The San Francisco Giants finished 16 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. Unfortunately for the Giants, they’re going to have to make up more than just those 16 games on the Dodgers this winter.
According to Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs.com, the Dodgers have already committed a league-most $195.3 million to next year’s payroll. That means they’ll be bringing back virtually the same club next year, right?
Well, not so much as the Dodgers ownership group isn’t messing around. According to Peter Gammons, the Dodgers plan to pursue Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price via trade. A rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Price, Tanaka, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu would seem to guarantee the Dodgers another NL West crown in 2014, and perhaps for many years beyond.
While the Giants don’t necessarily have to match the Dodgers payroll dollar for dollar, they do need to make a splash this winter to avoid being relegated to chasing the wild card. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA over 28 regular season appearances in Japan last year. He’s pretty clearly the top free-agent starter on the market, and the Giants are in desperate need of rotation help after posting the National League’s third-worst rotation ERA in 2013.
Tanaka would give them another top-of-the-rotation arm alongside Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. Even if the Dodgers were to acquire Price, the Giants could compete in the NL West with a rotation of Bumgarner, Cain, Tanaka and Tim Lincecum.
The Giants reportedly sent top scout Pat Burrell to scout Tanaka back in August. If the Giants want to compete with the Dodgers and prevent their arch-rivals from becoming a superpower in the NL West, signing the best starter on the free-agent market to bolster a weakened rotation would seem to be the way to go, particularly since the Dodgers want Tanaka.
The Giants have scouted Tanaka, and given that he went 24-0 and has drawn comparisons to Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish, it’s hard to imagine they don’t want him. Thus, the question is whether or not ownership will be willing to fork over the posting fee to negotiate with Tanaka. The Rangers posted $51.7 million to win the right to negotiate with Darvish two years ago. Will the Giants be willing to spend upwards of $50 million to negotiate with Tanaka?
My guess is the Giants won’t be willing to outbid the Dodgers and other suitors for Tanaka. The Giants aren’t likely to boost payroll significantly beyond the $131 million they spent in 2012 and the $136 million they spent last year. They’ve already committed $127.5 million to next year’s club. If they increase payroll by $5 million again, that leaves only $14 million left to play with, which would preclude them from spending $50 million to negotiate with Tanaka.
In an ideal world, the Giants ownership group would boost payroll incrementally once more. However, in this brave new world, the Giants are competing with an ownership group that doesn’t worry about spending money. The Dodgers ownership group has deep pockets, but it isn’t as though the Giants owners can’t compete. Charles Johnson, the club’s top investor, is worth $5.6 billion according to Forbes.
The Giants cable deal isn’t as lucrative as the Dodgers, and the ownership group may not be quite as wealthy. Thus, the Giants are never going to match the Dodgers payroll. However, this winter, they need make up significant ground on their enemies down south.
To do that, the Giants need to sign Masahiro Tanaka. Ownership may not want to dip into their personal funds to spend millions of dollars to negotiate with Tanaka, but that is what winning in 2014 is going to take. The Dodgers were good in 2013, and they want to be even better next year. The Giants are going to have to start competing with the Dodgers off the field in order to play in the same league on the field next season.