As the story around the Giants’ search for a new front office overlord begins to take shape, one thing has been made perfectly clear by Giants President & CEO Larry Baer: the new front office will not be tasked with or permitted to rebuild the franchise. In his message to fans that went out yesterday, this particular point caught my attention:
Though we’re changing some personnel and practices, we’re not changing who we are. We will continue to invest deep resources into putting the best possible team on the field. Every move this off-season will be tested against one question: Will it help us win?
By and large, a team will always say that they’re striving to put the best possible team on the field and stress their commitment to winning, even when the situation looks grim. The Giants are one of those rare organizations that takes six haymakers in a row, falls down two dozen flights of stairs out the door and into oncoming traffic, still get up and declare that they’re totally fine with getting punched in the face again and again and again and again.
It makes sense that Baer wouldn’t go back on his “win and develop” phrase he deployed at the end of August, but coupled with Brian Sabean’s comments about the franchise’s next steps (The Athletic subscription required) —
“Let’s just put the saber world aside and the analytics aside: you can’t win without (talented) players,” Sabean said. “Players are your biggest and best asset. … You need (talented) players to be able to have analytics to make a difference, in my mind. If you’re going to take below-average talent or very-average talent and think analytics are going to be nirvana to raise that group up, it doesn’t work that way. And I can name the (successful) organizations that came through the other side of a four- or five-year rebuild.
“It’s talent. You have to have talent. That’s where it starts. And (analytics) becomes nuance.”
— there’s every reason to fear that “never rebuild” also means “more of the same — but younger”.
Brian Sabean will be Larry Baer’s chief adviser in the search for a new overlord, and that makes sense because there’s no reason for Sabean to not be a trusted adviser. But the entire point of the search is to bring in fresh voices, and so the idea that Baer would rely on old voices to make a determination makes the whole affair feel circumspect.
The “saber world” and “analytics” is how teams find talent. Just because a computer helps spit out the numbers used to grade players doesn’t change that players are graded by numbers — as they have been for as long as Sabean’s doing it and since Baseball came into existence. Brian Sabean’s reticence here is beyond comical and reveals the worst stereotypes of the front office that we had all assumed had dissipated with three world championships. It turns out, successful people don’t change. Then again, why should they?
This means there are already a few candidates eliminated from consideration. Farhan Zaidi is out not because he’s with the Dodgers, but because he’s perceived as being a robot. In Alex Pavlovic’s list of potential candidates, I got caught up in the ordering of these names and figured that was some kind of a tell.
Maybe Pavlovic isn’t quite an insider, but he certainly knows more about the search than any of us here do, and so I’m going to assume in a conspiracy-type way that there’s some method to this list.
Jed Hoyer and Farhan Zaidi lead off the list because they’re the least likely candidates but whose names would sound sexy enough if they became attached to the search. They’re headline-grabbers. Hoyer fits the Zaidi mold of being more math than man, and that’s a Sabean No-No.
The last six names on the list are all varying degrees of maybe to no. Mike Rizzo’s there because of the Harper connection and the Nationals’ track record, but he doesn’t fit the age profile they might want — although he could easily hire a younger GM. Still, I think Rizzo’s here because of what I said the other day: Rizzo might be done in Washington and might be interested in a new opportunity.
Jean Afterman makes Pavlovic’s list but then is virtually dismissed by reason of what he’s heard about the search — literally, “but a source familiar with the search downplayed the likelihood here.” She makes an odd inclusion on his list, then, which is why I suspect it’s populated with sexy names to distract from the people he feels / knows to be the true focus. Afterman could also hire a younger GM to execute her vision for the baseball operations, but her lack of scouting experience might make her another Sabean No-No.
Kim Ng seems to be on the list because of tokenism, which is incredibly frustrating. The Giants don’t want to break in a new GM and they don’t want someone without scouting experience.
Chaim Bloom is 35 and has experience in all the areas Bobby Evans had — contracts, scouting, administrative — and built a quality organization out of a cheapskate owner’s ludicrous limitations; he’s also fleeced the Giants in trade twice. On paper, he seems like the exact type of baseball overlord they should want to pursue, and maybe they’ll surprise us all, but if Sabean is only playing to the media stereotype of himself, then he’s suspicious of youth (although 35 is only young to him) because in his mind they still have a lot to learn and are therefore susceptible to innovation or wandering off the beaten path. Sabean can’t see himself in Bloom and the only reason his name is on the list is red meat for Pavlovic’s base: savvy baseball nerds on the internet.
This is the same reasoning behind the inclusion of David Stearns of the Brewers. He’s a 34-year old Harvard grad who fired or reassigned a bunch of old scouts and experienced baseball guys on his way to purging half the 40-man roster in his first offseason. Maybe that’s something Sabean could get behind, but Stearns probably hurt a lot of his friends or friends of friends.
Pavlovic ends the list with David Forst of the A’s, whose name is there just to get a rise out of us and remain the focus. But the real targets of the search are right there for us to see and they tie into exactly what Larry Baer meant in the above quote.
Mike Elias, Astros assistant general manager, player acquisition
You want someone who can help accumulate young talent? How about Elias, who oversees amateur scouting for the reigning World Series champs. Elias joined the Astros in 2012, and since then, the organization has drafted Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Alex Bregman and others who have contributed to a powerhouse.
The former Yale pitcher broke in with the Cardinals in 2007, and seems a perfect fit for Sabean’s description of someone who will respect both the scouting and analytics sides.
If the Astros win the World Series again, then it would be irresponsible of the Giants (and Mets for that matter) to not pursue members of their front office. Heck, even if the Astros come up short, they have proven themselves to have an organizational model worth parroting — how they arrived at their enviable situation is where the conflict arises.
Elias turns 36 in December, but he was a scout in the Cardinals organization for two seasons (2007-2009) before joining the Astros as a special assistant and becoming their scouting director in 2012. He also went to the same high school as Bruce Bochy’s brother, which has no bearing on his candidacy, but might be a conversation starter in the room.
Ben Cherington, Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations
The Giants’ preference is to find someone who has done the job before, and Cherington held the GM position in Boston, helping build the 2013 World Series champion Red Sox. He struggled in free agency — Pablo Sandoval was one of his big additions — but when he resigned in 2015, much of the core of this current Red Sox power was in place.
Now, I really think this is the focus of the search. Cherington is 44 (Sabean was 40 when he became the Giants’ GM), has already been the GM of a highly visible, wealthy organization with plenty of pressures from fans and ownership; won a World Series. He’s a New Hampshire guy, Sabean’s a New Hampshire guy, and then —
Sabean began his involvement in Major League Baseball as a scout for the New York Yankees organization in 1985. Sabean was promoted to Director of Scouting in 1986 and Vice President of Player Development/Scouting in 1990.
I think Brian Sabean sees a lot of himself in Ben Cherington and the situation that Cherington would be inheriting has a lot of similarities with the Red Sox team he took control of in 2012, with a last place finish for a team made up of someone else’s key personnel decisions. When given full control (including his choice of manager — ownership demanded Bobby Valentine in 2012), he made a flurry of free agent acquisitions and trades to turn the team around and get them to the postseason and win the World Series.
The Giants will never rebuild and they’re committed to their process. They just need someone with a fresh perspective on how to do things the way they’ve always been done.