On Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants finally landed the big-name free agent they’d long sought, signing star Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee to a six-year. $113 million contract. It was a big moment for team president Farhan Zaidi: Lee is an excellent fit for a Giants roster that desperately needed youth and athleticism in the outfield, and he’s also proof that Zaidi can in fact entice free agents to San Francisco after years of agonizing near misses.
But for all the excitement about Lee, one of those near misses loomed large over Zaidi’s meeting with the media on Tuesday night: Shohei Ohtani. Before pivoting to Lee, the Giants made a serious run at the two-way superstar, reportedly getting an in-person meeting with he and agent Nez Balelo. Ohtani, of course, wound up signing with the rival Dodgers for the richest (and possibly most controversial) contract in MLB history — but the decision, at least according to Zaidi, didn’t come down to money.
Zaidi confirmed Tuesday that Ohtani made a recruiting visit to Oracle Park during his free agency, and claimed the club offered the same contract Ohtani ultimately signed with the Dodgers: a $700 million deal with massive deferrals that would have left the team significant payroll room to improve the team around Ohtani.
“The proposal that was made was very comparable if not identical to what he wound up agreeing to,” Zaidi said (per the Associated Press and San Francisco Chronicle). “We said we were agreeable to it. It was going to come down to a choice by the player at that point.”
Is Zaidi doing damage control to a fan base still licking its wounds a bit? No doubt. But there’s no reason not to take him at his word here, especially given the team-friendly deferral structure that Ohtani ultimately agreed to; the Giants wanted him desperately, and it’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t have been able to make that contract work.
Ohtani simply made winning is his priority, and frankly, the Giants have not done much winning lately. They did surprise everyone with an NL West in 2021, but they’ve gone 81-81 and 79-83 over the last two seasons — and that 2021 campaign is their only postseason trip in the last seven years. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have gone to the postseason every year since 2013, with a World Series ring in 2020 to boot. The lack of team success the last few years meant the Giants were always facing an uphill battle with Ohtani, especially considering that the Dodgers could also offer him the comfort and familiarity of remaining in Los Angeles.
Still, Zaidi seems determined to pivot, and for this year’s Plan B to be a lot more compelling than last year’s post-Aaron Judge, post-Carlos Correa spending spree. With Lee anchoring the outfield, the Giants are reportedly also in the mix for Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who is likely to command a $300 million contract at this point. Landing him would be a major win for San Francisco, though they are facing stiff competition from both New York teams and, of course, the Dodgers. If Zaidi can land the 25-year-old star, that would go a long way toward letting fans forget all about missing on Ohtani.