SAN FRANCISCO - The Giants were careful about their phrasing last year, repeatedly saying there was "no mandate" to dip under the tax line, but that it would be preferred.
Ultimately, they did, with then-GM Bobby Evans shedding salary in-season to reset the organization's penalties and set the Giants up for future runs at marquee free agents. Evans is no longer around, but as the Giants discuss Bryce Harper, that work could come in handy.
It's unclear what Harper is looking for at this point, and unclear if the Giants will ever get to the point of making an offer. They have not yet. But if they do get to the point of seriously considering where Harper fits in their payroll, it'll be a close call as they try to make their numbers line up.
According to RosterResource.com, the Giants currently have a payroll of about $173 million for tax purposes. That puts them well beneath the $206 million threshold for 2019, but there's more math to be done.
For instance, the publicly known figures on Madison Bumgarner's deal are said to be slightly different than the actual number used for competitive balance tax purposes. Tony Watson is listed at $3.66 million, but his contract included performance bonuses that Evans used to keep the Giants under the tax line in 2018. That creative accounting helped slide Watson onto the roster late last offseason, but his 2019 salary is considerably higher than the publicly available figures.
The Giants are said to be closer to $180 million when it comes to calculating their payroll for tax purposes. The initial estimates on Harper had him aiming for close to $40 million per year, but this late in the offseason, the odds of that are slim. There's a reason, after all, that Harper's side has engaged with the Padres and Giants in recent weeks.
Even an average annual salary of $30 million would get the Giants back into the tax, but Farhan Zaidi has spent the offseason talking to other teams about salary swaps, so there are ways to dip back under $206 million. For instance, if the Giants were to sign Harper, they could turn around and trade someone like Sam Dyson, who is owed $5 million.
There would be ways to add Harper and keep the Giants under the CBT line for a second straight year. That, of course, assumes they would like to stay under, and given the way this offseason has gone, it's fair to assume just about every team has that goal.
There's another path, though, one that is much more straightforward.
The Giants hoped to stay under $206 million this year and never really thought Harper would be realistic. Now it's February, and he all of a sudden has come back into their plans. There are some players worth paying the tax for, and Harper certainly would qualify.