When San Francisco Giants ownership hired Farhan Zaidi to be the team’s President of Baseball Operations last off-season, the franchise faced myriad problems at virtually every level.
The farm system was in the bottom third of Baseball America’s organizational ratings. The big league team continued to stumble, putting up a combined 137-187 record in 2017-2018– a whopping fifty games under .500.
San Francisco was also saddled with a half dozen terrible long-term contracts with aging players and the franchise had an almost non-existent footprint in international player signings.
By 2017 the Giants found themselves surrounded with rival National League West organizations who were smarter, more analytically advanced, and had front offices able to multi-task and problem solve short and long-term.
Under the leadership of Executive Vice President & General Manager Mike Hazen, the Arizona Diamondbacks have built one of the best organizations in the game.
Hazen’s brain trust starts with talented Assistant GMs Amiel Sawdayes and Jared Porter and includes dozens of smart player development, international player, and administrative staff.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are routinely bundled with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros as Major League Baseball’s most elite organizations. The analytic departments of the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros are exploring and using information that is driving the analytic revolution in multi-dimensional directions.
The Godot-like wait for the San Diego Padres rebuild to fully blossom will likely end in 2020. Executive VP and General Manager A.J. Preller may be just a couple of moves away from legitimately challenging the best teams in the National League.
Both the Padres and Arizona have the talent and the payroll flexibility to construct the kind of 40-man rosters that can compete and not be compromised by the expected number of player injuries.
The Pads project to a $129.8 million 2019 payroll—19th in MLB. The D-Backs are right behind them with a $129.4mm projected 2019 payroll.
Meaning there’s significant available payroll to accelerate any additional changes needed during the 2020 season.
Which is one of the toughest issues for the Giants moving forward.
As they improve (which they have done this season) and as they re-set their approach to the annual player draft and improving their farm system, the other teams in the NL West won’t be cooperating by standing still.
Which means that Farhan Zaidi can’t just do well over the next several seasons– he’s got to seriously fast-track the Giants organizational rebuild if there’s any hope of catching and then keeping up with the Dodgers, D-Backs and Padres.
What about the Colorado Rockies, you ask? Certainly their current 58-69 record defines how rough the 2019 road has been, but this is a team that finished with 91 wins in 2018 following an 87-win campaign in 2017.
The Rocks’ perennial pitching problems are alive and well as their collective 5.50 team ERA demonstrates (29th out of 30 MLB pitching staffs to date). But Colorado is another franchise in capable hands, and they won’t stop searching for the precise pitching strategy that can thrive a mile high in Coors Field.
While the Giants will lose over $14 million in salary when pitchers Madison Bumgarner ($12mm) and Will Smith ($4.22mm) hit free agency in October, on Opening Day 2020 they are still hobbled with six long-term contracts that present an ongoing challenge to Zaidi:
- C Buster Posey $21.4mm (33 years old in 2020)
- RHP Johnny Cueto $21mm (34)
- RHP Jeff Samardzija $18mm (35)
- 1B Brandon Belt $16mm (32)
- SS Brandon Crawford $15mm (33)
- 3B Evan Longoria $15mm (34)
That’s $106 million dedicated to a group of aging veterans who performed terribly throughout most of their current contracts and/or whose performance continues to decline each season. Brandon Crawford (.228/.300/.356) is now the oldest everyday shortstop in baseball.
The team’s skitterish fanbase has so far bought into the myth that “finds” like Mike Yastrzemski (30 years old in 2020), Kevin Pillar (31), and Alex Dickerson (30) somehow present younger alternatives to their expensive, aging core.
In reality, they’re just slightly less aging.
So it will be fascinating to watch just how Farhan Zaidi will balance his rebuild of the Giants while still walking the tightrope of trying to present a competent product on the field to keep the seats in Oracle Park filled.
Like the rest of MLB, the NL West is increasingly populated with scores of wildly talented players under the age of 24. They cost less, produce more, and energize fans like never before.
In the meantime, those loud footsteps the Giants are hearing? They aren’t coming from behind them; that rumble is actually fifty lengths in front of them, and will continue to move at a very rapid rate.