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Sho Francisco: A Giant Need For a Star in the Bay

It’s not often that a reigning MVP hits free agency just days after accepting the hardware. What’s even more rare is that it’s Shohei Ohtani. But after six wasted years in Anaheim, the Japanese mega-star is the great white shark of the 2023 free agency class. Naturally, everyone wants to reel in the big fish. Most teams face the unfortunate reality of casting out the hook and knowing they won’t even get a nibble. Others just put the worm on and call it an honest effort, while the most fortunate get the full-on mackerel with the deep sea rod. The Dodgers, Rangers, and Cubs of the seas have made their ambitions well-known on Ohtani, and while adding the two-way phenom would likely put any of them over the top, the most desperate need for a big-time catch comes from a franchise that has missed out on one the most.

A year ago, the San Francisco Giants were in a similar place they find themselves in now, coming off a mediocre season in which they missed the playoffs. Looking to re-live the highs of their 107-win season in 2021, Farhan Zaidi sought out a superstar talent in the wake of Buster Posey’s retirement. 

Following a record-breaking 2022 season, that kind of player hit the market in Aaron Judge, and his Bay Area roots raised speculation of the AL MVP’s willingness to shift coasts. Negotiations reached a fever pitch on December 6th, when Jon Heyman reported that Judge had chosen to don his hometown orange and black. It turned out that San Francisco would get stuck with “Arson Judge” instead, while the real one re-upped in the Bronx. Their pivot point of former World Series hero Carlos Correa bottomed out on medicals, and the Giants would go on to a quiet offseason that would produce a meager 79-win team in 2023, lowlighted by the national league’s worst offense by OPS.

In the wake of such teases to be followed by an uninspiring campaign, the winning culture in and around Oracle Park is more restless than ever for success out of their Giants. Luckily for them, Shohei Ohtani presents a mulligan opportunity.

Up front, the Giants aren’t the most appealing destination for the superstar. Farhan Zaidi and company can throw out money until their pockets are dry, but the rival Dodgers and several others will always have them beat on dollars. The competitive factor, naturally, doesn’t favor a team that’s made the playoffs once since 2016. San Francisco is a beautiful city with one of baseball’s most enjoyable ballparks, but a 25-foot wall on Ohtani’s pull-side in right field could obstruct his full potential at the plate. And of all else, Ohtani won’t pitch in 2024, and his future on the mound is in question. Even with this multitude of disadvantages, thus presenting perhaps the highest rate of risk on an MLB-free agent in recent history, for the Giants, it’s worth taking.

It’s no secret how unbelievably good Shohei Ohtani is at baseball, so that I won’t divulge too far into his vast list of accolades. What is a closely-guarded entity, though, is the free agent process Ohtani is conducting. Virtually nobody knows what is going on in his camp. No insider has any clue about where Ohtani is leaning or what factors influence him the most, and that’s just how they want it to be. This is the “Area 51” or “Who killed JFK” of MLB free agency. Considering the history of the MLB offseason, often regarded as the slowest-moving in all of sports, it could take a while before even the slightest detail gets declassified. Such circumstances may not be a nuisance to the teams with unlimited resources, which the Giants are not, but the secrecy of the process should force Zaidi’s hand in getting San Francisco the star it needs.

When scanning the everyday lineup of the 2023 Giants, there isn’t a name that makes a manager fearful. Aside from high-average hitters like Thairo Estrada and Wilmer Flores (two of the three qualifiers on the team who hit above .250), it’s an array of situational hitters and young bats still in development. A centerpiece is sorely needed here. Even without it, a stellar pitching staff fronted by former all-stars Logan Webb and Alex Cobb alongside Taylor Rogers and Camilo Doval in the bullpen all but carried this team to a near .500 record. Pitching wins in October, San Francisco just needs the bat to get it there. For all the headlines he’ll make on the mound, Ohtani has a six-year OPS of .922 and is coming off a season where he led the bigs in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, and OPS+, as well as a career-high in batting average. Forget the pitching aspect. There is no better hitter available this winter than Ohtani. There is nothing more the Giants need than an elite-level bat.

For all the “they’ll just walk him” people, who says Ohtani would be the Giant's only move? There are plenty of budget-friendly bats on the market this winter and in positions of need for the Giants. Joc Pederson is a free agent, but Ohtani would triple his production as the left-handed DH. Since Ohtani can’t play the field like Pederson can, Tommy Pham, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Adam Duvall are just a few names that can easily fill in as full-time outfielders without losing on offensive impact or facing a shortage of extensive postseason experience. With so many teams dabbling in an elite group of unsigned pitchers this holiday season, high-caliber hitters are on sale around the league.

There is no mock contract from me because whatever the final numbers are, once Ohtani settles on a team, they’ll be unprecedented. Making a major splash in free agency under the current regime is also not a signature in San Francisco. They showed the willingness to do away with it a year ago, though, and there’s no better time to pull out all the stops, with the undisputed face of baseball there for the taking to bring the Giants back to the heights it reached a decade ago.

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