SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey, despite his status as part-owner, board member and newly minted local resident, wasn’t on hand Wednesday morning as the Giants introduced their new manager, Bob Melvin. He tuned in remotely, which meant he didn’t miss his partner in the C-suite, club chairman Greg Johnson, briefly interrupt the fanfare with a dose of reality and a splash of cold water.
In between pledges to return to the postseason and promises to revamp the roster this offseason, Johnson, the son of majority owner Charles Johnson, was asked about money. The club hasn’t come close to returning to Bobby Evans-era spending levels since they handed the reins to Farhan Zaidi five years ago. Would they consider broaching the luxury tax threshold? Maybe for one year, maybe for the right player, Johnson said.
“But,” he said, “we also represent a group that hopefully our goal is to somewhat break even, which is somewhat of a challenge in this business.”
Johnson’s comments didn’t overshadow Melvin’s introduction, but their implications could hang over the new manager’s attempt to turn the club around, with glaring need for the kind of stabilizing forces in their lineup and pitching staff only costly star power provides. Unsurprisingly, it also didn’t sit well with fans.
Johnson’s father is worth an estimated $4.8 billion, according to Forbes, and the value of his franchise has skyrocketed more than 3,000%, to $3.7 billion, since his ownership group purchased the club for $100 million in 1992. Jutting up from behind McCovey Cove is the team-owned Mission Rock development, which displaced hundreds of parking spots but was expected to create another stream of revenue to invest in the ballclub.
In an appearance Thursday morning on the club’s flagship radio station, KNBR 680-AM, Posey was asked about Johnson’s comments and attempted to quell fans’ concerns.
“I’ve gotten to know Greg really well,” said Posey, who joined the ownership group in 2022. “Greg, first and foremost, loves the San Francisco Giants. I know whole-heartedly that it’s his intent to put a championship team on the field. There’s no doubt in my mind about that, whatsoever. I don’t know if that helps people that maybe were, I don’t know, upset or a little concerned about that. There’s no question in my mind where Greg’s intent is, where the rest of the ownership group’s intent is.”
In a year where attendance was up almost 10% league-wide, it remained flat at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark. They averaged 30,866 fans per game, 17th in MLB. Posey said that recreating the draw the gameday experience was during his playing days, when the club sold out a National League record 530 consecutive games, is a top priority, one he believes Melvin gives them “instant credibility” in achieving.
“I’m hopeful for that feeling in the ballpark that we all love to be back,” Posey said. “For whatever reason since COVID, there’s a myriad of reasons we could probably point to, but we’ve got to get that feeling back. How you do that comes a lot of times by winning games, but it also comes about how you go about winning games. I think what’s exciting about Bob is the fact that he has such an intimate history with the Bay Area. …
“Bob said it: The Giants are the city and the city is the Giants. We understand that,” Posey continued. “We understand just how impactful the right group of players on the field can be to this city. That’s something that is discussed a lot. Probably discussed the most. How are we going to create that environment? How are we going create a product that is going to bring the fans and create the joyous memories that 50 years from now people are going to be able to share with their grandkids that are watching these teams?
“Whole-heartedly believe Greg is 100% on board with putting the best team out there for us to not only win but have fun. A team out there that’s fun. Those teams in the ‘10 to ‘17 years were fun teams. You can do it a lot of different ways with a lot of different personalities.”
Those teams were fueled by a homegrown core, which is how Zaidi has said he wants to build the next winner in San Francisco. But they were also willing to spend the money necessary to compete, ranking among the top eight payrolls from 2011 to 2019 and the top five in four of those years. Their estimated $188 million Opening Day payroll this season was the largest it has been under Zaidi, 10th-highest in the sport.
The luxury tax threshold for 2024 is set at $237 million, giving the Giants close to $80 million in leeway this winter, according to Cot’s Contracts.
“When you look at the luxury tax, in a one-year number, you could go past that if you had to. I don’t think it’s something we want to do for a long period,” Johnson said. “I think if you look at the teams that have jumped up in free agency, they didn’t really have great years this year. I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation there. But we plan on being active, and if we have to go through that, we’ll go through that.”
Regrettable contracts are the price of admission to free agency, and the three top-spending teams this season all missed the playoffs. But, if Spotrac’s estimates are accurate, the league will set a record with nine teams — nearly one in three — over the luxury tax threshold.
Who better to attest to a direct correlation between spending and winning than Bruce Bochy? Two years ago, the Giants won 107 games and the Texas Rangers lost 102. The Rangers spent more than $800 million the past two winters, and Bochy spent Wednesday preparing for his fourth World Series while the Giants introduced a new manager.