The Giants joined a growing list of teams that have met with Harper this winter, including the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals, with whom Harper spent the first seven seasons of his career.
While San Francisco’s interest level in Harper was not immediately clear after the meeting, which was first reported by NJ.com, the Giants are coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons and already have a nearly $165 million payroll loaded with bad contracts. Led by new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, the Giants are not considered a particularly strong fit, with the possibility of contention in the next three years questionable.
At the same time, the need for a player of Harper’s caliber is clear — and the Giants possess the financial wherewithal to make it happen. San Francisco ranks among the top five in baseball in revenue, as clearly reflected in its commitments to Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Evan Longoria, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.
That aging core is not exactly ideal for the 26-year-old Harper to join. Still, with spring training camps opening over the weekend and Harper — as well as the other star free agent this winter, Manny Machado — still unsigned, the meeting amounted to proper due diligence by San Francisco.
When the Giants signed pitcher Drew Pomeranz to a deal last month, Zaidi said teams are always evaluating the market.
“As the market evolves, there might be guys that you had kind of questioned or doubted the feasibility of at one point that you now circled back on,” Zaidi said. “It’s our job and responsibility to keep tabs on all parts of the market, and we’re continuing to do that.
“Yeah, I do think things can change, and your target list evolves over the course of the offseason.”
Whether it evolves into something more is a reasonable question, one with some history to back it. Last offseason, San Francisco tried to trade for then-Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who had 10 years and $295 million remaining on his deal. Although Stanton rebuffed them, the Giants’ willingness to offer a decade-long deal certainly didn’t hinder his willingness to take a meeting.
The Giants, who sent CEO Larry Baer, manager Bruce Bochy and Zaidi to meet Harper in his hometown, are worth considering in the Harper sweepstakes until they aren’t. The Dodgers are the only team known to have met with Harper and be out of the running. The Phillies and White Sox were aggressive earlier in free agency, and the Padres met with Harper last week, sources told ESPN.
The stalemate between Harper and his suitors could stretch into the beginning of spring training, barring an offer that hews more toward what Harper seeks, which is a deal in excess of the 10 years and $300 million the Nationals reportedly offered at the end of the regular season.
When Harper turned that down, he surely didn’t envision a frigid free-agent market coming to pass. It resembles last season’s, in which the best hitter on the market, J.D. Martinez, didn’t agree to a deal until Feb. 20, and one of the top pitchers, Jake Arrieta, waited until the second week in March.