Before they teamed up to lead the Giants back into contention faster than anyone could have anticipated, Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris worked for organizations with consistent championship aspirations, and that impacted what they did at the trade deadline.
Zaidi, in particular, had a unique task. He was the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers during a stretch when an NL West title was usually a given as the deadline approached, which allowed the front office to aim higher than usual. During a recent conversation with beat reporters, Zaidi said the Dodgers often found themselves shopping only for guys who could be a top-three starter in their rotation or a back-end reliever, knowing that the impact needed to be felt in October, not August and September.
In his third season with the Giants, Zaidi is in a similar spot, but with a twist. The Giants would need a pretty epic collapse at this point to miss the postseason, but there's also a very real possibility that they end up in the Wild Card Game, facing the Dodgers or San Diego Padres in a winner-take-all situation. That will be factored in as they make decisions over the next 11 days.
"When you're expecting the regular season to be competitive down the stretch I think it makes the depth aspect of it more important," Zaidi said. "If you lose a starter for a couple of turns and you don't have a capable fill-in, that could affect not just those two games but the games around it. In a close race it makes depth and the regular season more important than how a guy might fit onto your postseason roster."
It's no coincidence that Zaidi references starting pitching in discussing his plans. It remains the greatest area of concern for this front office, even with good depth currently at the big league level. With Logan Webb back the Giants have five starters they trust, and a rehabbing Aaron Sanchez, Sammy Long and Tyler Beede in the wings as potential options.
But they have seen how quickly things can change.
The Dodgers were thought to have too much starting pitching in March, but Dustin May was lost to Tommy John surgery, Clayton Kershaw is out until at least the start of August, and Trevor Bauer may never return because of his legal issues. They had to shift David Price back to the rotation and have used bullpen games just about every turn. They are TBA for the second game of a huge four-game series against the Giants.
The Padres had injury issues coming into the season, so they traded for three veterans. Two of them, Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, have already been on the IL this month, and Dinelson Lamet remains sidelined. Like the Dodgers, they are on the prowl for starting depth before the July 30 deadline.
The Giants are, too.
"Projecting out, what I'm most worried about is just the starting pitching," Zaidi said, echoing a point he has made going back to the offseason. "That's the toughest area to cover if you wind up having injuries. It's just the most important thing to maintain continuity when you're having a good season."
Any other problems on the roster may solve themselves as this group gets healthy. The Giants expect Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella back over the next three weeks, which could lead to some interesting playing time conversations given how strong some of the fill-ins have been.
"We have a lot of guys who have come up and earned the right to stay here, so that's going to feed into the dynamic over the next (couple of) weeks as well," Zaidi said. "How do we fit the guys that we have coming back, let alone any potential additions? But I'm really encouraged by getting those guys back. They really fit the way (manager Gabe Kapler) and the staff manage lineups and execute game strategy."
Zaidi said he loves the way the pieces on the Giants fit together, and he is particularly impressed with the clubhouse chemistry, which he called "some of the best" he has seen in the big leagues. That will play into the deadline plans, as well, as the front office doesn't necessarily want to make a move that looks solid on paper but hurts the team dynamic. A different Giants front office went through that five years ago when the Matt Duffy deal made them better on the field but seemed to demoralize a clubhouse.
"That's going to be part of our conversation," Zaidi said. "Appreciating what we have in-house, appreciating some of the guys we have coming back, and really thinking carefully about making changes."
There's another element at play, too. The Giants have spent three years meticulously rebuilding their farm system, and they'll walk a delicate balance over the coming days. They want to honor what this group has done and add the necessary pieces to make an NL West run, but they won't forget the reality that they may end up in a one-game playoff. They don't want to mortgage their future after years of getting to this point.
"We feel really good about the way we're playing. If there's the right opportunity to add to this team, I think we have a little bit of a different mindset than we did in 2019," Zaidi said. "But I think we're still going to be careful with anything that's involving our long-term plans and some of the younger guys we have coming up that we're really excited about."