Building a winning organization takes a lot of hard work. Hiring the person who builds a winning organization takes some work but involves far more luck. Despite all his years of experience and focus on the team, Larry Baer went into this offseason with even more to lose than the fate of the franchise: his legacy. He had to nail the hire for President of Baseball Operations, a title he created specifically become the new face of the franchise — his franchise.
Farhan Zaidi was not an unconventional choice for President of Baseball Operations from an industry standpoint, but he was a radical candidate for a staid and stable franchise, one that Larry Baer had helped shepherd and maintain all these years. It wasn’t an act of courage that compelled him to pursue and ultimately go with Zaidi, but let’s not pretend that this whole new enterprise isn’t one huge risk. It won’t be what Larry Baer’s remembered for, but the next chapter of the Giants could very well determine what parts of his chapters are remembered years from now.
Something had to be done this offseason to address the Giants’ sudden and profound descent into irrelevance. The front office’s precious continuity had finally destroyed the team’s future and left little in the way of hope. It was obvious to everyone that the Giants were well behind the curve when it came to competing at the major league level, and despite whatever changes that went on behind the scenes, it was clear by the end of 2017 that they were simply remixing familiar elements. That might work for film and TV studios, but it’s competitive death for a sports team, and after aggressively sticking to a marketing plan that exploited past success and the faded glory of World Series heroes, Larry Baer recognized that the center had imploded.
We know the baggage of history that weighted down the Major League roster and shaped the fan base’s (and possibly even the rest of the ownership group’s) expectations and he knew it, too. He could’ve very easily allowed all of that to color his judgment for the sake of legacy or some twisted version of heightened continuity.
Larry Baer is not a Baseball Man. Everything he learned about baseball operations came from social osmosis and, of course, a healthy amount of being in the room. That didn’t put him at a large disadvantage as he embarked into the unknown of the offseason, but it didn’t help. After decades of organizational stability, his role as Shepherd In Chief experienced a sudden evolution. The status quo had died in his arms. It was up to him to lead one of the most valuable franchises in professional sports into the undiscovered country: its future.
How was he going to do that without the decades of experience running a baseball ops department or simply being in the loop enough to fully understand the quantum leap in knowledge and scouting that had been made at the major league level in just a few years’ time? By listening. In so doing, he heard the best voice for the new job of bringing the Giants into the 21st century and pushing them to the head of the pack.
This could’ve all gone very wrong. Although Zaidi is a savant, there was no guarantee that his energy would match up well with Baer’s, even if he had something interesting to say. As it stands, the Jewish man was joyously overwhelmed by the Muslim man’s “transformational thinking”. The religious differences don’t actually matter in the baseball sense and they might even be controversial to mention here, but I think the distinction is worth the reference: Baer didn’t have to do any of this, but he did.
He could’ve gone with someone who felt more familiar but was simply younger than Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans. He could’ve gone with someone who didn’t have ties to the Dodgers or A’s, and yet on paper, it was a savvy move to steal more free real estate in the minds of A’s fans and hurt the Dodgers in the only way the organization presently can. A non-white hire with strong Bay Area ties is a good marketing move for the area and as a statement that the next generation of Giants Baseball won’t look like the ones before it.
We don’t know what the future will bring, ultimately, but that’s okay. There would be uncertainty no matter the hire. The entire search was centered around that introductory press conference. It was as much of a statement about the next generation as whatever player moves or front office hires are on the horizon. Farhan Zaidi has all the exciting keywords and phrases on a resume that stat-minded and forward-thinking baseball fans want to see but it was his engaging personality and genuine-seeming charm semi-offensive that really sealed the deal.
In appearance, tone, and content, Farhan Zaidi embodied every part of that “next gen” GM Larry Baer set out to find. Gone were the grumpy tones and blank affects of the still-personable-behind-the-scenes prior regime, replaced by an extrovert who smiles. A smile isn’t everything, but joy about the process is a breath of fresh air. Larry Baer didn’t find the next chapter of the Giants’ story, he found the next volume. He might’ve gotten lucky with the Dodgers’ willingness to let their GM leave, but it all began with his own willingness to close a book he’d helped write.