Larry Baer

How Giants lured Farhan Zaidi from Dodgers as new president of baseball ops

How Giants lured Farhan Zaidi from Dodgers as new president of baseball ops

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a booth for visiting general managers in the press box at AT&T Park, and when games are over they generally grab their stuff and take the elevator down to the concourse, where they can walk to the visiting clubhouse.

That’s what Farhan Zaidi would usually do when visiting with the Dodgers, but after the final game of the season, a blowout win for the visitors, Zaidi was compelled to stick around. The Giants were honoring Hunter Pence, and Zaidi decided to watch. 

“As the ceremony started, I wound up staying up there, and I got a chance to hear Hunter and (Bruce) Bochy speak,” Zaidi said Wednesday. “On the last day of a tough season, the number of fans who were still there to show their support for Hunter and the team was really special to see. That was the embodiment of what this organization is.”

Zaidi didn’t know it at the time, but the Giants already were plotting to potentially have him lead the organization he was admiring in that moment. Larry Baer let Bobby Evans go with a week to go in the season in part because he was eager to start the search for a new head of baseball operations, and from the very beginning, Zaidi was one of three to four names at the very top. Baer would not reveal which other executives had frontrunner status, but Chaim Bloom of the Rays was one of them, and it’s believed that MLB’s Kim Ng was up there, too. 

The Giants cast a wide net, even as Baer hoped to zero in on names at the top of his wish list. He consulted with Major League Baseball and friends around the game. Baer even briefly considered one candidate who works as an executive in another sport.

Zaidi was a priority from the start, but Baer could not interview him until after the Dodgers completed postseason play. When Zaidi left AT&T Park after the final game, there was a possibility he could become available after the Wild Card Game. But the Dodgers won the West, and the Giants were asked to wait until after the NLDS, and then they were asked to continue waiting. 

The Giants did not want to sit around for a month if Zaidi was not interested, though, so MLB and the Dodgers worked together and made Zaidi available to Baer for a 30-minute phone call during the postseason. That was enough to assure Baer that Zaidi did have interest, and last Friday, the two finally sat down face to face. 

[PAVLOVIC: Giants' Farhan Zaidi goes for fourth fantasy football title with Dodgers]

The meeting was supposed to last two hours. Zaidi gave his vision for six and a half hours. 

“It was incredibly engaging,” Baer said. “Transformational thinking is the way I would put it.”

Zaidi had a second interview on Sunday. He met again with team officials on Monday, this time with a focus on getting to know Brian Sabean and the people who run the business side of the organization. 

On Monday, Zaidi was offered the job and a five-year deal. By Tuesday evening, he had been announced as the new president of baseball operations. On Wednesday afternoon, he was introduced. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, he flew back to Los Angeles to head down for the final night of the General Managers Meetings. 

When Zaidi left the A’s for the Dodgers, he agonized over the decision for two weeks. He was going to stay in Oakland, but while jogging near his home, he had a panic attack. He realized he had to take a leap of faith. 

This time around, there was much less to think about. Zaidi and his family wanted to come back to the Bay Area. The job is considered one of the best in the sport, and Zaidi will have full control over an organization rather than serving as someone’s assistant or No. 2. He said his first baseball game was at Candlestick Park on August 10, 1987. 

This is a full circle moment for the 41-year-old. He didn’t need a moment of clarity to know that he needed to make a move.

“Yeah it was probably more of a gradual process here, less of a dramatic climax to the decision process,” Zaidi said on The Giants Insider Podcast. “It was just a gradual increase in level of comfort with the Giants organization, with Larry, who I was fortunate enough to spend time with over the last few days. 

"And I just feel like from a life standpoint and taking on the challenge of coming to this organization at a time when it has a chance to really be on the upswing, yeah, it was kind of more that this time all the pieces fit together.”

Giants' Farhan Zaidi hire shows Larry Baer entering a brave new world

Giants' Farhan Zaidi hire shows Larry Baer entering a brave new world

Larry Baer probably looked at himself Tuesday night in the mirror and said the words he could never have imagined uttering.
 
“I have hired a former Athletic and a former Dodger to repair the Giants. Oh, hell.”
 
But hey, life’s funny that way.
 
Truth is, Baer hired someone who is eminently qualified to be the next architect of the baseball division of San Francisco Giants, Ltd. He learned in Oakland, he honed his skills and analytical gifts in Los Angeles, and now he’s going to fix the Giants ... if that’s how the end game plays.
 
But we live with labels. We like labels. We love the illusion that We Are Giant is antithetical to anything A’s or Dodgers. It makes life more fun, if that’s how you traffic in fun.
 
And it is a statement about labels and their fragility that Baer, who enjoys the myths of baseball as much as anyone, is willing to chuck them all to put the baseball team he runs for Charlie Johnson in a different place.
 
It is the first time Baer has had to do this, because the last time there was true and substantive change in this franchise’s baseball profile, he wasn’t running the shop. Peter Magowan was.
 
In other words, Baer broke his own marketer’s programming to hire Zaidi, because as bright as he might be, his résumé had those two words that we always have believed make him twitch -- A’s and Dodgers. And to make that jump, Baer recognized that past associations were the small stuff, and Zaidi’s gifts and how they could be applied to the Giants were too important to hold his T-shirt collection against him.
 
Zaidi will further explain his master plan for making the Giants younger and more vibrant Wednesday, and in doing so either will immediately win over the audience or give himself enough time to do so.

[RELATED: Three lessons the Giants can learn from their last three offseasons]

But for now, his mere hiring is sufficient to point how what a brave new world Baer has decided to enter. The Giants built an entire 60-year image on hating the Dodgers for simply existing, and 50 years on blaming the A’s for existing in their breathing space. No other teams made the Giants or their fans react reflexively in their search for the kind of rivalry they read about when the Giants played in Manhattan and the Dodgers in Brooklyn, and how they longed for good old days before the A’s left Kansas City in search of a history it couldn’t create in Missouri.
 
The upside of Zaidi is that if successful, he will be lionized as Brian Sabean has been. The downside is, if he fails, his résumé will be held against him -- in baseball, that’s what fans do.
 
But this is easily defensible as a hire, even to those who thought the job easily could have gone to Kim Ng, or Chaim Bloom, or anyone else. Zaidi brings analytical and political game to a job that requires both, and his job is to show how his game can make everyone else’s better.

And eventually, Baer might be forgiven for breaking two fan codes at once. All he needs is a parade.

Three lessons the Giants can learn from their past MLB offseasons

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AP

Three lessons the Giants can learn from their past MLB offseasons

SAN FRANCISCO — At some point in the next couple of weeks, the Giants will introduce a new head of baseball operations. He or she will take over an organization that has more money committed over the next half-decade than any team in baseball, which can be viewed two ways. 

On one hand, this organization has proven consistently that it is willing to spend. On the other hand, the Giants have not always spent wisely. 

They have an aging roster with eight players scheduled to make at least $12 million in 2019. They already have $124 million committed to the 2020 team and nearly $100 million committed to the 2021 team. The majority of that money was given to homegrown talent, but the front office also has spent heavily on veteran free agents.

The Giants mostly took a few months off from spending last winter, eager to dip under the tax line. But they’re expected to once again be in on big-ticket items this offseason, and that hasn’t really worked out for them in recent years.

What lessons can be learned from previous offseasons? Three stand out … 

Go younger

This is more of a call to make trades or even rebuild, but if the Giants are going to spend on free agents, they should cross a few names off right away for age-related reasons. The majority of the current payroll is made up of players who are 31, 32, 33, etc., which is why Bryce Harper is so intriguing, beyond just his talent.

Harper turned 26 in October, and if the Giants somehow won that lottery, he would be their youngest starter other than Steven Duggar. The Giants have given too many contracts to players exiting their peak years. Free agency, by nature, rewards older players, but when possible the Giants should try to shave a couple years off.

For instance, Marwin Gonzalez and DJ LeMahieu are both 30, which makes them a tad safer than their competition at their respective positions. This leads to the next lesson … 

Be careful with the medicals

This is tricky because there’s only so much you can do to try and figure out if a player will stay healthy. But the Giants have been burned a few times now.

There were whispers about Johnny Cueto’s elbow when he was with the Royals. Mark Melancon’s forearm was bothering him for years before he signed his big deal. Austin Jackson was no longer an everyday player, but the Giants signed him to patrol center field and just about right away in spring training, Jackson started talking about how his legs weren’t under him.

Every player has an injury history of some sort, but the Giants have too many holes to fill to spend their resources on anyone who has a checkered history. 

Don’t force it

There’s another common thread that runs through a lot of recent offseasons. Even people within the organization will admit this hasn’t been a very creative front office, and in recent years the Giants have mostly zeroed in on one group at a time.

After 2015, Bruce Bochy asked for innings-eaters and $220 million was spent on Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. After the 2016 meltdown, the front office was hellbent on getting a marquee closer.

The Denard Span and Jackson deals were part of a continued effort to find a fix in center field by plugging in veterans. The Giants have glaring holes in their outfield, but this roster isn’t nearly strong enough to just focus on one area.

Maybe the money should be spent on two starters and a left fielder can be added via trade? Maybe a couple of dominant relievers will come cheaper than expected and the bullpen can become the team’s strength?

In the past, the front office would have gone into this offseason with a clear goal of adding two veteran outfielders. That’s how they’ve ended up overspending. It’s time to be creative.