It has been all quiet on the GM front ever since Ben Cherrington withdrew his name from consideration. That’s bad for us because it means there’s less to write about with the entire franchise being in a bit of a holding pattern, and it’s bad for the team because teams are out there making trades already.
The Giants have about a month before they need to start making critical decisions in terms of contract options and renewals, and while Brian Sabean will be able to manage the operation just fine if the search for the next head of baseball operations drags on beyond that, someone else making key decisions in the interim will make it trickier and more difficult for the next person who will be making key decisions in the future.
Organizational stability has been a blessing and a curse. The front office continuity has created a near-permanent culture. The same group of people who chose to tread water during the Bonds years turned the ensuing misfortunes into their own gain. That’s the sort of situation the new front office person will find themselves in, only “Barry Bonds” in this case is “three world championships in five years with a bunch of guys from that run still very much a key part of the team and the memories of that success still pretty fresh and deeply held by the fan base”. What sort of personality will be needed to make the transition from the Sabean era into the next one? What sort of skills will they need to be successful?
We’re only coming at this from our outsider’s perspective, of course, and anything we think or express will still be off the mark no matter how well-informed we might be or think we are; we’ll always underrate the new front office’s ability to communicate and get along with Larry Baer, and that might prove the trickiest part in all this before we even get started.
Larry Baer is not “a baseball man”, and yet he will be the one selecting the next “baseball leader” of the franchise for the foreseeable future. It’s on him to nail the hire because the new baseball leadership’s success or failure will be a reflection of his decision-making and utility to the franchise shareholders. We can assume that baseball being his second language means he’ll defer to his marketing and business experience above all else, and in small measure, that won’t derail the hiring process before it even really gets going.
We have no idea who’s on the Giants’ radar and who will be the next President of Baseball Operations or whatever title they wind up settling on, but given the franchise history and the parties involved who we do know, at least publicly, the next person to get the job will need to have some key qualities:
A sense of humor
The team is a mess, the fan base believes the franchise is one good player away from turning everything around, and the team is a mess. S/he needs to be able to laugh about the situation and recognize that humor creates a built in flexibility to the unpredictable parts of the job.
A flexible vision
As much as Larry Baer says the new baseball overlord will have free rein of baseball ops, he’s used to collaborating with the front office. We don’t know the extent to which he and Brian Sabean get along — they don’t feel like drinking buddies — we know that they worked closely when it came to big decisions.
He will expect a version of that relationship to continue, and because he has been successful in his job and as a human being for many, many years, he will expect that he has the ability to provide input and course correct if he feels the new front office people are treading into dangerous waters.
Burning down a franchise just to exert dominance and rebuild it in his image is the modern GM’s m.o. Larry Baer is not going to allow that. And he’s probably not going to allow a even a 75% as extreme version of that. Some GMs might view this as compromise, but Baer might label it something more marketease like “adapt and grow”.
The new front office needs to be able to keep the eye on the prize even when there are detours — and there will be detours. That eye should be on remaking the franchise into a modern baseball team — not one that reflects the current trends, but is prepared to handle the next wave of innovation or simply be able to innovate on the fly. Easier said than done, of course, but nobody said it would be easy.
Doesn’t mind handicaps
For this Giants job, there are some specific, unchangeable circumstances that have to be navigated in Year 1:
- Bruce Bochy will be the manager in 2019
- There was already a huge coaching shakeup last season — do you do it again?
- Can’t trade Buster Posey
- Can’t alter the ballpark dimensions for at least a few years
- Bumgarner’s trade value is limited
- Brandon Belt has no trade value at the present moment
- Brandon Crawford has minimal trade value
- Evan Longoria is on the team
- Samardzija, Melancon, and Cueto represent 42.2% of the Giants’ $150.7 million in commitments for 2019 and 26.78% of the team’s CBT threshold.
Each of these will need to be handled with some care and diplomacy. Bruce Bochy will be in the Hall of Fame and is respected in San Francisco and around the league. He’s in the final year of his contract and it’s a situation that would’ve needed to be handled delicately even by Bobby Evans had he not lost his job.
That introductory press conference will be important because although the majority of Giants fans don’t pay attention to statements made by the front office, they’ll notice when someone says, “your favorite players aren’t good and I’m getting rid of them” or some headline-grabbing variation of that.
Being able to work with limitations is a skill and an important one in large organizations.
Have a heart... or hire a hatchet man
Unless you’re starting an expansion franchise, front offices rarely get a “clean slate”. Maybe some people take perverse pleasure in creative destruction or simply annihilating an organization, but for most it’s a painful thing to trade away fan favorites or fire people who’ve given their life over to a baseball team. The real blood, sweat, and tears of simply working in baseball (player, scout, executive alike) is not one we fully appreciate.
While it’s easier for some to do this than others, the simple act of “remaking” a franchise carries with it many negatives: fan alienation (it takes time to win back the people you lost!), professional tensions (important for reputation, which is useful in hiring new talent!), learning curves (sometimes the first plan isn’t the best plan and you need to spend time figuring that out!) chief among them.
The new head of baseball operations will have the ability to hire their own people, including a new general manager (I’m using GM interchangeably with head of baseball operations or baseball overlord, even though that’s not precise). Where this new baseball ops person should have all these other qualities, their new GM doesn’t need to have them. They can be the dark side. The person who does all the dirty work. And they should be the person who’s not seen in public a lot and just goes about the business of renovating the organization.
We know the Giants need a lot of work, but most of us don’t have a fully appreciation for the job or want to see the nasty business of remaking it. Throw a tent over the project while it’s being done and put someone outside who’s like a carnival barker, telling us to look somewhere else until the tent’s ready to be lifted.