As we move through the 2020 MLB pre-season, San Francisco Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi continues to clean house throughout the entire organization.
Some of the challenges Zaidi faced from the beginning were the overall lack of coherent franchise goals, the absence of analytic-directed player development, poor player drafting, dependency on old school scouting at the pro and amateur levels, and a farm system that needed emergency defibrillation.
In assembling a front office team to affect this kind of global change, Zaidi has used his knowledge, experience and connections to identify and hire a number of very smart baseball people.
This past week Brian Bannister was hired from the Red Sox front office to be Director of Pitching.
That followed the addition of General Manager Scott Harris from the Cubs organization, Pro Scouting Director Zach Minasian from the Brewers, and Amateur Scouting Director Michael Holmes from the Oakland Athletics.
New Manager Gabe Kapler is both part of the Giants’ reboot and an agent for continuing change as he recently brought in Donnie Ecker from the Cincinnati Reds to take over as the team’s new hitting coach.
Kapler will be at the forefront of pulling everything together as this revised and refreshed Giants franchise enters the 2020 season, finally truly becoming Farhan Zaidi’s team.
It’s instructive to remember exactly why the San Francisco Giants franchise was allowed to wither and fall so far behind the cutting edge of Major League Baseball franchise-building.
In a nasty nutshell, the Giants went through an epic five-year fail by both ownership and the front office.
GM Brian Sabean was both smart enough and lucky enough to put together three teams that won the World Series in 2010-2012-2014. But what Sabean didn’t put together is a sustaining championship organization, capable of continually developing talent, making smart trades and player signings and contending every year.
Sabean’s hand-picked successor, Bobby Evans, continued the team’s linear approach to player development and team-building.
They really believed that luck and magic was more important than smart amateur drafting, avoiding long-term contracts with aging players and joining the advanced analytics revolution.
San Francisco’s ownership group was a big part of this conspiracy of banality.
For years after they built their privately financed baseball stadium in 2000, the team’s ownership group happily promoted the notion that the Giants were a “small market” team. There simply was no money to spend. As usual, the compliant local baseball media gladly parroted that false script for years and Giants fans believed it.
Then, out of nowhere, everyone suddenly discovered the Giants were continually in the top five of Forbes.com’s list of MLB teams with the biggest value, largest revenue and highest profits. Well oops.
This is the world Farhan Zaidi stepped into when he became the Giants Baseball Ops President last year.
And contrary to the “We’re playing to win as many games as possible” mantra the team continually puts out to keep San Francisco’s jumpy fans from bolting, it will take at least several more years before the USS Minnow is up and ready to sail in McCovey Cove again.
One unintended consequence of the Giants organization booting the ball around the field the past five years is that during that time a number of Major League teams have built excellence-sustaining operations that don’t rely on having “windows” of opportunity or luck.
And Giant fans take note: teams like Tampa, the Yankees, Dodgers, Houston, Boston, Oakland and St. Louis don’t use player injuries as an excuse for losing. Every season every MLB team has an almost predictable number of injuries to impact players, but these teams somehow continue to make the postseason playoffs year after year.
The happy and positive ending to this story is that, while everything had to get blowed up real good, the San Francisco Giants have begun to make the changes that can get them back into the elite league of MLB teams.
The process will not be pretty and some amount of milk will be spilt—but for the first time in years the Giants really are on the right track.