Farhan Zaidi has had to digest some extremely difficult losses in his career as an MLB executive. In his final season in Oakland, the A's suffered a heartbreaking loss in the Wild Card Game. Zaidi then moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he twice watched teams he put together come up short in the World Series, with one of those losses to a Houston Astros team that was later revealed to be fraudulent.
Zaidi has not suffered a playoff loss with the Giants yet, but this weekend's collapse brought a similar kind of heartache. The Giants needed just one more win to make a surprise trip to the playoffs. They blew a game Friday night and then lost both weekend games, falling a run short in their finale.
"I've been around some tough losses in baseball, and this weekend, processing that and coming up just short -- coming up as short of the playoffs as any team possibly could, with it coming down to a tiebreaker that Major League Baseball hadn't used before -- it was really tough," Zaidi said Wednesday. "It was tough not just because we wanted it for our players, but we wanted it for the fans, for the community, for the organization. So many people in the organization did amazing work this year."
In a Zoom press conference to sum up the shortened season and look ahead to the offseason, Zaidi took time to give shoutouts to Alfonso Felder and everyone in ballpark operations who helped the Giants create a safe environment for summer camp and a season played during a pandemic, as well as Mario Alioto and everyone on the business side. Zaidi said the Giants sold more cutouts than any team in baseball.
Those cutouts -- more than 12,000 in all -- watched over the weekend as it all fell apart. The Giants were the only NL team to have a positive run differential but not make the postseason field. Instead of sending Kevin Gausman out at Dodger Stadium late Wednesday, Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler spent their morning rehashing the year.
Nearly two years ago, when Zaidi first took the job, he said his goal was for the rebuilding Giants to still play meaningful baseball as deep into every season as possible. The Giants were alive until the 27th out of their final game. It doesn't get any closer than that.
"In my time in baseball, really the worst feeling in the world is when you come in to work, you come in for a game and that game doesn't feel like it means anything. You're kind of playing out the stretch," Zaidi said. "We're really proud of the fact that we played wire-to-wire meaningful games this year. In some ways that pain and disappointment that we feel is a good thing, it's a sign of progress. We were right at the brink. That's how we want to feel.
"We want to create a sense of expectations that we're going to be competitive, we're going to be a team that's in the playoffs. I think that feeling that we have is going to serve as great motivation for us going forward."
Kapler's first year ultimately came up short of the goal of reaching the playoffs, but there was plenty to build off. The offense went from bottom three in three consecutive seasons to eighth in MLB in runs. The young and inexperienced bullpen was one of the best in baseball in September before the final Padres series. Kapler's hand-picked coaching staff drew rave reviews from young players and veterans alike.
Kapler said he spent part of the last two days looking back and getting critical, and his main takeaway from the 29-31 season was that the Giants didn't put enough teams away early.
"We had chances to win games early in the game and maybe a little bit more foot on the gas pedal in those games would have given us an opportunity to have clinched maybe before we got to the very end," Kapler said.
That very end was bitter, but Kapler felt that even getting that far in the way the Giants did meant the season was successful.
"The fact that our coaching staff had that experience under their belt going into 2021, that tells me it was a successful season," Kapler said. "And I think the way players developed in general, the way Brandon Belt took a step forward, Brandon Crawford took a step forward, Evan Longoria and his defensive play, the fact that we were able to take some of these free agents that Farhan and Scott (Harris) brought in -- (Wilmer) Flores and Gausman and Drew Smyly to name a few -- these guys had excellent, excellent years.
"At the end of the day I felt like we made a lot of progress and I'm proud of that."