Something happened earlier today that hasn’t happened in a generation: the Giants named a new leader for their Baseball Operations department. As you know by now, that person is now-former Dodgers GM and former A’s assistant GM Farhan Zaidi. What was discussed at the introductory press conference? Quite a bit, actually.
The Giants didn’t interview him until Friday
So, he wasn’t the first choice, but once he became available and Larry Baer had a chance to speak with him it came together very quickly. As both Baer and Zaidi noted, the two-hour conversation that was scheduled lasted six and a half hours.
This also explains why “leaks” about this situation didn’t start creeping out until this week. There was just nothing there. It’s hard to know if the Giants were waiting for him to become available after their top pick(s) weren’t going to happen or if there was always a level of interest that was simply complicated by the Dodgers’ playoff run, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The Giants got the right guy.
Larry Baer was totally impressed
I say this with as little criticism or negativity as possible, but it’s clear that Larry Baer is way out of his element when it comes to sabermetrics. That he was able to hang in with Zaidi’s explanations speaks to Farhan’s communication ability (more on that later). Baer didn’t open up the presser with a list of platitudes and superlatives. he picked his spots but called Zaidi and his thinking “fascinating” and found a lot of what the new President of Baseball Operations had to say in his interview “pretty compelling”. He specifically cited case studies Farhan made reference to about various players over the years and how some were specifically more analytics-based while others were heavily reliant on traditional scouting.
The first baseball game he ever attended was at Candlestick Park
It was this 6-5 win over the Houston Astros where Candy Maldonado and Will Clark hit back-to-back home runs that resulted in a walk-off win. It made him think that all baseball games were that exciting.
There won’t be a rebuild, but all options are on the table
Zaidi will be flying back down to Carlsbad tonight to finish the GM meetings and resume his place in the GM fraternity, and he anticipates that a lot of his brethren will transition from congratulating him on the new gig to pestering him about giving up his few good players.
In the meantime, he’ll be reaching out to everyone in the organization to get their feedback on current players and prospects. That includes the various scouts but also Brian Sabean, who got a call out right at the top of the press conference. The two of them have already had discussions (though brief) and Zaidi said he looked forward to having more.
He was asked specifically about what could happen to Madison Bumgarner. He said that all options are on the table. He thinks “rebuild or go for it” is too myopic and limiting and that he prefers to maintain maximum flexibility. He relevantly cited the A’s acquisition of Khris Davis before the 2016 season as what he’s talking about — that team was ostensibly “rebuilding” and yet they acquired a good player anyway. Zaidi prefaced that example by repeating oft-spoken “wisdom” that (and I’m paraphrasing) that maintains “Oh, we’re rebuilding, so we won’t sign veteran players who can help us compete”.
The biggest takeaway here is that the Giants are not going to look at their roster as set in stone or characterize it as being “worth improving” or “not worth improving”.
He said all the right things
Farhan repeated that he has a lot to learn from Bruce Bochy and that he looks forward to working with him. He mentioned Brian Sabean. He mentioned that the best part of the Giants’ roster is its “selflessness”, and to that end, he said “adding a little youth to the roster, a little athleticism, to compliment that culture of selflessness” was one of his priorities.
He noted that the bullpen was a strength and thought the rotation could be bolstered. He referenced the great young arms developing in the system and sounded excited to talk to the development staff to get a sense of the timetables for these players.
Going back to that “selflessness” bit, though, it felt like he gave a really smooth answer regarding the lineup. If I were to read between the lines, I think he doesn’t think much of the hitters on the roster. But again, he said all the right things to not make it sound like he had disdain for that group. In fact, the words he chose are the words that speak to what matters most: selfless, winning baseball.
He told a quick story about how he stayed up in the manager’s box watching the post-game on-field ceremony with Hunter Pence after the last game of the season and was touched by how the team and the fans have their community and treat one another. He likes that “the organization isn’t just about baseball”.
In response to a question about his plans to remake the organization, Zaidi half-pivoted and said that he wanted to be “humble in process”. A younger man might’ve gone into the presser excited to talk about his ideas and his process. Zaidi sounded wise enough to know that he doesn’t have to put it out there to be confidence. Mystery matters.
More importantly, he stressed that “no one player can turn around the fate of a franchise” and that the path forward involves “one good baseball move after another... that’s how we’re going to get to where we want to go.”
He said “diligence” and talked about “casting a wide net”. We didn’t get anything about tire-kicking or “at the end of the day”, but we did get another great line talking about how the modern baseball front office differs from bygone eras (paraphrasing):
The days of general managers going into their front office and closing the door, then coming back out to announce three trades are over. It doesn’t work like that anymore.
He clearly communicated his desire for a collaborative process.
This was a good hire
As I noted this morning, Farhan Zaidi has been successful everywhere he’s worked and that’s because he combines book smarts and a creative mind with strong communication skills and obvious curiosity. After the press conference ended, Larry Baer audibly said “Good job” before awkwardly patting Zaidi on the back.
I’m not mentioning that to make fun of Baer, I’m doing it to highlight this point: Farhan Zaidi had a really impressive press conference. That could mean absolutely nothing in terms of on the field play, but after 20 years of a surly man who constantly sounded like he had a toothache but refused to go to the dentist, a smiling, laughing, joking, and younger person really felt like a breath of fresh air. You can watch the whole thing here and see for yourself: