San Francisco Giants: Who’s running my team

San Francisco, CA - NOVEMBER 07: San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer (left) introduces Farhan Zaidi as the team's new president of baseball operations during a news conference, Wednesday, November 7, 2018, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)
San Francisco, CA - NOVEMBER 07: San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer (left) introduces Farhan Zaidi as the team's new president of baseball operations during a news conference, Wednesday, November 7, 2018, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images) /

One of a series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team. Let’s take a closer look at the San Francisco Giants.

San Francisco Giants

  • Chief Executive Officer: Greg Johnson
  • Executive Vice President: Brian Sabean
  • President of Baseball Operations: Farhan Zaidi

For years the San Francisco Giants’ operational structure has been one of the most defined in baseball. Owners set broad organizational guidelines generally including budget, but rarely if ever meddled in the actual pursuit of building a winning team.

That responsibility has been left to the chief baseball officer and his hand-picked staff.

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So it very much was when Brian Sabean ran that front office through three World Series wins, and so it continues today under the aegis of Farzan Zaidi, one of the three or four most powerful executives in the game.

The ownership group, a 29-person conglomerate that includes Larry Baer, former Yahoo exec Jeff Mallett and Charles B. Johnson, CEO of Franklin Templeton Investments.  Johnson’s son, Greg Johnson, was elevated to the position of chairman and controlling owner in November.

For practical purposes, however, this is Zaidi’s team. He comes to the position from an unusual background, his academic credentials including degrees from MIT and Cal-Berkeley in economics. Where better to utilize two economics degrees than in the front office of the Oakland Athletics? In 2005, that’s where Zaidi landed, first as an analyst and eventually as an assistant general manager under Professor Billy Beane.

Zaidi must have done a great job because within a year the Dodgers made him their general manager. The team made annual post-season appearances, Zaidi picking up much of the credit.

Following a 2018 season in which the Giants played sub-.500 ball for the second consecutive year, ownership concluded that things needed to change.  They fired GM Bobby Evans, kicked Sabean upstairs, and coaxed Zaidi out of LA with the promise of control over the team’s destiny.

Financially, the Giants have assets that approach shamelessness. Forbes puts the franchise’s value at $3 billion, making it the fifth most valued in all of MLB. That’s about a six-fold valuation jump during the most recent decade.

During that decade, the San Francisco Giants passed the Cardinals, Angels, and Phillies in market value. That’s what winning three World Series in five seasons will do for you.

They took in $462 million in revenue in 2019, the fourth largest amount, trailing only the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox. There are several reasons for that, but one stands out. In 2019, Giants fans ponied up at the confiscatory rate of $183 apiece to attend a game at Oracle Park, a figure that dwarfs the runner-up (For the record, it was Boston, at $105.)

If Giants fans felt abused, they had a funny way of showing it. More than 2.7 million of them came to the games. It says something about the commitment of the Giants fans base that as strong as that 2.7 million figure was, it was actually the team’s worst attendance in this century.

Over the course of the season, Oracle Park netted $762 million in revenues to the team, a figure substantially influenced by the naming rights deal that went into effect at the season’s start. That deal made Oracle Park the game’s second-best revenue-producing site behind only Yankee Stadium.

The combination of a productive stadium and a productive fan base has allowed the Giants to operate their payroll in a loose, carefree manner. Revenues have risen so much that between 2016 and 2019 the percentage of revenue devoted to player acquisitions has actually fallen from 49 percent to 41 percent despite maintaining payrolls consistently between $180 million and $205 million.

With the team in the midst of its first serious rebuilding in a generation, that appears to be changing. The San Francisco Giants are projected to enter 2020 with a $151 million payroll. If that happens, it would be the smallest in San Francisco since 2013.

Under Zaidi’s command, the Dodger farm system kicked out productive parts virtually on demand. Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Walker Buehler all were Zaidi products. With the Giants, Zaidi’s best move was a low-level deal. In March he shipped a 27-year old AA pitcher named Tyler Herb to the Orioles for Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of the Hall of Famer. This Yaz batted .272 with a 123 OPS+ for the Giants.

The Giants obviously have a lot farther to go than any of Zaidi’s Dodger teams ever did. The Dodger club Zaidi inherited had gone 92-70 and one season earlier won the NL West by eight full games … over the Giants. The Giants team he took over had finished 73-89, 18 and one-half games behind his own Dodgers the season before.

Going forward Zaidi’s first task is to rebuild a leaking, aging talent base. Madison Bumgarner is gone, the 2019 everyday lineup started five guys in their 30s, and the team hit .239 with fewer home runs than any National League team except the Pirates and Marlins.

On the plus side, Zaidi has both the authority to act and the resources to affect change. What he has not yet done is actually implement a plan. The team’s six highest-paid players entering 2020 are Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Collectively they will make about $110.5 million.

In exchange for that money they netted the San Francisco Giants –1.0 Wins Above Average*, proving that $110 million doesn’t buy what it used to.

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*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.