There’s something in the air around the San Francisco Giants. Like a mist of mediocrity.
The fans are restless. This was supposed to be The Big Step Forward season of the rebuild. Instead, it’s felt a lot like last season, right down to the number of runs scored through 146 games (631 in 2022, 630 in 2023). The Giants are better, record-wise compared to last season (69-77 in 2022, 75-71 in 2023). They’ve been able to go to their farm system and get some... serviceable... performances from some position players. They’ve had a few players more or less blossom. It’s not the same as last year, but it doesn’t feel much better.
And then this morning, the Red Sox fired their “chief baseball officer,” Chaim Bloom.
The situations are analogous. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ignore that he and Farhan Zaidi share some circumstances. A Good and Smart Fan who scoffs at any attempt to compare the two does so by choice — realizing the horseshoe theory by equaling fans who stay mad despite all evidence to refute their screaming points.
Both were brought in to rebuild crown jewel franchises following a run of success
A broken curse that paved the way to four championships across three “regimes” in 19 years for the Red Sox, three world titles for the first time in San Francisco history along with four other playoff appearances for the Giants. In both cases, the predecessor had worn out their welcome. Dave Dombrowski has expensive tastes that really eat into the bottom line if you’re an owner using your team as a slush fund (most of them do). Bobby Evans was operating broadly with the same behavior, perhaps naively believing that he could leverage past success to bring about big financial investment in the future.
Both accepted their jobs with certain limitations built into it
The Giants want to “build while contending,” a really tough thing to do for teams that don’t have the financial and global resources of the Dodgers, Yankees, or Red Sox. The Red Sox wanted to, I don’t know, not spend as much money, and let the largesse of their success carry them through along with some help from advanced analytics that they could pair with better than average financial resources to keep them competitive on a budget.
Mainly, though, Chaim Bloom’s first task was to trade away Mookie Betts. That’s not the same thing that Farhan Zaidi had to contend with, but it’s a hard thing to build from, especially if you’re trying to stay competitive on a budget. Zaidi’s task was taking a beyond barren farm system and trying to make a competitive on a budget squad that could still compete while the franchise got put back together.
Both accepted these limitations knowing full well that it would complicate their goal(s),
Zaidi’s time with the A’s and Bloom’s time with the Rays no doubt prepared them for the financial limitations part of it — indeed, they were chosen precisely because they sold themselves as a guy who could beat a $5 team with a buck; but, when you’re in the same division as the Dodgers or the Yankees or the Rays, you’re already behind, and when you don’t have the big name players to carry some of the weight, it complicates the job that much more. Not only did Bloom have to trade away Betts, he had to let Xander Bogaerts walk; the task became building a lineup around Rafael Devers — he nearly pulled it off. Meanwhile, Farhan Zaidi has built a lineup of guys who would be great around 1-2 key guys.
Therefore, both accepted these jobs knowing they would, in large part, be punching bags to protect ownership
Baseball generates the revenue that creates the profits for the people with ownership chairs. There is an argument to be made that all baseball execs are simply glorified accountants, managing their boss’s money. Chaim Bloom became the fall guy for John Henry and Sam Kennedy because they needed someone who could increase their dividends some more while potentially making it look like the team can still be competitive in the marketplace. Farhan Zaidi is doing the same for Charles Johnson and Larry Baer.
Now, just because the situations are analogous doesn’t mean these two baseball executives share the same destiny. All of the bad faith bellyaching by conservative mouthbreathers about the death of San Francisco still has that vein of truth in it: the demographics of the city of San Francisco are changing, and there plausibly many reasons for that; and, even if you just want to say “Nah, you idiot, it’s crime and poverty,” there are still many reasons behind those that are more relevant than the color and constitution of an individual. Large forces at work here that people divvy up and use for their stupid political purposes.
All that aside, if the Giants, now 17th in average game attendance (14th in total attendance) are evolving into a “mid market” franchise — if the economics of the Bay Area will eat into the team’s gameday crowds — then they have the exact right person for the job. Farhan Zaidi has always been more of an Oakland A’s guy than a Dodgers guy — even if he will always pick a Dodger player if he has to choose between a Dodger or not-Dodger — but this is a person who worked his ass off to convince an industry to take a chance on him because he knows how to maximize limited value.
The Giants’ franchise value has been purposefully intertwined with the real estate value of China Basin, but payroll and player development budgets are tied to revenue. As the market value of the broadcast rights continues to fluctuate and as season ticketholder bases and concessions shrink or fluctuate, you need someone who’s really good at winning the occasional hand despite folding at 8. Chaim Bloom was hired to be a hatchet man. Zaidi was not. Still, as Brady points out on the Twitter account...
Just becoming the 109th Giants person to point out that there are a lot of similarities between the ways the Red Sox have been disappointing under Chaim Bloom and the way the Giants have under Farhan Zaidi, but Bloom was hired a year later. https://t.co/Mhhdrq7V0T— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) September 14, 2023
I think the Giants parting with Zaidi and Co. after this year would be a pretty huge mistake (and I also don't think it's very likely to happen at all), but certainly worth mentioning. It's not a patient business.— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) September 14, 2023
Most Baseball jobs end in termination. It’s rare that somebody gets out without being fired.
(Not now, Sabes!)
It is a fickle business, and if the team’s emitting a mediocre musk, at some point ownership is going to get tired of people complaining about the smell and look to make a change just to get people off their backs. But in what direction could the team go? Every limitation imposed on Farhan Zaidi will exist with the next (more than likely) guy, and (more than likely) he will have to start all over to build up the team’s culture — if for no other reason than that most managers tend to clean house and get the personnel they want in place.
Zaidi’s arrival was welcomed by most as a chance to change direction. I’m not sure everyone understood what that entailed. The Giants are still trying to win, they’re still trying to find the next Barry Bonds, and they have a President of Baseball Operations in place who’s not only conversant in the modern game, but is pretty close to leading the pack when it comes to brainpower. Sure, there are innovators like the Rays, but the Giants aren’t a closed system. They’re built to adapt. Again: Chaim Bloom was hired to be a hatchet man.
The Giants would love to replicate the Red Sox success, but at a fraction of the cost — and that’s almost certainly what the Red Sox said to Chaim Bloom. “It was expensive to be that good, and we think you have the chops to give us equal success for less.” Farhan Zaidi gives the Giants their best shot at eventually realizing that success and to look at what’s been a pretty disappointing couple of seasons as total failures ignores facts. Chaim Bloom was a worse baseball exec than Farhan Zaidi. The Giants’ 369 wins since 2019 (Zaidi’s first season) ranks 9th in MLB (5th in the NL).
If people want to try and bring in 107 wins in 2021 as some sort of gotcha — “It was a fluke!” — well, yeah, I agree it was a fluke, but I don’t see how that suddenly invalidates what the team has managed to do. They’ll never have the resources of the Dodgers and it’s unreasonable to expect them to ever match a Mookie Betts-Freddie Freeman combo. Many years ago, they had Bonds + Kent, but like them and Betts + Freeman, you have to acknowledge that there’s a large degree of unknowable, unplannable luck involved in those situations and so the best any team can do is realize a roster that fits their measurements of success. The Giants are doing that.
As much as 2021 is considered a fluke, the pandemic should be considered a setback for player development. The Giants are in on every major free agent — and who knows, maybe one day a player won’t use them as a stalking horse, maybe one will pass a physical. Maybe they won’t have to overbid on every injury risk out there just for the chance of getting a 2-win player. Maybe they’ll just develop their own great players.
Ten days from now marks the 5-year anniversary of Bobby Evans’ termination. The franchise was withering on the vine. There was no hope in the farm system and so it made it very difficult to have any optimism about the major league team. One cannot reasonably argue that the current Giants are anywhere close to the 2018 Giants... or even the 2023 Red Sox.
The Giants are better off now than they were five years ago, but all that’s done is move them from terrible to mediocre. That’s why people are upset. That’s why people want a change. I think the Giants have the right guy in place to turn that dial from mediocre to good, and that’s why patience is a virtue.