In his third year as SF Giants president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi’s tenure is beginning to transition into a new phase. The honeymoon phase is over. The Giants need to begin to show the type of progress that would make them competitive again in the next couple of seasons.
SF Giants: Is Farhan Zaidi’s honeymoon period over?
When Zaidi took over in the 2019 offseason, he inherited an aging roster with massive salary commitments. In a sense, he was unable to make sweeping changes in his first offseason due to the composition of the roster. The Giants had players like Buster Posey, Mark Melancon, and several other veterans under lucrative long-term deals. Many included no-trade clauses as well.
In the 2020 offseason, it was more of the same approach from Zaidi and the front office. The Giants added a key piece in Wilmer Flores on a modest two-year, $6.25 million deal that included a team option for the third season. Furthermore, they added several reclamation projects like Kevin Gausman.
Many of those moves paid off for the Giants, as they nearly snuck into the playoffs with a 29-31 overall record. They were in the playoff picture until the final game of the season. Was this a sign of progress or the product of a shortened, 60-game season and an expanded playoff picture?
The 2021 season will help answer that question. In preparation for this season, Zaidi has added depth in every area of the roster. The key additions include Tommy La Stella, Anthony DeSclafani, and Jake McGee. The rotation has plenty of intriguing names, but it comes with plenty of risks as well.
They might not have the type of roster that pushes them into the playoff picture this season, but they certainly have enough depth to withstand injuries and regression.
So, here we are in 2021. The expectations heading into the 2019 and 2020 seasons were modest at best. They chose not to make long-term commitments to players in free agency or use prospect capital to address areas of need. Most fans understood this and remained patient. That patience will wear out quickly, though, if things do not begin to look up soon.
One critique from the fan base has been the front office’s refusal to call their vision a rebuild. Yet, as they insisted they were trying to reach the postseason, it would be difficult to identify that from their roster moves. The Giants have reeled in reclamation projects throughout Zaidi’s tenure, rarely acquiring proven talent. These were band-aid-type moves.
Since Zaidi has taken over, San Francisco has scaled down its payroll, reportedly with an eye toward the coming offseason. Only three current Giants have guaranteed contracts for next season. Soon should come his first major free-agent acquisition.
Before the Giants even get to 2022, though, they have to get through the 2021 season. It is fair to say that they exceeded expectations in 2019 and 2020, so the fan base has elevated expectations heading into the 2021 season. Does that mean they need to make the playoffs this year? No, but they need to continue showing progress towards becoming a threat to the San Diego Padres or the Los Angeles Dodgers at the top of the National League West soon.
They seemingly did that in a 60-game season, especially offensively, in 2020. Still, the nature of that season was difficult to analyze as to whether this progress would have been sustainable for a 162-game season. For example, the team had one of the better offenses in the National League with a 116 OPS+, but does that maintain itself over a full 162-game season? We will find out the answer in the next six months.
So, this is where we are at with Zaidi and the new front office. They have enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon phase because they inherited a roster with mostly unmovable contracts. The rebuild is not necessarily over yet, but the Giants need to show that they are in a position to be competitive again soon enough.
That is going to be a tough task with the Dodgers and the Padres in the same division, but these are challenges that the front office needs to overcome to be successful. I am not saying that the front office is on the hot seat in any way. However, this is more of a recognition that the first phase of this SF Giants front office’s tenure is over, and the 2021 season will be a good barometer for where the organization is at in the competitive cycle.
Note: I intended to publish this piece before the season got underway, but I did not finish it until after the first series of the year with work and life. At 1-2, this is not at all meant to be an indictment of how the season has begun.