SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants needed to send out an advisory Tuesday night to alert the media to newly hired manager Bob Melvin’s introductory news conference. But Major League Baseball guidelines prohibited them from making any official announcements on a day when a postseason game was scheduled. So the bulletin went out with this subject line:
“GIANTS TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE TOMORROW TO MAKE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT.”
The announcement on the club level at Oracle Park turned out to be bigger than expected.
The Giants delighted in introducing Melvin as their manager for the next three seasons. With almost charming nervousness, he mismatched a buttonhole after he slipped on a Giants jersey. Then chairman Greg Johnson slipped in news that was just as monumental: The Giants had an agreement in principle to extend president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi through 2026, too.
“I’ve said before that we have full confidence in Farhan and his ability and the stability of the organization,” Johnson said. “We’ve agreed in principle for a deal through 2026 and we’ll announce that shortly.”
It was a news drop that will have a ripple effect. The Giants didn’t want to take any of Wednesday morning’s glow away from Melvin, who has worn a major league uniform for nearly four decades yet was so lost in wonder and amazement at accepting his dream job as he walked to the entrance at 24 Willie Mays Plaza that he said he couldn’t fully process it. But Johnson, CEO Larry Baer and the rest of the ownership group also understood the importance of aligning their perfect managerial candidate with their top baseball executive. They understood the importance of reshaping perceptions within the industry. They understood how hiring Melvin and creating the appearance of stability wouldn’t be enough.
They understood that asking Zaidi to run baseball operations with lame-duck status would lead to constant questions over his level of authority and over who would be making the big-ticket decisions in China Basin.
There shouldn’t be any question about that now. Sure, the failures of the past two seasons have left Zaidi humbled to some extent. His detractors are as loud as they are persistent. He has acknowledged that he can and must embrace certain philosophical and organizational changes. He might operate with a little less latitude than he was granted when he took the job five years ago.
But he’s still the guy calling the shots. And will be. With Melvin providing the checks and balances.
“I think Farhan is a person that has done a very good job and I think there’s an openness with Bob there,” Johnson said. “There’s some things we need to do a better job of. And I think Farhan is certainly on that path where every day you learn and you try to improve. That’s why I feel very confident that these two together, along with our board and ownership group, are the right people to get us back to where we need to be.”
Talks between ownership and Zaidi have been ongoing over the past several months. Although the timing was unexpected, the agreement in principle is in line with every supportive public comment that Johnson has made about his top baseball executive. Whether it’s being finally able to take a major free-agent pursuit across the finish line or demonstrating more creativity on the trade market or making the bold moves to bolster the roster from the top down and not merely from the bottom up, the Giants are betting that Zaidi has the acumen to adapt — and to change the franchise’s fortunes.
“It’s great to have that support,” Zaidi said. “I just want us to be able to move forward as an organization. We’ve got a big offseason. Just like we had expectations for going to the playoffs this past year, we have those next year. So to be able to focus on the task at hand, and for everybody (to feel) there’s a measure of stability with me and Bob, I think is a good thing.”
Asked to assess his five years with the Giants, Zaidi acknowledged disappointment in the past two seasons.
“But when I look at the broader arc, in the two seasons before I started in ’19, we were 50 games under .500,” he said. “Our farm system I think is much improved from that time, both in our internal evaluation and in industry rankings. I know fans don’t want to hear this and they shouldn’t want to hear this, but we’re in a much better financial position to be aggressive in free agency and obviously, executing (free-agent pursuits) is a big part of that. But we were a lot more constrained when I first arrived in ’19.
“So there’s progress in all those fronts. That doesn’t mean that we’re happy or satisfied with how the last couple of seasons have gone. We spoke right after the season about the disappointment and need to make changes to get to where we want to be. But I still see a lot of progress in the last five years. We need to match that progress up with getting to the postseason and having sustainable success on the field.”
If Melvin’s hiring signaled a philosophy shift and a desire to restore connective tissue both within the clubhouse and with fans, then the makeup of the rest of the coaching staff, which will be assembled in the coming weeks, will reveal even more about where and how the Giants plan to depart from the ways that they operated in four seasons under Gabe Kapler. Zaidi acknowledged that pitching coach Andrew Bailey would pursue other positions — the Boston Red Sox have an opening — after moving his young family to the East Coast. So there could be a landing spot on the staff for former pitching coach and Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price, a San Francisco native and Cal alum who was among Melvin’s advisors in San Diego. It hasn’t been much of a secret that Melvin wants to bring aboard his third base coach, former Giants great Matt Williams, in some capacity. Padres associate manager Ryan Christenson is another of Melvin’s most trusted coaches.
But Zaidi indicated that he sees plenty of existing value in both personnel and philosophy. He pointed out that the Giants appeared more than capable over the first two-thirds of this past season while acknowledging the rigor of competing in the NL West, where the Los Angeles Dodgers rule the roost, the disappointing San Diego Padres still have a star-studded roster that outscored opponents by more than 100 runs, and the Arizona Diamondbacks just captured the NL pennant.
“Finishing 18-34 and on a 106-loss pace, I just don’t think that’s indicative of the quality of talent we have or the level of competitiveness that our team has had,” Zaidi said. “And that’s why we spent so much time figuring out how and why that happened. So there’s a high bar in the NL West. I just don’t think it’s going to be that different than before.”
As for the how and why…?
“When any team struggles the way we did, there are a lot of the same themes: making more contact, situational hitting, those kinds of things,” Zaidi said. “I do think we need to be more creative and open-minded and flexible in our approach, whether it’s small ball or being more athletic. One thing that I don’t really think there’s two sides of the coin in explaining is we were last in the league in stolen bases. I mean, that just can’t happen. To be that much of an outlier just shows it was a real deficiency.
“Another issue, which we’ve talked about some: Were our players physically conditioned to get through six months and 162 games? Because we did battle fatigue and injuries. Some of our players who were in All-Star consideration for the first half of the season really struggled as we went through that downturn. So do we have to change our methods? Do we have to change how we evaluate players and personnel to focus on guys who have shown the ability to finish seasons strong?”
It’s fair to wonder how much the Giants’ pattern of player usage impacted the fatigue factor. Wilmer Flores was their only productive hitter in the second half. But others like J.D. Davis and Joc Pederson fell off a cliff. Whether it was a conditioning issue, in Pederson’s case, or simply a byproduct of a system in which bench players seldom had a complete day off, the Giants wore down despite the fact that no position player started 120 games. (Thairo Estrada led them with 117.)
As the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers have shown this month, sometimes you just need to spend big and target durable, everyday stars — the kind of players with such outsized talent that their performance at 80 percent health or strength is better than any roster alternative.
This free-agent market does not offer an abundance of those choices, but the Giants will be aggressive in pursuit of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the 25-year-old Orix ace who is currently pitching for the Buffaloes against Hanshin in the Japan Series. Zaidi acknowledged that he made a quick trip to watch Yamamoto at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome last week.
“Obviously we’re covering all the bases ahead of what might happen this offseason,” Zaidi said.
The Giants’ newly established executive stability might matter more in the Yamamoto talks compared to other free-agent pursuits. When the Giants were rebuffed last winter in their pursuit of right-hander Kodai Senga, who chose the New York Mets’ five-year, $75 million offer, San Francisco officials were told that Senga valued the chance to pitch in the same rotation as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. But both of those future Hall of Fame pitchers were dealt away at the trade deadline. The Mets overhauled their front office. They’re in the process of hiring a new manager. Although the Mets still have plenty of talent and the most ample payroll in the league, in several key respects, they do not resemble the organization that Senga chose. At the end of the season, Senga requested meetings with Mets officials to brief him on the future direction of the club.
Yamamoto, who shares an agent with Senga, is said to be looking for a stable franchise in a big market.
The Giants might soon have the Bay Area all to themselves. And they will build on more stable ground.
“It really doesn’t matter how I feel,” said Zaidi, asked about the vote of confidence. “What matters is us being where we expect to be. Whether it’s our players or staff or people on the front office, feeling like we have stability is always a good thing.
“I know I’ve got to do better and be better. … It’s unacceptable to me to have the results we’ve had the last couple of years. But whether it’s Greg or other people in their ownership, we all feel the same way about it. And I appreciate the confidence in being able to continue to lead.”
(Top photo of Zaidi: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)