SAN FRANCISCO -- Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' new El Presidente, is easy to pigeonhole, so we’ve done it, several times.
Math Nerd? Sure, with all the math diplomas and decorative souvenirs from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences that one needs to prove the case.
Baseball Geek? No question, in two separate cities. He shakes down numbers, but he has a fascination with scouting in all its permutations, following the dictum of The Emeritus, Brian Sabean, to “respect both houses” of the baseball operations department.
Demolitions Expert? Well, if you believe the Giants actually are going to do everything about a rebuild except say the word, sure -- and yes, that is a gentle hint that Madison Bumgarner might at some point become an ex-Giant.
Philosopher? His hand-picked slogan for his regime is “Humble In Process,” an offshoot of the more pragmatic and commonly invoked “Humble In Victory.”
But the truth is, Zaidi will have to be all those things because the task he is taking on is not just to make the Giants win more games more often. He has do this in a way that can compete in a marketplace that is slowly but perceptibly looking away from baseball as a static and doctrinaire game in which most teams try to do the same things (homer, walk and strikeout on offense, shift on every pitch, throw 100-mph sliders and use all the relievers every day in the field) the same way.
In other words, Zaidi has to master the numbers in order to nuance them, to build a team that not only can compete with the scientific brains of the other 29 teams, but with the cultural footprint that the Warriors are impressing upon the area.
In other words, where once there were Panda hats, there are now Warriors hoodies, and those optics are not lost on Giants CEO and boss on site Larry Baer.
Not that Zaidi can draft the next Stephen Curry or win the auction for the next Kevin Durant (though he would not be discouraged from doing so), but he is being asked to do more than just pull the Giants from their present competitive cul de sac.
He is being asked to make the Giants cool again, not just by winning more games than they lose and playing in October, but by doing so with players whom citizens gravitate toward with an eye toward emotional allegiance.
For the most part, Zaidi’s immediate task is to build a front office, make 40-man roster evaluations and system strengths and weaknesses. But as a club president, he now gets/is tasked to sit with investors and business experts and marketing types. He is nearly an owner himself, with the only real lack being a piece of the team; Billy Beane, he is not -- at least not yet.
But the Giants’ three championships, the three parades that followed them and the three rings that followed both changed the definition of success in these parts, and the Warriors’ three titles changed them yet again. It is not lost on Baer that the Chase Center is rising at great pace and cost just a few blocks down what is rapidly becoming San Francisco’s new gold coast, and that the A’s are not the competition in the stakes at which he and the organization plays.
Baseball is just the hook, but when played well and with tangible reward is the hook which all the fish bite. It is how the Warriors became the inheritors of the Giants’ place as the Giants became the inheritors of the 49ers’ place, and the 49ers became the inheritors of the Raiders’ and A’s place. Before that, bears ran for public office, and coyotes ran the railroads.
That’s the history of the area, though, not the purview of Farhan Zaidi. All he has to do is master baseball in San Francisco as the last person in the building with a say on every major decision and many of the minor ones, and if he does all those things in the five years of his first contract (Brian Sabean was here for 26, and there have been just four managers in 32 years, to remind you how devoted the franchise is to continuity), he will have taken the Giants back into the argument of who gets to own this lucrative territory and the hearts of its most devoted and wealthy.
Other than that, the only thing on his plate is to convince people that there has never been a pigeonhole large enough to hold him. Zaidi has been given a massive task, but just as important, he has seized it. There is much for him to do and much for the game to do to him.
Oh, and when the rest of you are girding for eternal daylight saving time, he has to fix the starting rotation, too. Already, he seems massively undercompensated.