The San Francisco Giants are having a stellar season as the best team in Major League Baseball continues to prove its worth. After last week’s 3-2 victory over the New York Mets, the Giants are now 18-5 as the regular season heads toward its final month.
While many might say that nobody saw this coming, it’s also entirely possible that Larry Baer, Giants CEO and President, along with his hand-picked staff and roster, have deliberately and painstakingly achieved this through conscious decision-making that has turned much of the conventional wisdom about winning and success in major leagues on its head.
The MLB way is to tear it all down, clear the field, and build a whole new team. Purge older players earning top salaries and exchange them for younger, less expensive new talent. Never mind such factors as loyalty and leadership, not to mention the emotional satisfaction of fans who often end up seeing the foundation of their hometown club wearing another team’s uniform after their “glory days.”
Larry Baer and the Giants are doing away with that formula, and it’s working for them. Instead of tearing down their entire team and purging older players who were instrumental in their World Series title games of 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Giants have kept their most valuable veterans on the roster and, yes, continues to pay them well. And, to spite the typical MLB way of doing things, it’s paying off. Those three, handsomely-salaried veterans of the World Series-era lineups are helping the Giants to keep winning.
The cohesiveness, success, and joy of the 2021 Giants season is noteworthy because this is still only the second season for coach Gabe Kapler and the Giants’ coaching staff and especially because the club is working with the oldest group of position players in the major leagues.
The three veterans contributing intensely to this year’s winning streak are pitcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and first baseman Brandon Belt—all of whom are in the final year of their contracts. The three have not only built experience in unison but also perfected strategies as a team over the course of more than a dozen seasons with the Giants.
Posey and Crawford were both signed in 2008, one day apart, and have been strategically supporting one another on the field since then. Posey proved to be a force to be reckoned with in all three of the Giants’ World Series title seasons, while Crawford and Belt starred in the 2012 and 2014 championships.
Posey, who has a club option for 2022, is expected to receive a contract extension, while Crawford’s contract was extended this month.
Farhan Zaidi, head of Baseball Operations for the Giants, said of Posey, “I’ve never seen a player have more of an impact on a team’s success than what he’s done.”
“I think,” Crawford said earlier this month, “there is a correlation of some kind with our continuity and success.”
Both Posey and Crawford are 34 years old, while Belt is 33. That represents a good number of years. In fact, it amounts to seven combined rings and 44 combined years of experience in the major leagues, with many of those years played on the same field, developing group strategies that are still working today.
The examples of great plays abound. Crawford’s two-run double helped clinch the Giants victory in New York last week, while Belt hit two home runs that helped the Giants topple the Mets. While Posey’s batting is a little less impressive than in his early years, he is still seen as the foundation of the Giants club and the reason that the Giants have one of the major league’s best pitching staffs.
When Farhan Zaidi took on the job as President of Baseball Operations for the Giants in November 2018, the team installed a 14-member coaching staff that became, along with every other team in the major league, heavily focused on analytics. At that time, the team made the decision to hold on to its veteran heroes, but it was not until 2021 that the club fully embraced the idea. Now, it’s become the club’s formula for success.
In an article by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants attribute the key to their success to a series of decidedly un-analytic factors: Team chemistry. Unity. Respect. Harmony. Admittedly, a big contributor to the club’s success, and what fueled that chemistry and unity, was the players’ willingness to embrace new ideas and approaches, even if it meant doing things differently than how it was done when they won those previous rings.
In fact, those veterans have also played a huge role in creating the club’s chemistry. Posey and Crawford’s welcoming approach toward Gabe Kapler and his relatively-new coaching staff set the stage for an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration in the club. As a team, the Giants know what a championship atmosphere feels like, they know how a winning clubhouse behaves. And they know how to create the perfect scenario for that.
“We as veteran guys still have a lot to offer,” said Crawford. “Not just from a baseball standpoint, but experience. Showing some of the younger guys either the right way to play the game or tips here and there about the game at this level.”
Fans love to see their team win no matter what. But it brings an extra special kind of joy for team loyalists to see their beloved World Series heroes continue to lead victories in their clubs. For Giants fans, this historic 2021 season sets a glimmering example of excellence at every level for all of Major League Baseball. Let’s hope the other clubs are paying attention.