The Verdict is In: The Emperor has No Clothes

Eight months ago today, I wrote a column asking whether the “Emperor” (Farhan Zaidi) was “wearing any clothes” (competent to do his job or a big phony). I promised at the end to revisit the question in six months, which for obvious reasons didn’t happen, but we’ll do it now.

A lot has happened since December 15, 2019, but not much has changed for the Giants. At the time, Zaidi had returned from the Winter Meetings having bought the Angels’ first-round draft pick, Will Wilson, by taking on Zack Cozart’s bad contract.* He had also signed Kevin Gausman to a one-year, $9 mil. deal, which seemed like a lot for a guy who had a few good games in the bullpen for Cincinnati last year. He had non-tendered Kevin Pillar, had already watched 2019 All-Star closer Will Smith sign a multi-year deal with the Braves, and though Madison Bumgarner hadn’t, as of December 15, signed with another team, that happened the very next day. Zaidi had also made the extremely unpopular decision to hire Gabe Kapler to replace Bruce Bochy, and they had announced a staff of inexperienced, young, no-name coaches, with the notable exception of retaining Ron Wotus.

OK. Now we’re caught up. What has happened in the last nine months?

*It’s good to be Zack Cozart about now.

 

Zaidi did nothing to improve the 2020 team

As noted, he’d let Pillar (the Willie Mac winner), Smith (the closer/All-Star), and Bumgarner (the ace) walk. You could say that signing Gausman helped the 2020 team, but that deal had already happened by the time I wrote that column. The only other moves made by Zaidi after December 15 were to sign Wilmer Flores to a two-year deal and to bring back 37-year-old Hunter Pence. Oh, Drew Smyly and some free agents on minor league deals. Whatever. We still had Connor Joe McCarthy in the Opening Day lineup. The sum total is a 2020 team that, in every way possible, was destined from the start to be worse than the 2019 team. And the 2019 team won just 77 games.

 

Zaidi’s done nothing to develop young players

The idea of punting the 2020 season, which was clearly Zaidi’s plan all along–if they say they are “trying to compete,” that’s just a lie–was supposedly to give younger players opportunities. So how’s that going?

  • Jaylin Davis and Steven Duggar are at the Alternate Site
  • Pence (.119) and Sandoval (.159 with no extra-base hits) both have more ABs than Austin Slater
  • Even though the two catchers have been flat-out dreadful, Zaidi still refuses to promote Joey Bart, for reasons that just keep sounding more and more ludicrous. Brisbee had a column about it the other day. The only possible explanation he could come up with was this:

And in the worst-case scenario, he demolishes the league in his first go-around, even with those flaws. Hits .300 with power and is a defensive stalwart behind the plate. But riiiiight when the rest of the league writes the book on him and sends it to the publisher, the season ends.

 

Now you’ve got a “proven” hotshot who can’t possibly be sent back down before next season.

 

That’s right. The Giants don’t want to call Bart up because he might be too good. Then, this thought experiment continues, they’ll have a Montana/Young controversy when Buster Posey returns, and you can’t send Bart back down to the minors because, remember, he’s been good. But what if he scuffles next year after the league catches up with him?

Those are some pretzel-worthy twists of logic.

 

Zaidi had a mediocre draft

It was set up for him on a tee. Only five rounds and seven picks, including five in the top half. More bonus money than other teams because of the extra picks. But when the new top-100 prospects list came out last week, not a single new Giants draftee was on it, even though players drafted quite a bit lower than Patrick Bailey at #13 cracked the list.

Now, as the Giants went about signing their picks, and they did sign all seven, some of the strategy became apparent. The real prize was third-round high school lefty Kyle Harrison, a local boy committed to UCLA. The Giants signed him for $2.5 mil to keep him from going to college, and that was more than three times his slot value. The Giants basically threw away a lot of other picks–including the compensation picks they got for not trading or signing Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner–so that they would have enough bonus money to sign Harrison.

Maybe in five years or so we’ll know if that was worth it.

 

The trade deadline isn’t going to help

I thought it was. After all, the Giants are bad, but they have some individual players doing well. Maybe this season could be redeemed by some shrewd deals to get value out of Gausman, Solano, Watson, or even Cueto.

There are a couple of problems with this scenario, and they’re big ones.

First, the rules around trades are different in this pandemic-shortened season. Trades can only be made on or off the 60-man roster. So let’s say the Giants wanted to trade Gausman. The prospects on the other team’s 60-man roster are that team’s top prospects, just like we have Bart, Ramos, Luciano, etc., on ours. Even if Gausman is 2003 Jason Schmidt now, is a team going to give up a top prospect for him to make maybe 5-8 starts for them (if that team plays deep into the postseason)? Probably not. Might make more sense for the Giants to get a draft pick for Gausman after the season (except that we know Zaidi will squander it).

Second, Zaidi hasn’t demonstrated that he’s any better at trades than he is at building a major league roster or drafting. Remember how we gave him kudos for his trade deadline shenanigans last year? Let’s look at how those are going now.

  • Drew Pomeranz for Mauricio Dubon. Remember when we thought that was a great deal? Hahahahaha.
  • Sam Dyson for Jaylin Davis and two young pitchers. OK, the jury’s out on that one. Davis is sure looking like a bust, but Dyson turned out worse, and those two pitchers could turn into something.
  • Mark Melancon for Tristan Beck. We were all pretty impressed with this one, mainly because Zaidi somehow foisted Melancon’s bad contract off on the Braves. But (a) Zaidi didn’t spend any of the money he saved to add talent to the 2020 team; and (b) Melancon, irritating as he was, is still better than anyone in the dumpster fire of a bullpen we have this year. (So far Melancon has appeared in six games, has a 0.00 ERA, three saves, and a win.)
  • Not trading Smith or Bumgarner. We don’t know what other teams were offering, but you’d think it had to be better than the two nothing draft picks Zaidi ended up recouping for letting two Willie Mac winners walk away.

 

Zaidi had nine months to think over his biggest decision–and he blew it spectacularly

Yes, I’m talking about hiring Gabe Kapler. I’m not going to rehash the old news (the Dodgers scandal or the failure in Philadelphia). But the season so far has demonstrated that Kapler is an absolutely terrible manager, and I’m even going to let him off the hook for last night’s debacle against the A’s. (In this order, I blame (1) Gott (2) Flores and (3) Crawford.)

Kapler seems like a bright and thoughtful guy who cares about his players–and they appreciate it. Both Pence and Tyler Rogers have gotten emotional talking about how Kapler kept faith in them and how much that meant to them. But at some point, players are going to get beaten down by seeing winnable games slip away because of bad decisions by the manager. Kapler just seems to have no feel for the game, no instincts. When one decision after another backfires, his postgame explanations just seem…really stupid. Why did you pull Gausman? Well, it was a warm day and we want to “save” him for future starts. Why did you bring in Rogers? Well, maybe he could get a ground ball. (Dude. That only works if you have infielders who can turn a double play.)

For about six weeks in 1983, I worked the lunch shift at a Korean restaurant in Sacramento. It was a fast-casual place, no table service. I was the cashier and I did things like refill ice tea and serve desserts. But I’m clumsy and terrible at things like cutting cheesecake and pies. A number of times we’d have to toss a messy piece I’d cut and have another employee cut a nicer-looking one. They quickly made a rule that I couldn’t serve the desserts.

The bottom line is that Kapler was a bad manager in Philadelphia and he’s a bad manager for the Giants. There is no reason to assume he’ll improve and every reason to assume that he won’t. Zaidi’s logic that “sometimes a manager does better in his second job” is just magical thinking. Sure, that happens sometimes. But a lot of times it doesn’t. People usually do poorly in a job for one reason: They’re. Not. Good. At. That. Job.

No amount of practice was going to make me better at serving cheesecake. I just wasn’t ever going to be good enough.

 

But what about “trust the process”?

Condescending Giants fans like to lecture other fans about “patience” and “this is what a rebuild looks like” and–gag, vomit, barf–“trust the process.” I can’t ban everyone on Twitter, but I swear to Gouda that I’d like to ban the next person who says one of these things on TWG. Here’s why these cliches are nonsense. There is nothing to suggest that there is a process or that things are getting better. On the contrary, as the previous section argued, things are getting worse. The farm system has improved? Maybe. That’s on paper. We really have no way of knowing, both because there is no minor league season this year and because, as always, prospects are just that–prospects.

More importantly, the process is only trustworthy if the person managing the process is competent. And I see no evidence that Zaidi is competent and lots of evidence that he isn’t. It’s clear that the “success” experienced with the A’s and the Dodgers was due to the genius of Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman, not Bare-Naked Emperor Zaidi himself.

I hope I’m wrong because I’m a Giants fan and I’d rather watch a good team and be wrong than watch a bad team and be right. If I’m wrong I promise to revisit this column and say so. But right now this feels a lot like the Baalke/Tomsula/C. Kelly era of the 49ers–something we’ll have to suffer through until the Giants’ version of Lynch/Shanahan arrives. As I said–I hope I’m wrong.

Lefty out.