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SF Giants reportedly lose out on Aaron Judge to Yankees: Where do they turn now?

Evan Webeck, The Mercury News on

Published in Baseball

SAN DIEGO — The Giants identified Aaron Judge as their top free-agent target, and he gave them enough consideration to visit for a long set of in-person meetings, but like past high-profile pursuits, it appears San Francisco has finished runners-up.

According to reports Wednesday morning, Judge has decided to re-sign with the New York Yankees for nine years and $360 million, equal to the last reported offer from San Francisco, which will pay him the highest average annual salary of any position player in MLB history.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told reporters at the GM meetings that, “from a financial standpoint, there’s nobody that would be out of our capability to meet what we expect the contract demands will be.” And throughout the winter meetings this week, the Giants have expressed optimism at their chances of prying the AL MVP away from New York.

The prevailing sentiment around the industry had been that Judge would remain a Yankee. But as recently as Tuesday afternoon, it appeared the winds had shifted. A false report saying Judge had picked San Francisco was quickly retracted, but the buzz that Judge could be a Giant persisted throughout the evening, only fueled by Judge’s comments to TIME Magazine that he made well in advance but only published that morning.

His anticipated arrival to the meetings did not seem to transpire, not publicly, at least. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Judge did fly to San Diego — to take a last-minute meeting with the Padres, who reportedly made him a competitive offer.

Ultimately, Judge decided to remain with the team that drafted him, developed him and adores him, albeit with an occasional boobird, but he now represents the Giants’ latest shortcoming in their high-profile free-agent pursuits. After the shift in sentiment late Tuesday, many fans likely awoke Wednesday in more shock than when Bryce Harper spurned them for Philadelphia in 2019.

It’s impossible to go inside Judge’s head, but the prospect of being named a Yankee captain and having his No. 99 retired in Monument Park might have been too hard to turn down, even for the Northern California native who grew up rooting for the Giants.

Judge, 30, was a childhood fan, but he’s not a San Francisco — or Bay Area — native; his hometown of Linden (population: 2,000) is about 100 miles east, just outside Stockton. While playing that close to home could be a treat for some players, for others it can bring unwanted distractions.

 

Either way, he appears to have left the Giants in a lurch.

Zaidi has been adamant throughout his tenure that no one player can make or break a roster, and likewise, an offseason. Judge may have been priority No. 1, but the Giants have had their hands in other baskets this whole time.

Not owing Judge $300-plus million increases the chances that San Francisco will add one of the top-flight free-agent shortstops — Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson. On Tuesday, they added outfielder Mitch Haniger. If their search for an athletic center fielder takes them to the trade market, Ramón Laureano is only a short trip away across the Bay Bridge, and former Giants prospect Bryan Reynolds reportedly wants out of Pittsburgh.

With Carlos Rodón opting out, Zaidi all but ensured the Giants would add at least one more starting pitcher. Perhaps they shift the funds earmarked for Judge to a new co-ace for Logan Webb, such as Japanese righty Kodai Senga. The Giants are reportedly one of the teams he has visited, and last week, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported San Francisco was “heavily involved” in his market.

The Giants had to win 12 of their final 16 games to avoid becoming the third team in MLB history to finish with a losing record the year after a 100-win season. Zaidi has been clear that he expects to be active this offseason, and the industry reciprocates that sentiment.

In an anonymous ESPN survey, the Giants were the only team picked by different executives and insiders as the eventual destination for each one of the four major free-agent shortstops. The number went to three with Trea Turner’s signing by the Phillies this week. Asked which team would make the biggest splash, the Giants garnered the most votes. (It also asked to predict Judge’s destination: Six picked the Yankees; only two said San Francisco.)

The Giants have about $130 million committed for 2023, leaving them about $35 million short of their Opening Day payroll last year and just under $100 million shy of the $233 million luxury tax threshold after other 40-man obligations. A singular contract as large as Judge’s, or any combination of the top remaining players available, would push San Francisco’s contract obligations higher than any previous year of the Zaidi administration but still well below the game’s largest payrolls.

©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit at mercurynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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