone like Aaron Judge in their lineup in 2023. A lack of power plagues their offense, as their home run leader, Wilmer Flores, has only 17 long balls. In Judge’s 67 games played in 2023, he has 22 home runs and an outstanding 178 wRC+. His Baseball Savant page has him ranked in the 100th percentile for six different categories, including walk percentage, Barrel % and expected slugging percentage (xSLG). Judge is still swinging and missing a lot, ranking in the 4th percentile for whiff percentage. But that downside is something that will always be present with an offensive monster and eternal power threat like Judge. Even his bare slash line is impressive, registering at .281/.415/.615.

These crazy numbers have not been enough for the Yankees, however. As mentioned before, Judge has only played in 67 of the 121 games played by the Yankees this year. When playing a game at Dodger Stadium in early June, Judge crashed through the bullpen gate in right field while making a catch at the wall. He tore a ligament in his big toe that would sideline him until late July. Because of the substantial amount of time missed on the field, Judge has not been able to carry the Yankee offense as he has before.


The Yankees sit at the bottom of the AL East with a 60-64 record and are out of a playoff spot. The Giants (65-59) are in a playoff spot at the moment. They have been able to stay in their Wild Card spot thanks to first-half success at the plate and the struggles of other NL teams in the playoff hunt. It’s safe to say that if the Giants were able to land Judge, their spot in the 2023 playoffs would be much more secure. At one point, the Giants were not too far back of first place in the NL West. The Dodgers have since run away with that lead, causing a shift in focus to simply clinching a berth by the Giants. A significant power threat like Aaron could have softened the Giants’ offensive regression and kept them in contention for the division crown. It is easy to play the “what if” game when it comes to what could have happened with Judge and the Giants in 2023. It is also easy to claim that the Giants’ offense needs someone like Judge, and he would’ve had a better shot at a playoff run with the 2023 Giants instead of the Yankees.


Carlos Correa


The story with Carlos Correa and the Giants is much more interesting than what happened with Judge. On December 13, 2022, Correa agreed to a 13-year, $350 million contract with the Giants. This contract would have made Correa the highest-paid player in Giants history and would’ve kept him in a Giants uniform until the year 2036. Correa was seen as one of the many top dogs in the 2022 offseason. The deal he agreed to with the Giants proved that he was among the league’s best at shortstop.


The Giants were all set to announce the Correa signing in a press conference when word came out that the conference had been postponed for an unknown reason. This left fans confused, but no one would have expected the real reason for the announcement delay. It later surfaced that Correa had failed a physical with the Giants’ medical staff. Doctors involved in the Correa situation said that his ankle was in terrible shape and would soon need medical attention which could impact Correa’s ability to stay on the field in the long run. This was important information for a team who was about to commit $350 million to a player over the next 13 years. Carlos Correa’s time with the Giants was over as quickly as it began. The mega-deal had fallen through, and Correa was back on the free-agent market.


The New York Mets came to terms with Correa on a 12-year, $315 million contract shortly after the deal with the Giants fell through. However, the same issue surfaced with the Mets’ medical staff as it did with the Giants: Correa’s ankle was in concerning condition. His deal with the Mets was called off, but the club went through extensive negotiation with Correa and his camp to try to restructure the deal so it was more team-friendly. This deal also eventually fell through. Carlos had agreed to two massive contracts in one offseason, both of which never made it past the physical. He eventually landed right where he started, signing a 6-year, $200 million contract with the Minnesota Twins in early January. He passed his physical and would officially wear a Twins jersey for the foreseeable future.


Correa’s 2023 season has not been as prominent as he would have hoped after commanding all of the money he did in his wild offseason. Funny enough, a different type of foot problem saw him spend time on the injured list in early May 2023. He had developed plantar fasciitis, which sidelined him for a couple of games. He sports a 98 wRC+ in 465 plate appearances through 108 games in 2023. Correa is on track to have the worst offensive season of his career. He has only produced 1.2 fWAR so far, on pace to be his lowest season mark not counting the shortened 2020 season. He is slashing .231/.308/.409 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI.


The most concerning part of Correa’s game has been the regression of his expected stats when compared to his 2022 season. Last season, his expected batting average, slugging, and wOBA landed in the 90th, 92nd, and 93rd percentiles, respectively. This season, those same percentiles have fallen to 44th, 51st, and 52nd. This type of change is hard to explain, especially considering Correa is only 28 years old. 2022 was the first year Correa played the majority of his games in the AL Central, so pitchers may have not had the proper time to adjust to his tendencies at the plate. Additionally, 2023 is the first year the balanced schedule made its way into the MLB. Correa is facing a lot more pitchers than he has his entire career, potentially impacting his production at the plate.

The Giants would not have benefitted much from Correa’s presence in their lineups in 2023. He has simply not been worth the ~$26.9 million he would have been paid in 2023. The Giants are in the middle of experimenting with prospects to fill the hole at shortstop. Casey Schmitt was up with the team for a while, serving as a backup to aging veteran Brandon Crawford. He has since been sent down after a disappointing first few months in the majors. If Correa were on the team as their shortstop, he would be blocking many of the promising middle-infield prospects the Giants have brewing in their system, like second-ranked prospect Marco Luciano, who just recently got the call-up to the MLB. Furthermore, Carlos would not have meshed well with the platoon style of managing that Gabe Kapler is known for. He would be one of the very few everyday players for the Giants, and that is not a good mix in a clubhouse full of guys playing a much different role than an everyday starter.


 

Between the two free agents in Correa and Judge, the Giants are much more sore about losing out on Judge. He could have been the solution for their struggling offense. Judge would also have a much higher chance of playing more baseball in October than he would with the middling Yankees. Correa has been a below-average shortstop for the entirety of 2023. The Giants would certainly rather solve their shortstop problem internally instead of committing $350 million to one player. It will be interesting to see what the rest of these players’ careers look like to fully see what the Giants missed out on in the 2022 offseason. Perhaps both will be seen as major bullets dodged, or both will be viewed as the biggest missed chances in franchise history. Time will tell.




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