Kawakami: The Giants’ rational irrationality with Carlos Correa and other thoughts on a landmark deal

Let’s start with one thing about Giants fans’ palpable and manifest angst this offseason as the days went by and no superstar landed at McCovey Cove: It sure told Giants ownership that there’s real and urgent passion out there.

Sometimes it’s crazy passion, of course, but it’s better to have passion and pathos in the fan base than not.

So Farhan Zaidi’s Giants signed Carlos Correa to a mind-boggling 13-year, $350-million deal for baseball reasons. But also for crazy passion reasons. Thirteen years at this kind of money is, by most measures, irrational. There is no way Correa, who turned 28 recently, will be a centerpiece player for the life of this deal, yet he will be paid $27 million a year as a centerpiece player through 2035.

But it’s also a rational irrational deal: If you were going to give this deal to anybody available in this marketplace, and if you sketch out the potential ancillary value to adding Correa over the next decade or next few decades, this wild deal actually is quite understandable. In fact, from the Giants fans’ perspective, it was imperative.

Big-market baseball can be insane. But the Giants are finally playing that game, with some rational underpinnings.

• I imagine the Giants are looking at this deal as something like eight years at around $35 million per through Correa’s age-35 season (that’s the baseball deal) with five years of about $70 million in deferred money tacked on (the really-gotta- sign-him part).

Is that logical? The world of big MLB free-agent signings is never strictly logical. Teams that sign big stars are paying an opportunity tax that can’t be avoided. If you don’t want to overpay free agents to get better, you aren’t getting any star free agents.

But is it workable to operate as if this is an eight-year deal spread over 13? Yes, for a big-market team that was aiming to bring in a star who could also be good for many years, giving this kind of money to Correa (and maybe only Correa among the free agents this offseason) is workable. He should and could be worth about $35 million or more at least for a few more years, maybe even for five or six years.

The extra years are spread out this way to lessen the luxury-tax implications and also because, as Andrew Baggarly points out, the guys in charge now are very likely not the ones who will have to deal with the implications 12 years from now, anyway . And hey, maybe Correa, who seems to fit the profile of a guy who can hit well enough into his mid-30s to be a valuable third baseman or designated hitter.

• You watch your pennies and avoid crazy deals for years (don’t give Kevin Gausman the long-term deal last offseason, probably won’t do it for Carlos Rodón this offseason, even if you really want to) in order to set yourself up to do a deal like this. I never thought Zaidi was saving up money just to put it into the Johnsons’ bank accounts and I really don’t think the Johnsons were ordering that, either.

Zaidi was doing it to be ready for the big strike. And there might be more coming.

• I think the Correa signing and all the money spent this offseason sets the Giants up to have a better shot at Shohei Ohtani whenever he’s available, whether it’s by trade this summer or next offseason, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Every signal from Ohtani is that he’s tired of losing with the Angels and wants to play for a winning team. Maybe the Correa signing doesn’t immediately make the Giants the best team in baseball or even the second-best in the NL West. But the direction is clear. The Giants want to be big-time and that almost certainly will make (or already has made) an impression on Ohtani.

GO DEEPER

The Giants signed Carlos Correa. You have questions, we have answers.

• Of course, the Giants won’t be the only big-money team in on Ohtani whenever the Angels give up on keeping him or just let him go. Part of the Dodgers’ relative quiet this offseason, many have presumed, is to keep the powder fresh for a monster run at Ohtani. There’s always the Yankees. The Padres. The Mets. Everyone with money to spend.

But practically, if the Giants can get into a trade market for Ohtani this summer, the more they profile as a winning team, the fewer worries they’ll have that they’d be offering up a selection of their prospects just for a two- or-three-month rental. It’s the same confidence the Dodgers had when they tossed in a ton of prospects for Mookie Betts in February 2020 and then signed a huge extension with Betts a few months later.

You’re more aggressive when you’re trying to trade for a pending free agent you believe you can re-sign. Other teams shy away from getting too involved in a trade for a free agent if they think he’s more likely to sign with, say, only the Giants, Dodgers or Yankees. It narrows the field, the way this field got narrowed when Trea Turner landed with the Phillies, Xander Bogaerts signed with the Padres and the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees had other concerns.

Narrowing the field is how the Giants did this. They might already be narrowing the field for Ohtani.

• The Giants’ oft-stated goal this offseason was to get more athletic and better defensively. Their moves so far, including adding Correa, don’t feel like a huge step in that direction, but Correa for Brandon Crawford at shortstop is better on the margins in 2023 and obviously much better actuarially. Also, subbing Crawford for Tommy La Stella, Evan Longoria and others at second and third base is an upgrade. And Crawford as the backup shortstop over Thairo Estrada or Wilmer Flores is another upgrade.

• As NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic notes, the Giants have now committed $463.15 million to five free agents this offseason (Correa, Mitch Haniger, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and Joc Pederson), more than $200 million more than they’ve ever committed to a single free-agent class.

And more, currently, than any other team has committed this offseason. Yes, even more than the Mets.

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GO DEEPER

Giants hitch themselves to a new star, sign Carlos Correa to a record-breaking contract

• How can the Giants do this? I’ve been doing some math in my head over the last few weeks. Every time I did the math, it made me feel even more strongly that they could do something like this for Correa. It goes something like this:

The Giants’ attendance dropped to 2.48 million last season. They were regularly ticking in over 3.3 million during the salad days just a few years back. So that’s a 900,000-fan drop. You’d have to think most or all of that can be regained if the Giants climb back into contention and play exciting baseball again.

If we figure on an average of $75 per regained ticket (I’ll bet I’m being conservative on that average), a bounce back to 3.3 million tickets sold in 2023 and beyond should replenish the Giants’ bank accounts to the tune of about $67.5 million annually. Multiply that out by 13 years and that’s … almost $900 million.

You have to spend money to make almost a billion, right?

• And that’s not counting potential increases in the value of the Giants’ media and sponsorship deals, plus possibly some increased value of the rental prices at their Mission Rock development in the old Lot A.

• This is not as tied together as I try to make most of my columns, but there’s a reason: I’m flying to Seattle today for tomorrow’s 49ers game against the Seahawks.

Which is a way for me to note that one tiny barometer about Bay Area sports interests for me is to just measure what I see and hear around town or around friends and family. And it’s been 60 percent “what’s wrong with the Warriors?” and 30 percent “wow Brock Purdy!” over the last few days, with maybe one or two people mentioning the Giants.

The Giants need that scale balanced back their way a little more. They did it Tuesday.

• So what happens with Crawford, probably the best shortstop in franchise history to this point? I believe Zaidi has kept Crawford fully aware of the Giants’ plans this offseason (Crawford attended at least one of the Aaron Judge presentations) and I think Crawford will understand this move. Correa didn’t come here to play any position other than shortstop. He’s not moving.

Crawford can rotate at third base and second base against right-handed pitchers and get some games at shortstop when Correa rests or has DH days.

I’m going to run into some Giants fan sentiment here, but Crawford-at-shortstop is not a line to draw if you want to be better in 2023 and of course 2024, 2025 and etc. Just is not.

• What I said last summer is what happened: The Giants had to act like La Stella’s final contracted year didn’t exist and like they could move Crawford off of shortstop if necessary. They had to do those things to improve for 2023 and beyond. They did those things.

And they acted like a big-market team.

• One advantage the Giants had at the end of the Correa negotiations: After signing a short-term deal last year, Correa had lots of reasons to want the big deal now. But many of the other interested teams either signed other shortstops or were looking for shorter-term deals. When the dust settled, the Giants were the best option that was offering a mega-deal.

I think Correa was always the Giants’ best option this winter, anyway. They had to chase Judge if he was even marginally interested, but I always thought that Correa was the likeliest and best option. Even over Judge, frankly.

• The Giants have signed Ross Stripling and now Correa? Hey now, I think I might’ve been OK on this one from the start.

The next move? Maybe the Giants stick to my list and re-sign Brandon Belt, because they could use some more left-handed power in this lineup. Maybe they trade for a center fielder. Maybe they do both things or three for four others, in this new rationally irrational Giants era.

(Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

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