Larry Baer has had a pretty successful run as head of the San Francisco Giants, a team that went on to win two of their three most recent World Series championships shortly after he was named CEO and President of the club in 2012. But perhaps Baer’s most stellar play during the course of his three-decade career with Giants was to bring Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler on board in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
In fact, these two proved to be such a powerhouse combination, that Kapler is currently a leading contender for NL Manager of the Year, and it’s highly likely that Zaidi will be named MLB Executive of the Year, because quite frankly, nobody else in the majors can hold a candle to him right now. So, Baer is probably sleeping pretty well at night these days, knowing his decision to hire Zaidi back then has helped the Giants make history with a 91-50 record while taking the lead in the National League West in 2021.
Zaidi’s immeasurable contribution to the San Francisco Giants couldn’t have come at a better time. When Baer and the Giants’ front office team hired Zaidi to replace Brian Sabean in November 2018, the Giants were in a downward spiral and had lost quite a bit of the glow that they had acquired after three World Series victories and heaps of revenue earned between 2010 and 2014. When Zaidi selected Gabe Kapler as his manager a year later, the pieces fell into place to prepare the club for the unforgettable season that the Giants are enjoying in 2021.
Their recent victory against the L.A. Dodgers clenched the top spot in the National League West for the 2021 Giants. This victory must have been particularly sweet for Zaidi, as things have turned out just as he planned when he left the Dodgers’ front office specifically to build a baseball club that would make history by defeating the Los Angeles demon franchise, along with everybody else in the league. And Zaidi’s strategic move to give Kapler a second chance after his fall from grace in Philadelphia and bring him on board as the Giants’ manager in 2019 when the club was at the bottom of its game proved to be brilliant. In fact, Zaidi’s picking instinct has never been keener.
Zaidi landed in Baer’s lap just when the Giants were on the market for leadership with the type of confidence, innovation, and outright audacity that Zaidi has, and they were ready to trust and commit to him absolutely, which included supporting his choice of hiring Kapler as coach. For Kapler the situation couldn’t have been sweeter: having his buddy set him up with a roster filled with diverse talent ranging from proven veterans hungry to reclaim the energy of their past victories, to fresh new blood ready to take on the challenge of raising the club from its ashes, and a fan base that supports an open-minded and off-the-beaten-path approach to leadership. Add in the team’s admirable commitment to a spirit of friendship and camaraderie in the clubhouse, as well as equal respect for all players – including those that mostly sit on the bench but may be occasionally rotated in to save the day – and you’ve got a stellar formula for a team that is performing just as we’re seeing the Giants perform in 2021.
In fact, the formula is working like pure magic. After their most recent victory in Chicago, the Giants record is now at a mind-numbing 91-50 and the club has started to pull away from the Dodgers a bit in the NL West once again.
The Giants managed to set this up perfectly, building momentum over the course of the season, and thrilling their fan base just when attendance was beginning to decline at Oracle Park, and right after a frustrating 2020 season with no ticket sales. It was essential for the club to pull a quick turnaround this year, and that’s precisely what they’re doing.
While the crowds haven’t fully returned to Oracle Park, that may be in part due to new habits acquired by fans during the pandemic – such as watching baseball on TV at home instead of at the ballpark – along with a natural hesitation on the part of many toward the idea of sitting in a crowded stadium while Covid continues to threaten the populace.
Yet the Giants CEO has remained optimistic about ticket sales throughout this trying period. “As the world comes back, we’ll be fine,” he affirmed as fans slowly began to creep back to the ballpark after the massive restrictions imposed by the pandemic were lifted in June of this year. “Fans have been great. We have a good ticket base. They’ve come to the ballpark, and we’ve tried to make it a safe experience.”
And that statement actually weathered nicely, as the Giants’ recent three-game series against the Dodgers managed to fill Oracle Park almost to capacity, with crowds getting psyched as they brace for October – with memories of those glory days in October of 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Things conspired serendipitously to get the Giants to this position in which they can potentially close out the NL West and then see what transpires during the postseason. It was a series of strategic coincidences that set this up so the Giants could enjoy a season unlike any other since 1913, the last time the club won 90 games in the first 140 games of the season – a record that the 2021 Giants just beat in Chicago.
For example, Baer and his front-office team could’ve hired somebody else instead of Zaidi to replace Sabean. In fact, they looked at some other great candidates. But only Zaidi could have pulled off this kind of amazing makeover and turnaround while also protecting the club’s financial position for the future. In particular, Zaidi’s renovation of the farm system and his penchant and keen eye for fresh, new talent have redefined the future of Giants baseball.
Zaidi could’ve also done things differently when he took charge back in November 2018. For instance, he could’ve elected to replace Bruce Bochy as manager back in early 2019. But Kapler wouldn’t have been available at that time, because he had just completed his first season with the Phillies. Zaidi strategically kept Bochy on board throughout that regrettable season, but in hindsight, that was the best strategy for everybody involved.
Fate contributed further when Bochy graciously announced that 2019 would be his last year with the Giants, freeing Zaidi up to search for a new manager, precisely at a time when Kapler was about to be fired from Philadelphia. Zaidi reiterated his unwavering faith in Kapler as a friend and as a manager and hired Kapler.
Things could have even gone downhill for Kapler and Zaidi during the Giants’ rough 8-16 start in the 2020 season. But they didn’t.
They could’ve traded out their older players like Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, veterans of those World Series days between 2010 and 2014, but they didn’t. And thankfully so, because everything points to Crawford as a likely candidate for this year’s MVP.
Zaidi and Kapler stuck to their guns, and Baer and the front office stuck by them. By 2021, The Giants had built their dream team.
So, it stands to reason that Baer will happily reward both Zaidi and Kapler with new, heftier contracts in the offseason, which means fans can bank on seeing the Giants at the top of their game for seasons to come. It would be foolish to assume anything other than the possibility that Baer and his front-office team have every intention of keeping Zaidi and Kapler on board for the long haul.
Certainly, given the fact that Baer had the wherewithal to hire Zaidi in the first place, it’s not likely that he would be foolish enough to let him go easily, particularly after Zaidi has shown just what he’s capable of in only three seasons, and three of the club’s most difficult seasons at that. And Zaidi, after putting his reputation on the line for Kapler, will surely choose to keep Kapler on board, sticking to his winning formula, which of course is a win-win for Kapler as well as the entire team.
Currently, Kapler’s three-year contract is set to expire after next season, while Zaidi’s will expire at the end of the 2023 season. But, since the Giants have enough money to pay top-tier performers on and off the field, fans can hope to enjoy the Zaidi/Kapler show for years to come, because the smartest thing a winning team can do is to reward its best performers, and stick to its smartest decisions.
And of course, the more they keep winning, the more attendance and revenues they’ll keep seeing, which will make everybody happy, including fans, players, supporters, and especially, the front office.