Earlier today, we were given a sense of the Giants’ front office shuffle in the wake of the weekend’s big news involving Larry Baer. An executive team involving three vice presidents and President of Baseball Operations will be reporting directly to ownership while overseeing the day to day operations of the club. What does that mean? This is the first time in a great long while that the Baseball Operations department will be working without a net or liaison, and Farhan Zaidi appears to be the right person for the job.
As noted in Henry Schulman’s write up earlier today:
Baer serves as the liaison between the baseball executive, in this case Zaidi, and the owners on the board of directors. Zaidi, who has been on the job less than four months, now might consult directly with the board. He has gotten to know these key owners and attended board meetings.
The Giants are entering a new era in many ways, and Farhan Zaidi was brought in to help with that transition, but I don’t think any of us could’ve guessed that he would become the de facto public face of the team quite so quickly. Marty Lurie offered how he saw decision-making and organization breaking down in the coming days:
[...] “If it’s a business question, probably Mario (Alioto) would answer that. Jack Bair on any legal questions. Probably on some PR things Staci Slaughter would talk about it. If it’s a physical plant issue, probably (Alfonso) Felder would be involved with that. So I think it depends on the question.
“If it’s a baseball question, honestly I think this is Farhan (Zaidi)’s job. He’s in charge of baseball operations, and it’s up to him to talk to the organization.
Lurie’s guess seems to take in more of a bird’s eye view of the situation based on his experience covering the team, but Schulman’s line about Zaidi’s relationship-building feels and sounds like he’s a little more tuned into what’s happening, and my takeaway from that is that New Guy is on the verge of becoming The Guy, and I that’s something to embrace.
It’s definitely time for the Giants to turn the page. Baseball Operations probably doesn’t need to have a liaison with the ownership group at this point because in most of baseball, the front office exec has already become a silent CEO. The difference in this specific case is Farhan’s background: as a behavioral economist, he’s primed to handle irrational fans / consumers and the rough waters ahead in a way that doesn’t just bolster the bottom line.
What do I mean by that? His dissertation, “Top of Mind in Task-Based Environments and Choice Under Risk” examined how consumers could be manipulated into making irrational choices with, essentially, dynamic pricing, but also thanks to our inherently irrational behavior when it comes to decision-making and faulty memory, especially relating to brands. His paper doesn’t just suggest how manipulating humanity’s weak behavior and decision-making can be used for “evil”, he does offers this:
Just as firms attempt to manipulate consumer attention to obscure subscription renewal decisions or to increase demand for risky goods, policymakers can design programs to direct attention towards potentially welfare-improving choices.
Now, that positive-sounding idea can easily be twisted into something like “team owners can design programs to direct attention towards potentially team-improving choices” and some less analytics-driven version of that (I’m assuming based on the different generation) is all that Larry Baer has been doing over the past 30+ years. He’s trying to get fans to support the Giants even in the lean times, and even as financially supporting a team usually supports the team more than it does the fan.
This seems like the perfect degree of experience to have in a situation where the value proposition of your enterprise appears to be shrinking beneath you, and now he has the extra room to flex that muscle a little more easily and perhaps even a little earlier than he had envisioned when he accepted the offer.
Of course, I’m not forgetting the incident that created this situation. Pamela Baer had to suffer for us to even be sitting here considering this Farhan Future, and that makes this all feel downbeat. Public statements have been issued and Major League Baseball has initiated an investigation, so the matter is far from over, and there will likely be several far-reaching and permanent consequences to come. Here is one very small situation in the grand scheme that doesn’t feel like some degree of betrayal and not totally suck.