Giants offseason preview: Aaron Judge and everything else you need to know

Everything you need to know about Giants' important offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- About 10 hours after the final out of the 2022 MLB season was recorded in Houston, Major League Baseball released a list of 131 players who officially had become free agents. On Monday morning, that list got quite a bit more intriguing.

Nine additional players opted out of their contracts, including Giants co-ace Carlos Rodón, bringing the free-agent class to 140. The opt-out group added quite a bit of sizzle to the upcoming winter, with Carlos Correa, Jacob deGrom, and Xander Bogaerts joining Rodón and others.

While the Astros parade through streets of downtown Houston, the rest of the sport already is moving on. It's officially the offseason, and for the Giants, it is a massive one. Coming off an 81-81 season and a disappointing year in terms of attendance and overall fan interest, the Giants know they have to make a splash.

Here's what you need to know about the next three months, which promise to be dramatic and largely dominated by one name:

What Comes First

There is a five-day buffer between the end of the World Series and the true start of free agency, but it already has been a busy stretch for the Giants.

On Sunday afternoon, Rodón opted out of the second year of his two-year, $44 million contract, leaving a huge hole atop the rotation. The Giants have said they're interested in a reunion, but Rodón, who is represented by Scott Boras, may get the biggest deal of any pitcher on the market.

The other ace-types available -- deGrom and Justin Verlander -- are expected to sign shorter deals for $35-40 million per year, but the baseline for Rodón should be the five-year, $110 million deal that another former Giant, Kevin Gausman, signed last winter.

The other big early decision is one the Giants will have to make themselves. They hold a $13 million option on Evan Longoria with a $5 million buyout. The full freight is too much for a 37-year-old who hasn't been able to stay healthy the last couple of years, but given that they owe Longoria at least $5 million regardless, there's a decent chance the Giants and Longoria agree to a one-year deal somewhere between the two figures.

Longoria has said repeatedly that he would like to return and Farhan Zaidi said in October that there's a place for him on the 2023 roster.

Important Dates

The rumor mill really will pick up this week in Las Vegas, the home of this year's General Manager Meetings. After he gets sized up for his ring, new GM Pete Putila will represent the Giants at the two-day event, which includes media sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The annual Winter Meetings will be held Dec. 5-8 in San Diego after a two-year break because of the pandemic. The last version was wild, with Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg signing massive deals within the span of a few hours. If the sport is truly back to normal, the fireworks will return next month. (Side note: Las Vegas and San Diego? Well done, MLB.)

Before the meetings, the Giants must set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft (by Nov. 15) and make arbitration decisions (by Nov. 18).

What The Giants Need

With Rodón headed to free agency, the Giants need at least one starter, preferably someone who can be a co-ace for Logan Webb as Gausman and Rodón were. They will add to the bullpen, but don't expect a splash. This will be about finding veterans and non-roster invitees who can fight for jobs in front of Camilo Doval.

"Our bullpen actually did a really good job the last month or two and we'll probably be a little more opportunistic there in terms of adding," Zaidi said last month.

The biggest issue for the 2022 Giants was a defense that ranked last in the majors by Defensive Runs Saved, and the main theme of the offseason will be getting younger and more athletic, particularly up the middle.

That could mean flirting with members of a deep shortstop class even though Brandon Crawford is signed for one more year. It could mean trading for a second baseman and turning Thairo Estrada into a utility man. It could mean acquiring an above-average center fielder so Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater can play the corners instead.

In terms of the on-field product, most of the focus this offseason will be on getting stronger up the middle, which will boost a rotation that led the majors in FIP in 2022. But this offseason is not just about what's happening on the field ...

The Biggest Need

The Giants had their lowest total attendance since Oracle Park opened in 2000. They have seen their season-ticket base get cut in half over the last four years and have struggled to draw walk-up fans because so many downtown employees now work remotely.

In their market, they are fighting for eyeballs and dollars with the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who happen to have the most popular player in the world, and a 49ers team that's all-in after the massive Christian McCaffrey trade.

Simply put, the Giants need a superstar. They need buzz. They need someone to replace Buster Posey as the face of the franchise.

That makes Aaron Judge the perfect player at the perfect time. He will soon be named American League MVP and his main skill -- hitting massive homers -- is the type that draws casual fans and families to the ballpark. He is a Northern California native who grew up rooting for the Giants and he has a spotless reputation within the game.

There is a lot that the Giants must do this offseason, but the next few months will be defined largely by whether they're able to bring Judge home.

Who Else Is Out There?

If you're looking for a shortstop, this is the year for you. Correa is a true superstar who will hit the market for a second straight year. Speedster Trea Turner has been worth 13.1 fWAR over the past two seasons. Dansby Swanson just won a Gold Glove and hit 25 homers for the Braves. Bogaerts is an All-Star talent and will come at a slightly lesser price.

The Giants have a shortstop, but as they look to improve defensively, they'll be involved in this market.

"Right now we're going to be open on everything," Zaidi said last month.

The best outfielder not named Judge is also from New York. Brandon Nimmo, a speedy center fielder, is exactly what the Giants need, but Steve Cohen's Mets need him back, too.

The top of the starting pitching market is strong, with Rodón joined by two guys who at times can claim to be the best pitcher in the world. Injuries have derailed deGrom's career and hoping for 30 starts a year from him would be a mistake, but when he's on the mound, he's historically dominant. Verlander is about to turn 40 but he also just posted a 1.75 ERA.

Max Scherzer got three years and $130 million from the Mets last offseason and that kind of AAV should appeal to the Giants, who have not given out a contract longer than three years since Zaidi took over.

Can The Giants Afford All That?

First of all, every team can afford the upper end of the market. These are billionaires who own assets that only grow in value with every new TV deal, so don't ever listen to an owner who tells you that the market is out of hand.

Anyway, yes, the Giants can afford to do just about whatever they want this offseason.

Even when you account for their large arbitration class, the Giants have only about $100 million committed to the 2023 roster. In the last two years, they have watched huge contracts for Posey, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt and Longoria come off the books, so there's no excuse not to go big this offseason.

What If I Want All This Info In An Audio Format?

Subscribe to Giants Talk!

Which Giants Are Free Agents?

The most notable names after Rodón are Belt and Joc Pederson. The Giants have shown some interest in retaining both, but it may be a while before either player makes a decision.

Belt had season-ending knee surgery and will retire if he doesn't feel right physically, although the early returns have been very positive. Pederson made it very clear in September that he wants to play for a contender, and if the Giants are to bring him back, they may first have to make a couple of big moves to prove the roster can get him back to Joctober.

The other two free agents are relievers Jose Alvarez and Shelby Miller. Alvarez is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Given how good Miller looked at times in September, a reunion could make sense.

What Else Must Get Done This Offseason?

The arbitration class includes Webb, Yastrzemski, Estrada, Tyler Rogers and many others, but the Giants don't have too many difficult decisions to make. They do have some tricky calls with the return of the Rule 5 Draft, though.

Marco Luciano is a lock to be added but the Giants must decide whether to protect Luis Matos, who is their top outfield prospect but only in High-A. The class also includes former first-rounder Hunter Bishop, infielder Will Wilson, catcher Ricardo Genoves, right-hander Tristan Beck and a few intriguing relief prospects.

In recent years, the Giants have taken some risks while also protecting high-upside relievers who could be stashed at the back of someone else's bullpen.

RELATED: Bonds gives heartfelt shout-out to World Series champ Dusty

The Giants have the majority of next year's roster in place already, but some non-free-agency decisions must be made. Can they find a taker for the $11.5 million left on Tommy La Stella's deal? Do they want to carry all three left-handed-hitting outfielders -- Yastrzemski, LaMonte Wade Jr., Luis Gonzalez -- again or will one be traded? Are they comfortable with the Joey Bart-Austin Wynns duo or will they bring in more catching help?

There's a lot to do, and it's not hyperbole to suggest this is one of the most important winters in franchise history. The 81-81 season was a disappointment, and the Giants need to make waves to win back a fan base and keep up in a tough division. That work officially starts now.

Download and follow the Giants Talk Podcast