It’s really easy to like Farhan Zaidi. There’s the congenial personality, sure, but when you pair his smarts with a competitive edge, he’s the best version of baseball’s modern era. Now, All-Star teams are in the front office, but the best of those are just as concerned with fielding an All-Star roster as they are with amassing the most brains.
Zaidi did not assemble an All-Star roster for the Giants this year. He might not have even made the front office into a group of All-Stars. But after he became the first President of Baseball Operations in team history, certain things began to happen: the farm system’s existing talent got better, and the accelerated roster turnover made the major league team a little bit better.
“A little bit better” than a 73-win team is still a bad team, but let’s all agree that Zaidi was working with a lot of conditions that most execs new to their role don’t experience:
- A manager he can’t fire and in fact must celebrate
- A coaching staff he can’t fire because of the manager
- Legacy players he can’t move because they’re immovable
- A team that doesn’t fit the ballpark, division, and era in which they’re playing
- Legacy players he can’t move unless it’s a slam-dunk win because of season ticket sales
Usually, a manager has some flexibility and some flexibility to make huge changes to quickly gets where he wants his team/organization to be. That might’ve been one reason why he offered Bryce Harper a 12-year deal. It was his best chance of bringing the major league roster up to snuff quickly.
It’s that offer that really underlined his competitive edge. In his introductory press conference, he said he wanted the Giants to be competitive as deep into the season as possible. Harper might’ve given the team about a 4-win boost, which would’ve only put them at .500, but it might’ve also made it a lot easier for him to do other things.
Instead, what he managed to do was take an organization with no depth and give it some depth. He was able to employ a lot of skills and tricks he’d developed and mastered over the years to solid effect.
In my community projection, I narrowed down his stat categories to these four predictions:
Giants W-L: 76-86
In-Season Trades: 4
Memorable Media Quotes: 2
Will find a house in: San Leandro
I don’t know where or if he and his family found a permanent home (let me know in the comments) and I can’t immediately call up 1-2 public comments that really stuck with me (nominate yours below), but those weren’t the only predictions where I fell short. The actual numbers:
Giants W-L: 77-85
In-Season Trades: 11
Memorable Media Quotes: ?
Will find a house in: ?
Off by a win and way off by trades. The Giants made five trades on July 31st.
- away Sam Dyson
- away Drew Pomeranz & Ray Black
- away Mark Melancon
- for Scooter Gennett
- for Joe McCarthy
The other six:
- OF Alex Dickerson (Franklin Van Gurp; 6/10/2019)
- P Matt Seelinger (5/20/2019)
- C Francisco Pena (cash considerations; 5/2/2019)
- OF Tyler Austin (Malique Ziegler; 4/8/2019)
- OF Kevin Pillar (Juan De Paula, Derek Law, Alen Hanson; 4/2/2019)
- C Tom Murphy (Jesus Ozoria; 3/29/2019)
These 11 are on top of the seven he made from January 2019 to the end of Spring Training.
Here’s the key quote from his press conference that set the tone for the year:
No move is too small to not be worth a certain level of effort and detail. You know, waiver claims, minor league free agents... you know, second or third players in trades... there’s a lot of value to be had in identifying talent in those regards. Talent identification is key.
This wound up being a checklist, and the team went through it at least four times. They set a National League record with 64 players used on the 40-man roster, after all. He turned over every stone and investigated every dark corner to find talent that could make the team better.
Here are all the adds the Giants made in-season:
P - Andrew Moore
P - Ricardo Pinto
P - Wandy Peralta
OF - Aaron Altherr
IF - Corban Joseph
P - Burch Smith
P - Kyle Barraclough
P - Ryan Dull
OF - Joey Rickard
Minor league free agents
P - Brandon Lawson
P - Casey Meisner
IF - Zach Houchins
P - Keith Weisenberg
P - Adam Oller
P - Bryce Fehmel* undrafted college player
P - Austin Reich* undrafted college player
Second or third players in trades
The Giants added a trio of arms for their minor league teams: Prelander Berroa and Kei-Wei Teng from Minnesota in the Dyson trade, and Daniel Winkler from the Braves for Melancon.
Winkler had a great time in Triple-A Sacramento but the 30-year old elected free agency after the minor league season. But! Berroa and Teng are two 20-year old starters down in low A. The Giants need starters. Berroa did not have a good run after coming over to the Giants, but Teng saw his K/9 jump from 8.8-10 with the Twins to 12.1 in 29 IP with the Giants.
This was not even an exhaustive list. As Grant noted on The Athletic (subscription required), the Giants made a record number of these transactions this past season — and it worked. I just included the in-season ones because they were already a lot.
Role on the 2019 team
Zaidi had to use the season to review the organization. That was the best use of his time given that he couldn’t make drastic changes to the major league roster. He wasn’t brought in to trade Madison Bumgarner for the best available prospects. He was brought in with the notion of making it work one last time, and maybe getting a little bit lucky in terms of the team’s success.
In his season wrap-up podcast with Alex Pavlovic, Zaidi suggested that his biggest “regret” involves the trade deadline: should he have done more one way or the other — trade Bumgarner and Smith or add players to fuel their run?
Over the past few days, he’s cited more than once the Giants’ 65-65 record after their two-game sweep against the A’s in Oakland. They looked like they were setup to stay in the Wild Card race through September. That’s the most “Giant” thought an outsider could have, and it’s why the team has found the right guy to lead them into the 21st century.
The cold, hard numbers say the Giants should’ve razed the organization and been content with being bad for 10-20 years while it builds up an entirely new system of management and development. But competitive people don’t want to give up just because the numbers say it’s the smart thing to do, and in a game that’s as dumb and weird and unpredictable as baseball, it is illogical to believe there’s a single, logical approach to it.
Farhan threw tubs of spaghetti at the wall and got about +5.5 fWAR to stick.
Role on the 2020 team
With a new GM and manager on the horizon, he might not be the sole face of the organization next year. Does this mean he’ll slot into the Larry Baer role, sitting beside his GM and manager in next season’s wrap-up? Possibly. That’s how it works in LA, at least, and that figures to be the model Zaidi will pursue as he remakes the Giants in his image.
How ‘Farhan’ was Farhan?
This feels about right. He wasn’t totally himself because he couldn’t do everything he wanted to do, but he certainly made the most of the situation in the areas where he could and in doing so at least partially signaled the franchise’s next direction.
Now, the bigger question is the one we’re asking about all the players in their season reviews: How “Farhan” is the player?
In this case, we can assume Farhan is still Farhan — four Farhans — and the most Farhan type of person for the job. . . if Farhan is judging himself. He won’t have a Bruce Bochy Farewell Tour to contend with next year, and as complimentary and forgiving as he was with Posey, Belt, and Crawford (if you listen to that Pavlovic podcast), they all played themselves out of consideration for starting roles, making his job even easier. Giants fans are ready for change and he’s the perfect catalyst.