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Farhan Zaidi on KNBR: ‘We need to rethink everything’



(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

A pair of seasons that began with high expectations and devolved into mediocrity have inspired questions about the direction of the Giants franchise.

With president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler both entering the final year of their contracts in 2024, the organization is at somewhat of a crossroads.

After finishing 81-81 last season, the Giants need to win all three of their final games — all at home against the Dodgers — to reach the .500 mark again.

Kapler, in his regular pregame session with the media Wednesday, took responsibility for the team’s disappointing 2023 season that has featured a second-half collapse. Kapler, the 2021 National League Manager of the Year, hasn’t maximized a flawed roster bequeathed to him by Zaidi.

Two weeks ago, before a pivotal road trip, the Giants were 75-71 and had a 40% chance at reaching the postseason, per Fangraphs. Then they went 2-8 away from Oracle Park, extending a historically poor stretch of road play and falling out of the playoff race. They lost three of four in Coors Field and got swept in a two-game set in Arizona.

“We played our worst baseball when it mattered the most,” Zaidi said in his last KNBR interview with Tolbert & Copes of the season.

The way the Giants have finished this season, coupled with some stories trickling out of the clubhouse, have pointed a spotlight at leadership.

Chairman Greg Johnson has repeatedly committed to both Kapler and Zaidi for next season publicly. Asked if Kapler’s role as manager in 2024 has changed, Zaidi didn’t answer directly:

“Obviously, I think as I said at the time: I really appreciate the support from ownership, and the plan to have us both back. Right now, our focus is kind of getting through these last three games, finishing strong, finishing .500. I think we all just have to look at, you know, how we can improve across the board. That’s the personnel on the roster, that’s our culture in the clubhouse. Which, again, when you’re playing well, certain things culturally are portrayed as ‘Hey, this team loves being together, they’re having fun.’ But when you’re not doing well, those things can be seen in a negative light.

I just think we have to look at everything. There’s certainly a time and place for everything. I’ve been talking to a few people about how 162 games is a grind, and we want our players to be comfortable being able to wash off some of the tough losses, things like that. But when you’re in do-or-die games like those games in Arizona, you want them to feel different. And I think we’re really going to have to ask ourselves if we were prepared to sort of elevate our level of focus and play for those games that really mattered down the stretch.”

As the team spiraled in September, The Athletic detailed in a column some clubhouse trends — including card games and occasional upbeat music after losses — that suggest an attitude that may be too lax for some.

After his start this week, ace Logan Webb said the team needs to make “big changes” to create a winning culture. Webb, the homegrown Cy Young candidate, is a leader and the only player signed through 2026 and 2027.

“I was actually really happy to see his comments,” Zaidi said on KNBR. “Not ‘happy’ is the right word. But I felt good about it because you want to feel like you have standards. And we haven’t met the standards of the San Francisco Giants for last two seasons. If he’s calling people out, people should feel called out. I should feel called out. Because I’m responsible for the team and the success of the team, and we haven’t been at the end of this year or last year where we want to be.”

This season has been defined, in large part, by veterans underperforming. The Giants spread out their money last winter — after falling short in the Aaron Judge sweepstakes and deciding not to sign shortstop Carlos Correa — on Mitch Haniger, Michael Conforto, Taylor Rogers, Ross Stripling, Joc Pederson and Sean Manaea. Most of those free agent signings, plus Brandon Crawford and other returning veterans, weren’t able to prop up the influx of young talent as designed.

The Giants expected to hit a lot of home runs, as they did in 2021, but are ranked 19th in the category. They planned on getting more athletic and better defensively, but are last in stolen bases and first in errors committed. On Wednesday night, they broke their single-season franchise record for striking out.

Zaidi described ranking last in steals as “a smoking gun.” As the rest of the league adapted to the new rules that incentivized stolen bases, San Francisco fell behind. Given that, Zaidi said SF will prioritize speed and athleticism this upcoming winter; he stated the same goal at the end of 2022.

Asked how else he might approach this upcoming offseason, Zaidi said the team’s goal will be locking in long-term contracts — either from within the organization or outside via signing or trade. That would be a departure from their current track record of mostly one-year or modified one-year deals with opt-out clauses.

“We’re going to focus on guys who have a chance to be here for a long time,” Zaidi said.

Changes, as Webb said, are afoot in one way or another.

“I think when (Webb) says ‘big changes,’ that can come in a lot of forms. We need to rethink how we’re thinking about players, how we’re putting together the roster. Our players need to think about the culture they’re fostering, our manager and coaching staff needs to think about the culture we have in our clubhouse. I think we need to rethink everything, so I’m glad he said that.” 

Listen to the full interview above. You can listen to every KNBR interview on our podcast page at knbr.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Catch Tolbert & Copes weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on KNBR 104.5 / 680 and streaming live on KNBR.com.