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World Series gives Giants glimpse of what they want to build

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You know all about how the Giants are trying to become more like one of tonight's World Series participants. 

They hired the Dodgers' general manager and handed him the keys to the organization, and Farhan Zaidi's hand-picked choice to replace a Hall of Fame manager was a former Dodgers farm director. That man, Gabe Kapler, immediately plucked an A-ball hitting coach from the Dodgers, and Justin Viele drew rave reviews as part of a trio that helped turn the lineup around. 

The new regime talked early and often about finding undervalued players and giving them runway, just as Zaidi and Co. had done with Max Muncy and Chris Taylor in Los Angeles. In 2020, Mike Yastrzemski turned out to be possibly better than them both. Zaidi even brought a forgotten Dodgers minor leaguer over with him, and Donovan Solano turned into an everyday force.

The connections run deep, but as the Giants watch tonight's Game 1, the Dodgers won't be the only team they're trying to mimic. 

Before they hired Zaidi, Giants ownership had an equal fascination with what was going on in Tampa Bay. They could see every night in their own division what the Dodgers were doing right, but across the country, they identified another example of a brighter future. That has continued under a new front office and coaching staff.

On the day he was hired, Kapler sat down in a small room outside the home clubhouse at Oracle Park and broke down the job ahead of him. He was asked if there were any interesting strategies he hoped to implement with the 2020 Giants. 

 

"I think an organization that we all think pretty highly of that's doing great things in the industry is the Tampa Bay Rays," Kapler said. "I think Tampa is a really good model for being creative around strategic decisions. Things like you mentioned, like the opener, how to use relievers maybe in more high-leverage situations relative to having very set, specific roles."

Kapler spent his final two seasons in the big leagues with the Rays, by then under the guidance of Andrew Friedman, who later went to Los Angeles and hired Zaidi. In bringing Zaidi back to the Bay Area, the Giants are hoping to duplicate what Friedman did in Tampa Bay and Friedman and Zaidi did with the Dodgers. They appear to have picked the perfect blueprints to follow. 

If it wasn't Zaidi and Kapler, this rebuild very well might have been run by two hires straight from the actual Rays. The Giants were very high on Rays VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom -- who later jumped to the Red Sox -- before choosing Zaidi. A year later, Zaidi had Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro as one of his top choices to replace Bruce Bochy before ultimately going with Kapler. 

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In Kapler's first year, you could see the organization shifting towards a lot of what has made the Rays so successful. You think Kapler likes platoons? The Rays made history this season by starting nine left-handed batters in a game. The Giants never named a closer, attempting to go with the best matchups instead, but they were a long way from matching Rays manager Kevin Cash's feat of having 12 different players record a save this season. 

Cash had an obvious advantage over Kapler, who came up a win short of a playoff spot. Many of Cash's options -- Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, John Curtiss -- were dominant. In the playoffs, they've also mixed in Peter Fairbanks, a rookie who hits triple digits. 

The Giants' bullpen caused plenty of heartburn for fans in 2020, but what Zaidi and Scott Harris are chasing with those inexperienced arms is what the Rays have built. Tampa Bay's bullpen doesn't have a player making more than $2 million, but it's deep and it's talented. Cash described it as "a whole damn stable of guys who throw 98 miles per hour" earlier this year, and that's what the Giants are moving towards. Maybe the names will change in the next couple of years, but as you watched Sam Coonrod and Rico Garcia take their lumps, and heard about Camilo Doval possibly being fast-tracked, you could see what the Giants are hoping to build. 

The advantage the Giants should one day have is the reason Friedman left Tampa Bay for Hollywood. The Rays operate this way because they have to, because they don't have the backing to splash money at free agents. The Dodgers, who are in the World Series for the third time in four years, have taken what Friedman did in Tampa Bay and Zaidi did in Oakland and added a key ingredient.

 

The Dodgers develop prospects as well as anyone, help borderline big leaguers take the leap and look for any edge between the lines, but they also had the wherewithal to hand Mookie Betts $365 million. They don't get through the Braves without that ability, and that'll be the final step for this Giants rebuild that thus far has focused on minor league free agents, waiver claims and improving the farm system. 

It won't be Betts or Bryce Harper, but the Giants hope to one day add the player who takes a young core back to the World Series. For now, they'll watch the Dodgers and Rays -- two teams they have admired in recent years -- fight it out, and they'll do so with the knowledge that they appear to be well on the way back to October. 

The Giants may seem light-years away right now, but a recent Los Angeles Times profile of Friedman should give every fan hope that this front office is headed in the right direction. Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos worked for Friedman and Zaidi in Los Angeles, and while explaining why Friedman's fingerprints are all over this postseason, he gave a huge endorsement to an organization that hasn't played in the postseason since 2016. 

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“I think, because both Andrew and Farhan came from small-market clubs, they were relentless in trying to make players better,” Anthopoulos told the Times. “My attitude may have been, ‘OK, a guy is scuffling, you may need to find him a new home, make a trade.’ They came from organizations where they just couldn’t do that. You had to make do with what you had. By necessity, it made them better. They brought those characteristics there.

“That’s why you’ve seen them have so much success in player development. They will exhaust all avenues, and they will not quit on players. They will work with you and try to find a way to make you better. It’s great for players to know that and see that. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of players discarded by other organizations — and you’re seeing it with the Giants now too. They go there, and they get better. It starts at the top.”