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San Francisco Giants: Evaluating Farhan Zaidi’s first year

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 09: General manager Farhan Zaidi of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the dugout before the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 9, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 09: General manager Farhan Zaidi of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the dugout before the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 9, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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It was an eventful first year in the role of San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations for Farhan Zaidi. Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows.

In his first year leading the organization’s front office, Farhan Zaidi showed a willingness to turn over the San Francisco Giants roster, and with that came a good deal of change.

Before the team even reported to spring training, Zaidi waved goodbye to some familiar faces when Hunter Strickland and Gorkys Hernandez were non-tendered and Josh Osich was lost to waivers.

He then set to work on the free-agent market, bringing in Drew Pomeranz, Gerardo Parra, Pat Venditte, Nick Vincent, Matt Joyce, Donovan Solano, Stephen Vogt, and Yangervis Solarte. They were all signed to one-year deals, while all but Pomeranz signed to minor league deals. He also re-signed veteran starter Derek Holland.

So while they failed to land a big fish in free agency, it was by no means a quiet offseason.

Then spring training began, and Zaidi continued making moves.

Amid a number of under-the-radar deals, the biggest spring acquisition success story came in the form of Mike Yastrzemski, who was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Tyler Herb.

The 29-year-old made his MLB debut on May 25 and finished the season with a .272/.334/.518 line that included 21 home runs in 411 plate appearances, making him one of three players in the lineup to reach the 20-homer mark.

The only other notable move came two days before Opening Day when Zaidi dealt right-hander Chris Stratton to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for left-handed reliever Williams Jerez. Oddly enough, both are now with the Pittsburgh Pirates after being DFA’d during the season.

Then, of course, there are the trades for Connor Joe and Michael Reed that didn’t end up working out at all. It’s easy to forget now that both started in the outfield on Opening Day.

And remember Eric Kratz?

He was also brought in by way of a trade to serve as the team’s backup catcher, only to be eventually supplanted in that role by Stephen Vogt. Kratz has also found a new home after being DFA’d and then traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.

All in all, the spring was a very busy time with a lot of the names that were added to the roster now easily forgotten, with the glaring exception of Yastrzemski.

The roster shuffling only picked up once the regular season started.

It didn’t take long for the first significant trade of the season to be made, with Kevin Pillar acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays on April 2 in exchange for Derek Law, Alen Hanson, and pitching prospect Juan De Paula.

It would be an understatement to say that Pillar was vital to the San Francisco Giants success this season. He led the team in hits (157), doubles (37), RBI (87), runs scored (82) and steals (14), and his career-high 21 home runs tied him with Yastrzemski for the team lead.

He was also the 2019 Willie Mac Award winner.

Six days after the Pillar trade, Zaidi brought in slugger Tyler Austin, who had just been DFA’d by the Minnesota Twins. Austin played exclusively against left-handed pitching and showed some intriguing pop, but against righties he was abysmal. He also learned how to play the outfield, which provided some more flexibility during his time in San Francisco. Ultimately, his high strikeout rate and limited production led to his release and he caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The true magic started to show in June, when Zaidi took a chance on Alex Dickerson after he was DFA’d by the San Diego Padres. On June 10, Dickerson came to the Giants in exchange for right-hander Franklin Van Gurp. He provided an immediate spark and his arrival coincided with the team’s unexpected rise up the NL wild-card standings.

In an under-the-radar move on June 21, the Giants claimed outfielder Joey Rickard off waivers from the Orioles. He saw multiple stints at the MLB level and will be in the mix for a bench spot next spring.

Zaidi was able to incrementally improve the team before the month of July, and while many of the moves were not headline grabbers, he found ways to add talent.

Then the month of July arrived and the rumor mill reached a boiling point.

The month leading up to the trade deadline is always a busy time for any baseball executive, and Zaidi was at the center of the frenzy.

With the Giants on the fringe of wild-card contention, Zaidi faced a tough decision on whether to buy, sell, or both. Half the fan base thought it was time to move on from Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner, while others thought it would be a bad idea to trade them away.

In the end, Zaidi did a healthy mix of buying and selling and did his best work in the process.

In a simply marvelous deal, he sent Pomeranz and Ray Black to the Brewers for Mauricio Dubon, who immediately became the team’s second baseman of the future.

He also shipped out Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon in separate deals, bringing back a haul of prospects that included outfielder Jaylin Davis and right-handed pitchers Tristan Beck, Kai-Wei Tang, and Prelander Berroa.

Joe McCarthy was also acquired from the Rays in a prospect swap for lefty Jacob Lopez, while Scooter Gennett was acquired to replace Joe Panik at second base in a move that showed they were also trying to improve in the short-term.

Once the deadline passed, the team remained active. An underperforming Panik was cut loose at the beginning of August and right-handed reliever Burch Smith was claimed off waivers from the Brewers. Smith should have a chance to win a bullpen spot next spring.

When the Gennett experiment didn’t bear fruit and the Giants slipped out of the race, Dubon was recalled from Triple-A and he made a strong case to break camp next year as the team’s starting second baseman.

So was Zaidi’s first season steering the front office ship a success?

At his introductory press conference last November, he said how he wanted the San Francisco Giants to play meaningful baseball as long into the season as possible.

They did just that, clawing their way into the wild-card picture in July and remaining mathematically in the mix into September, though the three-game sweep they suffered at the hands of the Chicago Cubs from Aug. 20-22 can probably be pointed to as the real end.

No one expected this team to be a postseason contender in 2019, and Zaidi at helped build them to respectability while still focusing on the club’s long-term outlook.

A 77-85 record represented a four-win improvement over the 2018 season, but the biggest takeaway is a vastly improved farm system and an MLB roster that has added some intriguing, cost-controlled talent on the cheap.

A lot can also be said about Zaidi’s willingness to keep Bruce Bochy as the team’s manager. It was the perfect way to bridge the gap between the old guard and new age thinking, and it allowed Bochy to leave on his terms and to record win No. 2,000 in the process to further etch his spot in Cooperstown.

The San Francisco Giants ship seems to now be pointed in the right direction, which is something that the fan base should be excited about. Rebuilds take time and patience, and Zaidi has shown the necessary acumen to put this team in the best possible position to succeed going forward.

Next. How the second-half bullpen audition impacts 2020

Now that the 2019 season is officially over, Farhan Zaidi can get to work hiring a general manager, a new skipper, and filling roster holes in free agency and on the trade market to continue building the San Francisco Giants a strong foundation for future success.

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