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Some questions to ask the Giants this winter

Which big free agent(s) will the Giants sign is a cromulent question, but it’s not the only one journalists and fans could be asking.

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Buster Posey Announces Retirement Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It’s difficult to get a straight answer out of a baseball front office for two reasons: secrecy and marketing. At all times, a President of Baseball Operations or a simple general manager can’t show their hand to the industry and can’t work against the ticket office trying to drum up sales (unless you’re the Pirates, Cubs, White Sox, or Reds, whose owners can only derive joy from openly tormenting would-be paying customers).

So, we get a lot of hopey-change-y wishy-washiness. For a team like the San Francisco Giants, it’s usually pablum that sounds like it’s in the general area of exciting, affirmed by smart men with smarter processes doing smart things on the margins. But by the team’s own admission, this season has been a disappointment, and it’s here that I think there’s an opportunity for the reporters — who have to maintain relationships with these guys or else risk losing their jobs — to ask some deeper questions beyond just “Aaron Judge?” or “Trea Turner?” or “Luxury tax?”

I’m no reporter and I’m not even a smart person, so I don’t know if these questions are wildly unprofessional or irrelevant, but these are still questions I want to have answers to because they’re very much tied to the public image the Giants have worked to cultivate.

Questions for Farhan Zaidi

  • The floor is 75 wins. Easier said than done in 2022?

If you listen to the McCovey Chroncast, first: thank you, and second: then you know that I have said repeatedly — too much, even — that I want there to be a follow-up to Zaidi’s hypothesis that by following sound sabermetric principles, there’s a lower bound of 75 wins, even for a team operating with a $50 million payroll. Heads up: genuine piece of shit Jonah Keri can be glimpsed in this clip. If you’d rather not see his face at all, then just read the transcription beneath the embed.

You know — this is something that we’ve talked about a lot — when you’re a team that’s pretty sabermetrically inclined and analytical in the decisions you make, if you follow those decisions, there’s really a lower bound, I think, to how many wins — you can build a 75-win team just based on sound analytical principles. And you can do that year in, year out, even with a $50 million payroll.

The question is: how do you get beyond that point? One way is to add at the top of the roster with stars, which for us [The 2014 Oakland A’s] just isn’t an affordable strategy, and the other way is to manage from the bottom and take players that are liabilities, even small liabilities, and say, “What does it do to the collective team at the end of 162 games, if we can shave some of this off the bottom in terms of the productivity?” Whether it’s a backup catcher or a utility infielder, the 9th or 10th bullpen arm that you have that’ll be up and down all year — really optimizing those positions for us became an important part about building a competitive team.

Using an inflation calculator, $50,000,000 in 2014 dollars is $62,687,550.69 in 2022. Subtracting out the $16 million in player benefits that are added to a team’s payroll for competitive balance tax purposes (something that didn’t exist in 2014, but also a figure I assume Zaidi ignores for the hypothesis), the Giants spent $155,645,667 on the 2022 payroll. That means the Giants paid $15.49 million per win beyond 75.

Obviously, he wasn’t saying that it only costs $50 million to field a 75-win team and this year’s Giants were carrying over a lot of salary for players who might be more comfortable among that group that would be managed from the bottom. But still, nearly a decade later, I want to know if he’s rethought this at all.

We know he still believes very strongly in managing a roster from the bottom, and that has been a core triumph of the Zaidi era. The Giants are a team that can add at the top, but does he believe that to be imperative. Forget the mandate from ownership: he simply has the option to, and does he believe that sound sabermetric principles can be just as successful adding to the top as managing from the bottom?

Essentially, now that he’s worked for both the Dodgers and the Giants, two of the wealthiest and successful franchises currently operating in professional sports, does he have an addendum or corollary or part two for this hypothesis (which he has already tested successfully)?

  • Have the Giants upgraded their sales staff?

In an August interview with Tim Kawakami, Zaidi said part of the problem with trying to trade for Juan Soto wasn’t just that Giants prospects were struggling, but also

Maybe I have too much respect for my peers and their ability to evaluate talent or I just don’t have ‘salesman’ in my DNA.

I’d like to have this direct phrasing asked back to him, framed in the context of Pete Putila’s hiring: is Pete Putila a better salesman than Farhan Zaidi? Does improving this aspect of the team’s “game” boost their talent acquisition pipeline? If the team has looked for edges in areas like nutrition and sleep, then it stands to reason that finding a way to better present your organization to other entities is an improvement on the margins waiting to be made.

  • The San Francisco era Giants have been to the postseason in back to back years just once: 2002-2003. After four seasons in the center seat, can he see why it has been so difficult for the organization to sustain success or build momentum?

Now, I personally don’t see anything instructive in this “fact,” but seeing one of the smartest baseball minds the world has ever seen build a team that is directly in line with the franchise’s history is surprising, even if I stop and think about the historical burp that was 2021. Yeah, the Giants play in a tough division and, yeah, they’ve mostly relied on older players to get by when sustained success usually comes from a younger core of position players, but historically, this year’s team — beyond being 81-81 for the first time ever — is not a historical outlier. Failing to make the postseason the year after making the postseason is a time-honored tradition of the San Francisco Giants.

Still, when I see a statement like this:

“We’re in a stage as an organization where we expect to be in the playoffs every year and if we’re not in the playoffs, that’s a bad outcome,” Zaidi said.

I think it’s worth asking, “Well, the team has never been in the playoffs every year or even multiple consecutive years, and they still managed to win three championships in six seasons — so why would it be any different now? Doesn’t the fact that the team plays in the same division as the Dodgers and Padres preclude any other team from having sustained success? Doesn’t this franchise sort of have to wait for those teams to peak and fade before it can realistically be competitive, let alone good?”

Or, you know, something more concise.

Questions for new GM Pete Putila

Yes, the Giants checked in with the league to find out if their new GM was involved with the Astros’ banging scheme in any way and, apparently, his name didn’t even come up in their investigation. I’ll take that lack of smoke as being indicative of no fire, but his involvement with the team by that point was crucial:

... in 2016 he was promoted to director of player development where he oversaw Major and minor league player development while assisting with the integration of scouting technology.

Technology integration was a big part of his “deal,” and so while I can go with the notion that he didn’t plan any of it, I would be surprised if he knew nothing about it at all. And if he didn’t know anything about it, then I’d like to know what he thought about the news as it broke and what he thinks about it now with some distance.

Look, the Astros were not on an island. But that organization’s approach to Baseball has generally offended me. I know Jeff Luhnow is a hero to most Online Baseball fans (with Brandon Taubman probably a close second) and they love what the Astros’ tank to be good plan did for the game and love how Luhnow slaughtered the minor leagues, but I am writing from the fan’s perspective, and as a fan of Baseball, I genuinely hate the Astros and have nothing but contempt for the people who made them The Astros.

Questions for Buster Posey

  • How will recruiting be different this time around?

Buster Posey’s playing career had a remarkable anti-success record when it came to trying to recruit major league free agents. Jon Lester thought the Giants were weird and Giancarlo Stanton was unimpressed, just to name two off the top of my head (and I’m counting Stanton even though it was technically a trade because he had a no-trade clause).

What has he learned from those experiences that he thinks will help the Giants in their next free agent recruitments of, say, Aaron Judge or Nolan Arenado (he can opt out!) or even, like, Jose Quintana?

  • Trick him into admitting he’s a billionaire now after the BODYARMOR sale.

I don’t know which reporter is clever enough to do this, but it needs to happen. We simply must need to know if Buster Posey is a billionaire now after the BODYARMOR sale to Coke. Recall that Kobe Bryant invested $6 million and his estate made $400 million after the sale. Posey walked away from the final year of his Giants contract ($22 million) and then less than a year later bought a share of the team. He wealthy.

None of these questions will be asked, but as avid readers of this site, maybe Zaidi, Putila, and Posey will respond in the comments below.