Giants' frequent roster moves signify new approach for team

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PHOENIX — Unlike some executives around the sport, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi does not believe it is advantageous to lose 100 games to lay the foundation for a rebuild.

The Astros have done it three times this decade, the Cubs did it once and the Phillies and Red Sox have combined to lose more than 90 games five times since 2010. The Giants, by Zaidi’s estimation, have already done enough losing, and they’re not likely to finish with a winning record this season, either.

There will come a time in Zaidi’s tenure — perhaps as soon as 2020, but more likely 2021 — when winning and contending will be the defining measures of the Giants’ success. That is not the case this season, but it doesn’t mean Zaidi has a desire to watch the team combust on a nightly basis.

Flames don’t signify progress.

In his first year on the job, Zaidi is already catching heat from the Giants’ fan base for his desire to experiment. A certain segment of fans wonders if the “opener” is necessary, another is uncertain about the revolving door in left field and more are unclear about the constant roster churn.

Fans didn’t rush out to buy Connor Joe jerseys and they won’t be looking for an Aaron Altherr t-shirt in the local dugout store, either. By the end of the season, however, Zaidi hopes the Giants’ willingness to experiment will give the front office a much clearer picture of the supplies they have in-house and the holes they’ll need to patch with help from a trip to the hardware store.

If winning isn’t the ultimate way to measure the Giants’ success in 2019, how should fans evaluate Zaidi’s first year? What defines progress?

The answer is complex, and not everyone will agree on the criteria. Suspended Giants CEO Larry Baer believes the organization should strive to contend every year, but it’s this mentality that compelled Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans to further delay a rebuild after a 98-loss season in 2017. Many fans, including some season ticket holders who pay top dollar to attend games, agree there’s no excuse for a major market team to hold back. If the Giants have deep pockets, why not reach for the bottom and go all-in?

Without a world-class scouting department that hits annually on draft picks and spends wisely in the international market for top talent, contending annually without suffering any hiccups is remarkably difficult. Only the Yankees and Cardinals have had a winning record each year this decade, as even the Dodgers fell below .500 in 2010.

For some franchises like the Astros and Cubs, a culture of winning took shape thanks to years of losing. The accumulation of draft picks, shifts in organizational philosophies and changes in leadership were all byproducts of repeated last-place finishes. Under Zaidi’s watch, the Giants are attempting to reestablish a winning culture through experimentation rather than tanking.

Joe and Michael Reed combined to go 1-for-23 as corner outfielders and after two weeks of play, both had been designated for assignment. Gerardo Parra offered plus-defense and a veteran bat, but he failed to produce at the plate, leaving the Giants with a chance to check on younger players who will have more of a chance to factor into the future.

Mike Gerber did not take advantage of a four-game stint against Cincinnati, but the Giants plan to call him up again this year. Mac Williamson tore up Triple-A pitching, so he’s getting one final shot in left field. Tyler Austin has impressive power from the right side, and it’s up to Austin to become acquainted with the outfield so the Giants can feel comfortable handing him starts.

If Williamson and Austin can’t provide an answer, Altherr will receive a look and so will a few others. For the cycle to end, a player must seize the opportunity and force the Giants to look forward instead of back.

A player who lays claim to the job will likely lead the Giants to a few wins, too. The front office would consider that a step in the right direction both in the present and for the future.

As the Giants search for solutions in the outfield, they’re even more determined to build a deeper, reliable pitching staff. Prospects Tyler Beede and Shaun Anderson have already made their 2019 debuts while Andrew Suarez will likely rejoin the rotation at some point during the first half. Young relievers Trevor Gott and Travis Bergen are earning the minimum and both are taking advantage of a chance to carve out bullpen roles for years to come.

While the depth of the starting staff has been hurt by the struggles of Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz and Dereck Rodríguez, the Giants used an “opener” for the first time on Tuesday and will likely do so again in the near future. Fans may not embrace the alternative pitching strategy, but Zaidi has acknowledged it’s only an experiment worth employing when the club doesn’t have a strong rotation of starters who can regularly work deep into games.

A playoff-caliber team typically has that.

The “opener” does give the Giants a chance to start shifting the clubhouse culture, which is critical for a team with a handful of veterans under contract for the next several years.

The Giants will operate in a new manner under Zaidi’s watch. They’ll embrace various analytics, they’ll think about pitcher roles and platoons in different ways and in 2020, they’ll have a new leader in place standing at the top step of the dugout.

Any steps they can take to ease the transition and find building blocks for the future should be considered progress. If Anderson and Beede emerge as potential rotation options, that checks a box. If Williamson, Austin or another right-handed slugger becomes a lineup fixture, that checks another. If Zaidi trades Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and a handful of other assets to acquire future core pieces, the Giants will have worked their way down an important list.

The more boxes they can check in 2019, the sooner they can realistically talk about winning and contending. And the sooner they do that, the faster fans will forget about the experiments that ultimately led to desired results.

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