I’m glad I didn’t try to do a post right after the game yesterday because I was FUMING. After a lovely birthday dinner with Lefty Jr and four of her friends last night and some sleep, I’m more able to think objectively about…Nah. I’m still fuming.
Let’s get this part out of the way. I’m not in the “Fire Zaidi” or calling-for-his-head camp after ONE game. But it’s not just “one game”–it’s an almost five-month track record since he was hired, Winter Meetings, and entire spring camp. He didn’t just walk in last week. (That was Connor Joe, Michael Reed, and Erik Kratz who just walked in last week.)
My thesis in this post is that Zaidi is new at his job and learning a new organization, and it is not surprising that he might have miscalculated or suffered from “paralysis by analysis,” nor does it mean that his tenure with the Giants is going to be a miserable failure. It’s way too soon to tell that at all, and I still believe there’s a way better chance that he will be extremely successful. And I do think the Zaidi has improved the pitching staff and the bench incrementally.
The outfield, though. It is worse than last year, and it was quite bad last year. And Zaidi appears to have missed the opportunity for now to make it better this year. More on this below.
Opening Day Impressions
The #1 reason we made the effort to make this trip was that we are painfully aware it could very well be Madison Bumgarner’s last Opening Day start as a Giant. We were there for him. He did not disappoint.
Before I say a few dozen negative words about the Giants’ outfield and Farhan Zaidi’s missteps in constructing it, I do want to acknowledge that it was Connor Joe’s major league debut, and one of the first things we spotted after sitting down was a couple right behind home plate wearing Giants Joe #18 jerseys. We assume these were his parents, especially since Joe is a local boy from San Diego.
The Outfield, Part 1: Who Are These Guys?
Remember when Farhan Zaidi was hired in November, when he did pressers at the Winter Meetings and at the Giants Fanfest, when they were trying to sign Bryce Harper? Two new outfielders, he said. We’re working on a bunch of different things. If the Harper thing doesn’t happen, don’t worry, Giants fans! Zaidi has a Plan B in his back pocket he’s been working on, and he’ll pivot right to it.
This is not just impatient fans being ridiculous. This is what Zaidi said, at multiple points since he was hired, that we could expect. It’s fair to judge him on whether or not he lived up to the expectations that he created.
Instead, there was…well, what was that? I’ll let Andrew Baggarly take it from here.
Their Opening Day outfield included Connor Joe in left field and Michael Reed in right. Both players come across as fine and upstanding young men who demonstrated a talent for getting on base in the high minors. But these were not the players that Giants fans anticipated when president Farhan Zaidi pledged to bolster the lineup with two starting outfielders.
A few months ago, when Zaidi was finishing up his tenure as the Dodgers general manager, he didn’t value Joe highly enough to put him on the 40-man roster. On Thursday, that player not only was the Giants’ Opening Day left fielder, but they issued him Matt Cain’s No. 18.
“If you had told me I’d be in San Diego for Opening Day starting for the Giants, I’d think you’re crazy,” Joe said. “Absolutely crazy.”
So what the hell happened?
As Baggs and the other beat writers explained, Zaidi responded to the question of “what the hell happened?” by explaining that his plans to trade from the Giants’ depth of bullpen options for an outfielder(s) didn’t pan out. Yeah, no kidding.
So you can make all the excuses about the bad contracts and limited options Zaidi had, the mess he inherited from Sabean and Evans, and some of that is fair. But some of this is on him, too. He had months, he had a slow-moving market, and while he had limited options, that’s not the same as no options. He tried to spin it.
“I’m excited to see what these guys can do. Connor Joe and Michael Reed have both earned this opportunity with the springs that they had and what they did last year.
“We’ve said all along that with where we are as a franchise and organization, to have a successful season, we’re going to need contributions from guys our fans aren’t familiar with yet. It’ll be up to them now to make the fans familiar with them, with what they do on the field.”
Yeah, OK. Nice try. But Baggs nailed it. Six months ago Zaidi didn’t even like Joe well enough to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, and the Reds didn’t like him enough to keep him after spring training, either. In fact, Connor Joe has been traded four times since he was drafted in 2014: from Pittsburgh to Atlanta to the Dodgers to the Reds and now to the Giants.
My opinion is that Zaidi just miscalculated and mistimed the market. He waited too long for the perfect deal(s) and he ended up with literally nothing for the outfield.
The Connor Joe thing is particularly amazing, and not just because of his Rule 5 status. The guy is Not. An. Outfielder. And he’s especially not a left fielder. Before yesterday, he’d played exactly 11 games in left field as a pro, 10 of those 11 in the Arizona Fall League in 2016. Joe has played the most games at 1B (167), then 3B (136), then 46 games in RF. Now he’s part of the ongoing trivia item about the different Opening Day left fielders every year since Bonds manned the position–now at 13 straight years, and sure to be 14 this time next year because you can take it to the bank that it won’t be Connor Joe in LF on Opening Day next year.
I predict that neither of these guys will “make the fans familiar with them.” Joe will be back in the Dodgers organization (returned as a Rule 5 player) or traded again before June and Reed will be elsewhere or outrighted to AAA, to be churned with the other nondescript pieces Zaidi has parked there, all those guys who failed to make an impression in spring training (Austin Slater, Henry Ramos, Anthony Garcia, Mike Gerber, etc.).
Oh, speaking of nondescript AAA outfielders, check out this piece of news: Chris Shaw is being sent to AA Richmond to start the season. There is “no room” for him in Sacramento because of the exciting list above, plus Yaz’s grandson. Now, I’m as dubious about Chris Shaw’s upside as the rest of you are, but you’ve got to feel for the guy. You do the work, you come up through the organization, play a year and a half in AAA and make your major league debut in September–and the next spring you’re demoted back to AA? And because…who, exactly, is blocking you, either at the major league or AAA level? But Shaw can at least take comfort in not being Mac Williamson right now.
The Outfield, Part 2: Mac is Gone?
OK, technically Mac is not gone yet. He’s been designated for assignment, and if he clears waivers, he’ll be outrighted to AAA Sacramento. But chances are someone who’s seen him pulverize baseballs 450 feet will take a chance on him, and maybe we’ll watch from a distance as he hits 25 homers for another team.
Literally a week ago I was sure I’d be seeing Mac Williamson start in left field on Opening Day. To quote Baggs again, “So what the hell happened?”
The short version is “he had a bad spring.” The longer version, as Grant Brisbee detailed with some disgust yesterday, is that the Giants thought they needed 13 pitchers and Pablo Sandoval more than they needed a power-hitting right-handed corner outfielder. And, bewilderingly, Zaidi somehow thinks they need Connor Joe and Michael Reed more than a power-hitting corner outfielder, too.
This isn’t just about Mac himself; the “Mac Wars” have almost as much staying power as the “Belt Wars,” and I get both sides of the argument about Mac. It’s about a team that was already dangerously thin in the outfield and even more starved for power just dumping one of their only options to fill those gaps. Now, admittedly he was a flawed option, but it’s like the saying, “Don’t quit your job until you’ve lined up a new one.” Maybe your old job isn’t perfect. But it’s better than no job. From Grant’s piece:
…the Giants’ starting outfield on Opening Day includes a Rule 5 pick and a player who was waived in October…That’s the part that makes me think, gee, maybe they should keep Williamson, just in case? It’s not like there’s a cadre of outfield prospects in Double A that might explode and jump up two levels. There was already no safety net with this high-wire act, but now they’ve installed spikes on the concrete floor. If Joe and Reed flop, it’s only going to get messier.
Zaidi’s comments about Mac make me madder than almost anything else. As Baggs paraphrased it:
In short, from Farhan Zaidi, on why Mac Williamson didn’t make the team: he needed a good spring to force his way onto the team given its construction and coverage issues. And he didn’t have a good spring.
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) March 28, 2019
Wait…what? A power-hitting corner outfielder has to “force his way onto the team given its construction”? That makes…no sense whatsoever. (And what exactly did Connor Joe and Michael Reed do to “force their way” and earn those spots over Mac?) Zaidi is just pulling roster decisions out of his rear end and flailing to explain them, and I don’t care what his Ph.D. is in. I call BS.
Now I will say something about Mac himself. I think the Giants owed him this one last opportunity after his concussion last year. A dying Peter Magowan apologized to Mac during his very last visit to the park last season for the placement of the bullpen mounds, saying that former commissioner Bud Selig had opposed the design for safety reasons. It even occurred to me that those comments could be grounds for a lawsuit if this turns out to be the end of the road for Mac’s career. And they did it to Mac in the cruelest of ways, on Opening Day, when it may be too late for him to catch on with other teams that just finished setting their own rosters.
Anyway, it all feels wrong and short-sighted and mean-spirited and flat-out stupid, and yes, now I’m fuming again.
Maybe this will end up like the time Joe “Light Years” Lacob got booed off the court at Oracle Arena by angry Warriors fans. We’ll all look back at the 2019 starting lineup and laugh together at some happy World Series parade in the future. However, ol’ Light Years had to wait a few years to get from boos to parade(s). We’ll see how long it takes Wonder Boy.
OK, turning from the fuming to some vacation fun. We planned this trip because it is spring break for me this week and our daughter’s birthday, so she and her boyfriend are here with us. Mr. Lefty and I got a room in our Gaslamp District hotel with a view of the ballpark.
Our seats at the game were great, and the weather was perfect. After all the trips we’ve taken down here to watch the Giants play the Padres, I could even take some pleasure in the enthusiasm and energy from the Padres fans. The park was rocking, and people were yelling and screaming in the streets for two hours after the game like they’d won the pennant or something. I’m happy for them, despite my chagrin about my own team. Oh, and I got to say hi to the Crawniks.
We had a great birthday dinner at Fleming’s, and I’d told the kids there could be celebrity (=Giants) sightings, and indeed there were. Sitting right by us was a big table with all four Giants broadcasters, Amy G, and a few others–seemed to be an NBCS-BA team dinner or something. They left a few minutes before we did and walked by our table, so we gave them a “Go Giants,” and Duane Kuiper patted Lefty Jr’s boyfriend on the shoulder, which was terribly exciting. We also saw a table of Giants coaches, and I gave Ron Wotus a “Go Giants” as I passed them. He said “Thank you!” and sounded actually grateful and a little surprised(!).
Today we’re going to chill, enjoy the weather, maybe catch a movie, and gear up for another game tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow with any new observations for my usual Saturday post, hoping for better things.
Giants at Padres, Petco Park, 7:10 p.m.
Derek Holland vs. Joey Lucchesi
Here’s the Giants lineup, and hoo boy. I guess now Joe and Reed are everyday players and Belt and Panik are platoon players.
Well this is different: Reed RF, Posey 1B, Solarte 2B, Longoria 3B, Crawford SS, Joe LF, Duggar CF, Kratz C, Holland LHP
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) March 29, 2019