Uncertainty turns to trust for Giants
PHILADELPHIA - Near the beginning of spring training, first-year president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi had to stand in the Giants’ clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium and address the team.
There were concerns over roster structure, fears over whether the Giants were committed to winning in 2019 and questions over comments Zaidi made about pitching strategies during the offseason.
Was the former Dodgers general manager actually serious about using “openers” to start games?
With two days remaining until the July 31 trade deadline, uncertainty has shifted to trust as Zaidi has gained the confidence of even the most senior members of the Giants’ clubhouse.
“I think Farhan’s got a great track record,” catcher Buster Posey said following Sunday’s series-clinching win over the Padres.
The Giants knew all about Zaidi’s résumé when he was hired last November. Their top baseball executive had spent nearly two decades working his way up in the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers front offices and was widely regarded as one of the game’s most creative figures.
They knew Zaidi’s teams had been to the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons. But after a slow offseason that featured a handful of underwhelming moves, the Giants wondered whether Zaidi was willing to position this year’s club for immediate success.
As the trade deadline nears, a roster that has Zaidi’s fingerprints all over it thinks it has the DNA of a legitimate contender.
“That’s been a pretty clear message we’ve created over the last month or so,” ace Madison Bumgarner said Sunday.
An honest spring training pursuit of free agent slugger Bryce Harper helped quell some initial concerns Giants veterans had about Zaidi’s approach. If Zaidi was willing to add a high-profile outfielder, some players were curious why five-time All-Star and free agent Adam Jones wasn’t a priority for the Giants.
The Giants wound up trying out and discarding more than a dozen different outfielders during the spring and the first two months of the season. They opened the year with rookies Michael Reed and Connor Joe, gave playing time to Gerardo Parra, turned their attention to Tigers castoff Mike Gerber and even brought back Mac Williamson after designating him for assignment at the end of spring.
As Jones raced out to a hot start on his one-year contract with the D-backs, the Giants finished the first two months of the season at 22-34. Their playoff hopes were nearly dashed and they were continuing to cycle through corner outfielders at an alarming rate.
After winning seven consecutive series and posting a 19-4 record in their last 23 games, the Giants have regained confidence in themselves and expressed faith in Zaidi’s roster building skills. Uncertainty still exists as the trade deadline approaches, but several players have a clear belief that the front office has both the short-term and long-term health of the organization in mind.
“It’s really cool to have ownership and the front office behind you like that and the ability in a matter of 20 games to kind of flip the script 180,” reliever Mark Melancon said Friday. “We were total sellers with the top three, four guys to get traded.”
As July comes to a close, the Giants have passed the D-backs for second place and could wind up “buying” instead of “selling” at the deadline. Many reports indicate Arizona plans to trade some of its best players and one player who could be on the move is Jones, who has posted a 0.1 bWAR in nearly 400 plate appearances.
While Jones has had an OK season, the Giants have finally settled on more reliable outfielders.
Rookie Mike Yastrzemski, 28, was acquired in a minor league deal at the end of spring and owns an .827 OPS and 1.3 bWAR in 200 plate appearances. Slugger Alex Dickerson, who was designated for assignment by the Padres in June, has already accumulated 1.5 bWAR and is hitting .391 with a 1.235 OPS in his first 87 at-bats with the Giants.
Bargain additions like Donovan Solano and Trevor Gott are playing key roles while veterans who were signed by the previous front office regime like Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon are enjoying their best stretches with the Giants. Their consistent play coupled with the contributions of veterans acquired by Zaidi like Kevin Pillar and Stephen Vogt has brought a new energy to the Giants’ clubhouse that didn’t exist in 2017 or 2018.
In the past week, Bumgarner has compared the Giants’ extended run of success to the team’s first half play in 2016, when the club posted the best record in all of baseball. Veteran Pablo Sandoval, the leading candidate for the Willie Mac Award, has compared this year’s team to the one that won the World Series in 2014.
After showing a healthy skepticism toward their top executive during spring training, the Giants have embraced Zaidi’s vision for the club. It could all be undone if he changes course, sends out Bumgarner and closer Will Smith at the trade deadline and starts talking up 2020, but there’s a sense from the clubhouse that Zaidi feels there’s more to what the Giants have accomplished over the last two months.
Five months after Zaidi addressed the 2019 Giants for the first time in Scottsdale, he won’t have to stand in the clubhouse in Philadelphia on Tuesday and explain his trade deadline strategy.
Personnel decisions are out of the players’ control, but they have developed an appreciation for a front office that does determine who stays, who goes and who ends up joining a team that has its sights set on a playoff spot.
“I think it’s important as players that you have appreciation for how tough their job is and what they have to do,” Posey said. “He’s brought in some guys who have been big contributors for us.”