Looking back at past Giants pursuits as Judge, Yankees come to town

Looking back at past Giants pursuits as Judge, Yankees come to town originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- For seven minutes on Dec. 6, 2022, Giants fans thought Aaron Judge -- or Arson -- was coming home. But Judge actually is not the former MVP on the other side this weekend who was closest to wearing orange and black.

Five years before they chased Judge, the Giants went all-in on Giancarlo Stanton, who was coming off a 59-homer season that won him the National League MVP award. The previous front office hoped to pair Stanton and Shohei Ohtani together to wash away the disappointment of a 98-loss season, but it quickly became clear that Ohtani preferred the American League and he wound up signing with the Los Angeles Angels. The Stanton pursuit got a lot more serious.

The Giants and Marlins went so far down the road that they actually agreed to the details of a trade -- outfielder Denard Span and prospects Andrew Suarez and Jacob Gonzalez were headed to Miami -- but Stanton used his no-trade clause to block deals to the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, who were making a similar push.

"Our agreement with the Marlins to acquire Giancarlo Stanton subject to his waiving of the no-trade clause will not move forward," the Giants said in a statement that week. "It is our understanding that the Marlins and Stanton are exploring other options."

At the time, the Giants feared that Stanton would force his way to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, and his agent later admitted that his preference was to play for the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros or New York Yankees. After being dealt to the Yankees, Stanton explained his reasoning at the annual MLB Winter Meetings.

"(The Marlins) went to San Francisco and the Cardinals and struck deals with them," he said. "So I was open to listening to them, but those were not my teams. Those are great people. They were great meetings and a great organization and culture there, but that just wasn't the fit for me."

Stanton and his representatives worked their way to New York, which initially disappointed the Giants but ultimately turned out for the best. Stanton has played more than 110 games just twice since that trade, totaling 8.5 Wins Above Replacement in seven seasons in pinstripes. The Giants pivoted to Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, the former trade proving costly, but they at least have not been on the hook for Stanton's contract. At the time, the Giants were willing to take on nearly all of the remaining $295 million.

In the years since, that bag has been shopped around to others, including two superstars playing at Oracle Park this week. The Giants pursued Bryce Harper after Farhan Zaidi took over the baseball operations department, and their 2022 offseason plan was based around landing Judge, who flew to San Francisco and met with Brandon Crawford, Logan Webb and Rich Aurilia, among others, at Oracle Park.

On Wednesday, Judge and Stanton hit third and fourth in the Yankees lineup at Angel Stadium. The man in front of them was also once a Giants target, and he may be again in a few months.

The Bobby Evans-led front office pursued a Stanton trade to try and add a superstar bat to the heart of a lineup that perennially seems to be lacking star power, and in 2022, Zaidi took a similar approach at the trade deadline. He talked to the Washington Nationals about Juan Soto, but much to the Giants' disappointment at the time, they could not come close to matching the offer by San Diego. Their most attractive prospects were off to poor starts in the minors.

"We all see these prospect rankings and a lot of them are done in the offseason. Certain prospect rankings update during the season, but current year performance matters a lot in how the industry views these players," Zaidi said at the time. "Health or underperformance -- which the reality is, we've seen with a few of our players -- can really impact their short-term value even if you are still very bullish on their long-term prospects.

"Even from a PR standpoint, I think when you're talking about trading away a star player, a franchise player, you don't want to say the second- or third-best player you got is hitting .175 in A-ball. That represents a little bit of a challenge in situations like we found ourselves in this trade deadline but it doesn't impact our view of our system in the long run. We think our guys are going to get healthier."

Looking back, it's a fascinating pivot point for the organization. The Giants likely could have matched the top players in San Diego's offer by including Marco Luciano and Kyle Harrison, who ranked as top 20 prospects in the minors at the time, but they didn't have the depth to keep up with the Padres, who sent three top 40 prospects and a hard-throwing right-hander along with MacKenzie Gore, a young lefty who was once considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in the minors.

One of the players who could have been a centerpiece at the time was Luis Matos, then just 20 years old, but he was hitting just .177 in High-A. Heliot Ramos was struggling in Triple-A and Patrick Bailey had an OPS under .700 in High-A.
Zaidi was hamstrung by a run of minor league injuries and ineffectiveness that at the time looked like it might set the organization back years. Two seasons later, Bailey looks like a foundational player, while Matos and Ramos have helped turn this season around.

The players who would have made up a Soto package might now be here to stay, although the Giants might still have preferred to take their shot. Soto is a future Hall-of-Famer, and with a .999 OPS and 15 homers, he has joined Judge in giving the Yankees perhaps the league's most dangerous lineup.

The Giants have been left to wonder what might have been, and whether they're ready to go through this all again. Two years after Judge cashed in, Soto is set to be the best player on the free agent market.

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