Farhan Zaidi grabbed some headlines yesterday after an appearance on Jim Bowden’s “The Front Office” show on SiriusXM satellite radio:
That led to a series of posts from all the outlets that regularly cover the team with the “aggressive” label guiding the headline. If you listen to the interview itself, though, the President of Baseball Operations for the San Francisco Giants said a version of what he always says: “We’ll keep our options open.”
The full interview touches on Camilo Doval’s arsenal, Logan Webb being underrated, and Michael Conforto regaining his pre-2021 form along with trade deadline chatter, and one other thing that I’ll touch on in a bit. If you don’t have a SiriusXM subscription, here’s a partial transcript of the headlining exchange.
Jim Bowden: Farhan, the trade deadline’s two months away, so, a lot of baseball to be played in the next couple of months to really figure out where you’re gonna be; um, right now, it looks like you’re gonna be in the middle — at least in the hunt, and I would think, usually just watching your track record, I always view you as someone that always wants to improve the team —
Farhan Zaidi: Mm-hmm.
Jim Bowden: — as a buyer, never look at you as a seller ever. That said, there are still some tough business decisions to make on a guy that’s gonna be a free agent or has an opt-out clause when you get to that point, but philosophically — just for our listeners — how do you kind of view the trade deadline and how do you view this team and have you started some trade discussions in a marketplace that has so much parity that almost every team except three or four, actually still in the race in both leagues?
Farhan Zaidi: Yeah, it’s gonna make it interesting. I think that’s one thing that we’ve seen with the expanded playoffs is you get to the deadline and, you know, there are more buyers than sellers; which, you know, which I think is what we should want as an industry. We should want teams trying to improve themselves, that try to scrap and claw to get into the playoffs, and then, you know, as we know in baseball, anytime is capable of getting hot and going on a run.
You know, you mention we’ve got a lot of guys in our lineup swinging the bats well. Our pitching staff’s done a nice job. Our bullpen’s really stepped forward after a slower start. So, we think we have everything we need to compete, you know, within the walls of our clubhouse; but, like you said, the trade deadline’s a long way away. Injuries can happen, other things can happen, so, as we approach it, I think it’s really a goal of ours to be in the playoffs this year, so I think we’ll be aggressive when we get to that point.
I’m not someone who thinks Farhan Zaidi speaks from both sides of his mouth; rather, I see him as someone who utilizes boilerplate GM talk to obscure a deeper read of his statements.
In this case, notice how he goes from “We think we have everything we need to compete within the walls of our clubhouse” — a pretty strong visual statement — to “I think it’s really a goal of ours to be in the playoffs this year, so I think we’ll be aggressive when we get to that point [the trade deadline].”
Hardly worth parsing his words, but I’m here to tell you that he means exactly what he’s saying just in two ways based on separate conditions.
Condition 1: the Giants are +/- 2 games of .500 around the trade deadline or worse
Since the goal is to be in the playoffs, if the Giants continue to be pulled back to .500 as they have been since last season, or if the wheels really come off and they’re far beyond 2 games below, they will be aggressive in moving players.
It is not difficult to imagine this condition creating a situation akin to 2019, where in Zaidi’s first season with the team he made a series of deadline moves trading away players for some prospects to hopefully setup the team for later seasons. As Bowden noted just last week, the Giants have Alex Cobb, Anthony DeSclafani, and Michael Conforto who could be moved in deals that would help the Giants as soon as next season.
Condition 2: the Giants are 5+ over .500 and holding firm to 3rd WC or right there with team #3
Then they will be aggressive in adding one thing they think they need based on injuries and the situation as it has evolved over the last two months. This is the condition that falls in line with the plain read of the comment. I just don’t think you can ever “plain read” a Farhan Zaidi quote when it comes to a question asking what he will do in the future.
He’s not saying, “The Giants will be adding players at the deadline to secure a playoff spot.” In the past Zaidi, has invoked prior moves, usually for other teams, but in this case, he could’ve dropped a, “If we’re in a similar situation as 2021, you saw there that we added a Kris Bryant and we really thought that move put us over the top, I’d like to think if the circumstances are similar, we’ll be as aggressive,” but he didn’t. He said what was above.
The other part of this is really telling. He really believes — and I don’t disagree — that the organization has managed to build up a layer of young depth to give them options which necessarily diminishes the urgency of one big trade or multiple trades. It’s the exact situation a risk manager like Farhan Zaidi wants to be in: the goal is to reduce uncertainty.
This leads to the other part of the interview I found interesting. He was asked about Kyle Harrison, and Zaidi said he watched a recent start very closely — and soon after he’d say that he and the team are really only looking for 2-3 quality starts in a row from Harrison, as in minimal walks along with his elite stuff, before probably calling him up, which is big news in and of itself but not the point of this post — where the automatic strike zone (and balls & strikes challenge system) came into play. When asked about the automatic strike zone, Zaidi said he’s in favor of 100% automation (with the umpires simply vocalizing whatever the computer commands).
His reasoning? He wants to reduce the uncertainty of the strike zone.
I would say go fully automated. [...] I think if we have the technology [...] I just like not leaving these things to chance
This all ties together. Farhan Zaidi’s greatest skill is his risk assessment. In that way, he is the best actuary in Major League Baseball. Most of us who watch the game think the unpredictable parts of the game are what make it irresistible, but he disagrees! And, he has the numbers to make better decisions than any of us could from the peanut gallery.
So, it’s important to keep in mind that everything he says that gets construed as aggressive or exciting is the press or the fan base projecting emotion onto a statement where none is intended. He was on an industry colleague’s radio program — when these folks get together it’s all very aggro and competitive — and he answered a fairly obvious question anyone in his position would’ve anticipated in the only way that fit his risk profile.
But some of you got a little excited, didn’t you? That’s just good marketing.
Let’s check back in two weeks from now and see where the team is that. Aggression goes in both directions, and for some fans who only root for the front office, they’re going to be happy either way the team handles the August 1st trade deadline.