SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Farhan Zaidi understands the intrigue that stems from his unique baseball path: from the small-budget Oakland Athletics to the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers and back to the Bay Area to join the rival Giants.
San Francisco’s new front-office whiz plans to incorporate plenty from the franchise’s rich tradition by leaning on some of the entrenched baseball minds behind its success this decade, even if there are varying ideas about how to get the Giants back into playoff contention.
“It’s a convenient narrative to see this as kind of a clash of schools of thought. I just don’t see it that way at all,” the MIT-educated Zaidi said of mixing his analytics expertise with the old-school practices of veteran executive Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy. “Obviously we didn’t get to these points in our career the same way or in a similar way, but I think that’s part of the beauty of the game, how we all wind up together and then pulling toward a common goal.”
Following four years as general manager of the Dodgers, Zaidi received a five-year contract to become Giants president of baseball operations Tuesday. He was formally introduced Wednesday at AT&T Park, then headed back to Southern California and the GM meetings in Carlsbad. He’ll join up with San Francisco’s front office on site — a trip Zaidi figures will bring some “normalcy” back to his life after a whirlwind few days switching organizations.
Giants CEO Larry Baer and Zaidi first met Friday for a planned two-hour session that carried on for 6 1/2 hours. Zaidi on Wednesday thanked the Dodgers for allowing him to pursue an opportunity with their NL West rival, saying “I’m incredibly gracious.”
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said it would be fun competing against Zaidi.
At the GM meetings, Friedman said the Dodgers would miss Zaidi’s “creativity, work ethic, ability to connect with people. He’s extremely talented and somebody who’s obviously made a huge impact for us the last four years.”
Friedman said he and Zaidi had conversations about the Giants’ job during the last week.
“I kept telling him, obviously I’m biased but I’m trying to do everything I could to support him and be a sounding board and set my bias to the side.”
The Dodgers didn’t try to lure Zaidi back, Friedman said. “No, I mean that was the point. If this was something he wanted to pursue we were going to support him.”
The next step for Zaidi is hiring a general manager and a farm director, something he hopes to do soon if the right candidate emerges.
It’ll be a new direction for a franchise that won World Series championships in 2010, ‘12 and ‘14.
Zaidi’s Dodgers reached the World Series the past two years without winning.
“The response was just total heartbreak, I guess. I don’t know how else you say it,” he said.
Zaidi will spend the coming months learning more about a franchise he’s watched closely for decades. He has already exchanged text messages with some core players, and he plans to visit a few this offseason. Zaidi’s first baseball game came at Candlestick Park in 1987, so this feels like coming “full circle.”
Zaidi earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from MIT in 1998 and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2011. He spent 10 years with the A’s before joining Los Angeles.
“It was quite compelling the way Farhan was able to put together winning franchises throughout,” Baer said, noting he hopes Zaidi will lead the club decades into the future.
San Francisco went 73-89 during an injury-plagued 2018 with a major league-worst 5-21 record in September, missing the playoffs for a second straight year and third time in four seasons.
Zaidi has no plans of tackling a turnaround on his own. Sabean will stay directly involved, and Bochy is allowed the last word when it comes to on-field moves, including the lineup and rotation.
“Anything that is under the privy of the manager, the manager has final say — period. That is not even a question for me,” Zaidi said.
Zaidi and Bochy spoke briefly already and will meet in person at some point. Bochy is scheduled to attend late Hall of Famer Willie McCovey’s celebration of life Thursday at the ballpark after Zaidi is already back in the San Diego area.
To Bochy and Sabean, Zaidi expressed his interest in learning from both longtime, accomplished baseball men while bringing a fresh look, saying “I see this as a collaborative process” with “ideas flowing both ways.”
A message he kept coming back to Wednesday: “Our goal is to play meaningful baseball as deep into the season and as soon as we can.”
To do so, he will strive to make “one good baseball move after another” in building a winning roster.
“I think the theme that we had from a player-acquisition standpoint in particular was no move is too small to not be worth a certain level of effort and detail — waiver claims, minor league free agents, second or third players in trades,” he said. “There’s a lot of value to be had in identifying talent in those regards.”
Oh, and don’t rule out an A’s-Giants trade with his former Oakland boss, Billy Beane.
“I think one of those could happen,” Zaidi said, grinning.