SAN FRANCISCO — Quietly Tuesday, one of the most important days in recent San Francisco Giants history played out behind closed doors and tinted windows.
Aaron Judge was in town. Three weeks into free agency, a few days before Thanksgiving, presumably on a stopover on the slugger’s way home to small Linden, about two hours east, for the holiday, it was the Giants’ turn to make their pitch to the player at the top of their wishlist, the reigning American League MVP, who hit an AL record 62 home runs last season.
It’s thought to be a two-way race.
Judge can re-sign with the Yankees, who drafted him out of Fresno State, and possibly one day have his No. 99 enshrined in Monument Park.
Or, as Giants brass likely attempted to convey in a marathon session Tuesday, he could live out a made-for-Hollywood script, the superstar and savior for his hometown team.
Growing up outside Stockton, Judge rooted for the Giants and idolized Rich Aurilia. Now 30 years old and fully grown into his 6-foot-7 frame, he could be the Giants’ most potent free-agent addition since Barry Bonds. After going from 107 wins to missing the postseason, no available player would do more to boost their odds of punching a playoff ticket again.
Or, he could surprise everybody.
Any team that signs him is expected to guarantee him in excess of $300 million.
Giants officials, likely led by chief executive Larry Baer and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, played host to Judge in an all-day affair, according to reports confirmed by the Bay Area News Group. Zaidi has said previously that, “from a financial standpoint, there’s nobody that would be out of our capability to meet what we expect the contract demands will be.” Judge turned down a $213.5 million offer from the Yankees before this past season.
His presence in the city began to ring alarm bells of fans on social media Monday evening, when MLB Network posted a video that showed him checking in to a swanky Financial District hotel. Asked about his plans, Judge responded, “just visiting some family and friends, that’s about it,” and then winked.
Early Tuesday morning, about a dozen onlookers began to gather outside the St. Regis, hoping to sneak a peek of the free-agent slugger.
One strategic autograph hound split allegiances, with a Yankees cap and a Giants shirt. A father and son, also in a Yankees cap, were in town from New York and heard Judge might be here. Another group of Giants fans stood across the alleyway from the hotel entrance hoping for an autograph, but asked to choose, said they would prefer Judge to put his signature on a contract in San Francisco rather than their baseball cards.
The only glimpse they caught was through the tinted window of the SUV convoy that whisked away Judge and his suitors around lunchtime, after meeting throughout the morning inside the hotel.
While the participants, agenda and itinerary are still unknown, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi provided some insight into the Giants’ potential pitch on KNBR while the two sides met Tuesday morning. He was the first to report Judge’s arrival and the scheduled meeting.
“It’s sort of an all-day experience where he’s going to see the ballpark, maybe do a little more homework on what it would be like to live in the Bay Area and all those things about life away from baseball, that (is part of) any free agent recruitment process or any executive recruitment process,” Morosi said, pegging the odds at 80-90% that he signs with either the Giants or Yankees. “I would expect the Giants will play heavily on that emotion. That’s both an authentic thing to do and the right thing to do. Because this is the team with which Aaron Judge fell in love with the game. There’s a certain part of your life when you fall in love with a team and it’s your sport and it becomes your career. It’s a part of you.”
After falling short in their pursuits of Bryce Harper (who turned down a reported $310 million offer) and Seiya Suzuki (who reportedly preferred to live in Chicago over San Francisco), Zaidi explained the Giants’ attempts to appeal to local players, such as Joc Pederson and now Judge.
“One of the things we’ve really tried to do the last couple of offseasons is pursue players that we had a good feel and sense of their desire to be Giants,” Zaidi said. “Some of that is our ability to convince players that this is a great place to play, which we all genuinely believe. Some players don’t take that much convincing. … A lot of them grew up rooting for the Giants. To be able to put that uniform on is really special for them.”
All but the most diehard of fans went about their days uninterrupted as a possible sea change for the franchise took place in the background. Security workers manned their usual posts at Oracle Park. Muni trains sounded their horns and chugged along King Street. Joggers winded between the outfield wall and the waterfront, where the Giants hope many more baseballs will be splash-landing next season. (McCovey Cove is a tough target for a right-handed hitter, but if anyone can do it, it’s Judge, who is used to lifting balls the other way with the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium.)
The Giants perhaps showed their hand last week, when the center field scoreboard displayed the name and photo of Japanese free agent pitcher Kodai Senga — visible enough that one reporter spotted it from the freeway and snapped photo proof. In response, Zaidi joked, “we’re going to have to start tenting our ballpark when we put those things up.”
No chance the Giants were going to tip anybody off in the same way Tuesday, if only because all the while they did their best to convince one man to take hundreds of millions of dollars to play baseball at Oracle Park, dozens of other adults were paying to play baseball on the same field during the second day of their annual fantasy camp. Scoreboard real estate was occupied.
As for other local real estate?
Pricier than Linden, but money should be no object to Judge, no matter his destination.