I LOVE October. Cooler temperatures, pumpkin stuff, Halloween candy…and a sports fan’s paradise. Today I woke up looking forward to college football, playoff baseball, and even Warriors-Lakers preseason NBA basketball. The Mr and I went out for lunch a little while ago and made sure to put our remote control on its charger before we left because it’s gonna get a workout today.
So it’s been a little under a week since our Giants ended their season with a whimper, and I’m over sulking about that. Instead, let’s talk about the playoffs, and then we’ll pivot to some thoughts about the Giants’ future.
The MLB Playoffs
Today we have four (4) MLB playoff games, none of which really overlap, and tomorrow we’ll have four more. I have to confess that I had a busy week at work and pretty much skipped the “blink and you’ll miss it” wild card round. But now we have four best-of-five series and I’m paying closer attention. Here are my projections, which should not be confused with what I hope will happen:
- Orioles over Rangers in four: The Rangers just held on to win Game 1, so this may be a stale prediction before I hit “publish.” Much as I’d like to see Bruce Bochy somehow prevail with no rotation and no bullpen, the Orioles are the best story of the 2023 season, rising to the top of a stacked AL East full of teams that spent a lot more money than they did. And they wear orange and black and have a Posey-esque young catcher. So go O’s!
- Astros over Twins in four (maybe three): Props to the mediocre Twins for finally winning a playoff game/series, but the Astros have been there/done that, and this won’t take long.
- Braves over Phillies in five: This is THE series in this postseason*. The Phillies have star power, recent postseason success, and a jacked-up fan base. But the Braves just have it all. The Phils were in the World Series last year. The Braves WON the World Series in 2021, and MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. missed it. You think he’s motivated? I think so.
- Dodgers over Diamondbacks in four: The Snakes have momentum after sweeping the Brewers on the road, and they’ll be motivated to beat their NL West rival. And maybe the Dodgers’ suspect pitching staff won’t be able to hold up against the Corbin Carroll-led Arizona attack. But it’s also hard to see the Snakes’ suspect pitching staff matching up well against the Dodgers’ lineup.
*Just another chapter in the “Rob Manfred is an idiot” chronicles. Why is that the #2 seed (the Dodgers) gets to play the bottom seed (Diamondbacks) while the Braves, with the best record in MLB, have to play a much stronger team in a short series? Why don’t they reseed like they do in the NBA?
The Zaidi Post-Mortem
Okay, I guess we should talk about the Giants a bit. President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi had his usual postseason presser on Tuesday, which was followed by a 10-minute exclusive interview with Alex Pavlovic (you can hear that using this link if you care). Here’s what we got from him and from the “personal” letter we all got from Larry Baer (yada yada yada didn’t meet our goals/need to be better/we let our fans down):
- The Giants are jumping right into their manager search, interviewing internal candidates this week and starting to ask permission to interview employees of other teams. (More on the manager search in the next section.)
- Marco Luciano is the presumptive Opening Day shortstop. (Before you mention “David Villar,” it’s not the same thing. Luciano’s been a top prospect for years. No one ever expected much out of Villar.)
- They hope that Tyler Fitzgerald will be a “500 AB guy” as a super-utility Chris Taylor-type next year. I’m happy enough to hear that, I guess, but I’m also gonna call bullshit on it, somewhat. Fitzgerald had a great year in the minors and warranted a call-up in early August after the trade deadline. Instead, they got Mark Mathias and later Johan Camargo out of their respective dumpsters, and, in an even more puzzling development, rushed Wade Meckler, who was just drafted last year, up to the majors. They FINALLY called up Fitzgerald when Brandon Crawford was injured on the final road trip after the River Cats’ season had almost ended, and he got to play in a whopping ten (10) games. I liked Fitz and am happy he finally got a chance, but now all of a sudden they’re counting on him for 500+ ABs next year? It just feels once again like they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. (In case you’re wondering, the only Giants to get 500+ plate appearances this year were J.D. Davis (544), Thairo Estrada (530), and LaMonte Wade Jr. (519).)
- They’re very interested in Japanese superstar pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Yeah, I’m sure. Kinda like everyone is “very interested” in Shohei Ohtani. Whatever.
- They might consider trading from “surplus” young pitching (though Zaidi was appropriately reluctant to ever say that one could have “surplus” pitching) to address other needs.
So not really all that much interesting news. I guess it’s good to hear that they’re not going after some schmoe to block Luciano, but that’s really not very impressive or interesting when you look at who’s out there on the free agent market. It’s not like two years ago when Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story were available, or like last year, when Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson, and Carlos Correa (yeah, I know, but oh, look, HE’s in the playoffs) were up for grabs. Grant Brisbee did a deep dive on this a week or two ago, looking at internal options, free agents, and even possible trade targets and came to the same conclusion: Might as well ride with Luciano; it’s time.
The Manager Search
Zaidi’s presser touched on what he might be looking for in the next manager, and various articles and podcasts went into some depth on the topic this week, most notably this article by Brisbee, the Baggs and Brisbee podcast, and Kerry Crowley’s latest podcast. Here’s the composite picture:
- The new manager needs to be charismatic and able to connect with players and fans. “Charisma” was a characteristic notably lacking in Gabe Kapler from day one.
- The new manager needs to be a good recruiter who would make free agents (and, I assume, coaches) feel good about coming to the Giants.
- The new manager needs to be good at developing (or setting up systems to develop) young talent, since the Giants’ immediate and long-term future depends heavily on how players like Luciano, Kyle Harrison, Luis Matos, and Patrick Bailey come along next year.
- The new manager needs to be different from Gabe Kapler. This is a little hard to define, but it might quickly knock out internal candidates such as Kai Correa.
The big problem: Because the Giants chose to fire Kapler and keep Zaidi as a lame-duck POBO next year, they will be less competitive for good managerial candidates than they might be otherwise. A really talented, in-demand manager might hesitate to sign on with an organization that might not offer job stability after next year. The Athletic did an article this week about the four current managerial openings (Mets, Guardians, Giants, and Angels) and ranked them according to various criteria. They judged the Giants’ job to be less desirable than the Mets or Guardians but above the Angels. So the Giants may be limited to managerial prospects who might overlook these substantial downsides.
With these factors in mind, the managerial possibilities seem to divide into three categories:
- Internal candidates: On the Giants’ current staff, the following seem likely to be considered and/or to get interviews:
- Ron Wotus: Wotus may check all of the boxes. He might be willing to take the job despite organizational instability because of his long history with the team, and the fans might welcome him because of his connection to the Bochy era. He also is credited especially for helping develop young infielders on the job such as Crawford, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and even Pablo Sandoval back in the day. Alex Pavlovic seems to think that Wotus is unlikely to get serious consideration (maybe it’s a familiarity breeds contempt kind of thing).
- Kai Correa: Kerry Crowley ranked him highly as to charisma (right along with Wotus) and good work with player development (he especially mentioned the infield defense improvements this year of Davis, Wade Jr., and Estrada), but mused that he might be too associated with Kapler to be considered a good all-around candidate.
- Mark Hallberg: Hallberg, of course, is best known for being a college teammate/roommate of Buster Posey at Florida State and a very good third-base coach the last two years. Crowley described Hallberg as “smart,” but marked him down as to “charisma.” You know who else is “smart”?–Zaidi and Kapler. Maybe the Giants need less “smart” and more “people skills” and “common sense.”
- Former players with little/no managerial experience: The two names that keep coming up are Stephen Vogt, the former backup catcher and local guy who’s been coaching for the Mariners, and Pat Burrell, who’s been scouting/coaching for the Giants for years. Burrell has charisma for sure (maybe TOO much) and seems to be very savvy about player development. Fans would love a Pat Burrell hire. A couple of other names that have come up are former Giants Nick Hundley and Mark DeRosa. And no, Posey is not going to become the manager. C’mon.
- Experienced external candidates: We already know that Bob Melvin is staying in San Diego, and even if the Brewers’ Craig Counsell becomes available, I can’t imagine why he’d want to come to a less desirable situation in San Francisco than what he has now in Milwaukee (even though I know the answer to that is always $$$). Maybe the most interesting possibility is former Giants’ hitting coach and current Rangers’ bench coach Donnie Ecker, who is (a) a local guy (b) knows the Giants and has succeeded here and (c) now will have experience coaching playoff baseball under Bochy. I’m sure there are other less obvious possibilities on other teams, but those seem to be the most interesting ones. (Could Dusty Baker come back to SF for one last hurrah?–Nah, I don’t think so, but it would be a fun story.)
Having considered all of this, I’d say the most likely possibilities are Wotus, Vogt, and Ecker. However, I have this dismal sinking feeling that Zaidi will do something stupid here. Hope he proves me wrong.
OK. I’ve got baseball/football/basketball to watch, so I’ll leave it here for now. Happy fall! Lefty out.