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Here’s what the Giants’ interest in the Cubs’ Jason McLeod could mean

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The front office is due for a makeover, but questions remain as to whether or not it will be a nip and tuck or a face lift.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

By now, you’ve heard the news that the Giants interviewed Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ Senior Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting, for their open Chief Baseball Operations/Baseball Operations position.

There has been a lot of industry hype surrounding McLeod for the past several years, to the point that Theo Epstein and the Cubs signed him to a 5-year contract after the 2016 World Series. McLeod followed Epstein to Chicago from Boston, and it’s here that he really started making a name for himself. As this article from 2015 notes:

McLeod helped shape Boston’s 2007 World Series winner, restocking the farm system and drafting difference-makers like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.

And as this article notes:

McLeod was instrumental in drafting the likes of Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ with first-round picks from 2012-’15, respectively. The Cubs also signed or drafted the likes of Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease under McLeod’s watch.

Here’s McLeod talking about the Cubs’ draftees from 2018:

We don’t know a lot about the Giants’ search — we’re only getting dribs and drabs and all of it feels very third-hand information-y, with the team and candidates refusing to confirm or deny any of the reports. It’s hard to know exactly what stage of the process the team’s in, either, and while that alone doesn’t feel frustrating, it certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. Maybe too much.

Although the Brewers’ David Stearns, the RaysChaim Bloom, and MLB’s Kim Ng have all been tied to the Giants’ front office search — a search that might actually be entering a critical period with the general managers’ meeting in luxurious Carlsbad, CA scheduled for November 6-8 — those all seem to be candidates that are there less because of likelihood and more because of marketing and, therefore, more “Baer candidates”.

Now with yesterday’s news about Amiel Sawdaye and this news about McLeod, it’s clear there are also “Sabean candidates.” I’m making this leap of logic on the basis of McLeod’s connection to Boston and his aggressive scouting of the Cape Cod League. To wit:

One theory floating around an organization already loaded with hitters wondered if the Cubs would roll the dice with Brady Aiken, who got drafted with the first selection in 2014 but couldn’t reach an agreement with the Houston Astros amid medical concerns.

[...]

Instead of dreaming about potential, the Cubs felt far more comfortable projecting Happ’s high-level performance at the University of Cincinnati and as a two-time Cape Cod League All Star. The Cubs would keep collecting young hitters and getting solid returns, knowing that some could be traded for pitching later.

[...]

“Everything just aligned,” McLeod said. “Obviously, the Red Sox made it easier for us when they took Benintendi with their selection. We had a pretty good sense once that happened that Happ would be our guy.

“I can tell you that once Andrew was taken, those of us in the room felt really good, like: ‘We’re going to get Happ.’ Once he was there for us, we were all excited to bring in this switch-hitter with power and on-base (skills) who was another kind of blue-collar, hard-nosed guy.

That doesn’t make McLeod a Sabean acolyte by any means, but it does strongly suggest that he’s 1) been to the Cape Cod League and has, therefore 2) met Brian Sabean. A veteran is always going to look for someone who reminds him of himself and McLeod’s and Sawdaye’s successful track records just make them that much more compelling.

McLeod’s draft involvement with the Cubs includes guys like Albert Almora, David Bote, Kris Bryant (Cape Cod League alum), Zack Godley, Kyle Schwarber (Cape Cod League alum), the aforementioned Ian Happ (Cape Cod League alum), and even Giants’ roster arm Pierce Johnson (Cape Cod League alum).

I want the Giants to be the envy of the sport and innovate and do all sorts of weird and cool things regarding evaluation and roster management, and I want it to all be in service of winning, but it’s clear I need to temper my expectations and steel myself for the reality that the Giants won’t be making any waves with a sexy hire. They’re probably not pursuing someone who’s looking two steps ahead but is already entrenched in how to run a team for the current era and understands the industry trends.

That’s not to say that whomever they hire can’t or won’t just turn around and hire someone with that next step / “next gen” mindset and it’s not to say that someone who’s just really qualified and good at identifying baseball talent (regardless of which mode — classic or cutting edge — they opt to deploy said talent) isn’t a “sexy hire”, but it’s just a reminder that all the Giants are really looking to do here is upgrade from Bobby Evans (General Manager), Yeshayah Goldfarb (Vice President, Baseball Operations), and David Bell (Vice President, Player Development) to modernize their status quo.

Along that line, McLeod might not be a radical reinvention candidate and might find value in a lot of the existing structures within the front office. That’s good for legacy and that’s good for morale and it might even be good for winning baseball games — really, what do I know about running a baseball team? From the outside looking in, though, it still feels like the search process contains at least some notion of a half measure.