Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: San Francisco Giants took a tumble with decisions

One year after being a force in the National League, the San Francisco Giants sank back into mediocrity and fired their manager
Jul 26, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; San Francisco Giants general manager Pete Putila,
Jul 26, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; San Francisco Giants general manager Pete Putila, / Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Farhad Zaidi/Pete Putila front office 2023 short-term impact for San Francisco Giants: -13.1 games. Rank in MLB: 29. Rank in division: 5.

When Scott Harris left as general manager to assume control of the Detroit Tigers operation last autumn, Putila was hired to succeed him as Zaidi’s right-hand man.

It’s been a fast ascendency for Putila. Barely a decade out of college, Putila caught on as an intern with the Houston Astros and did well enough to earn a promotion as assistant general manager in 2019. That’s where Zaidi found him last October.

Unfortunately for Giants fans, the first season of the Zaidi-Putila cooperative was, on the field at least, a rocky one. The Giants front office was one of only two in baseball whose collective impact on team fortunes (as measured by the Wins Above Average of their personnel decisions) was worse than the number of games by which they failed to qualify for postseason play.

In the case of the Giants, those figures were a minus-13.1 game WAA impact and a five-game playoff miss. These things are harsh to say but real: the data says Zaidi and Putila maneuvered their team out of the postseason picture.

Obviously that’s not good.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

It wasn’t that Zaidi and Putila did a lot from a volume standpoint. In fact, by MLB standards, they ran a relatively tranquil operation. But when they did do something, it generally backfired.

Since the conclusion of the 2022 post-season, Zaidi, Putila and their leadership team made 50 personnel moves affecting a major league roster. Only 15 of those 50 moves worked to the benefit of the Giants, while more than twice that many (34) produced a negative impact (one was neutral). The sum total of that short-term impact on Giants’ 2023 fortunes works out to minus-13.1 games.

The picture is even more bleak when you consider the impact of players introduced to the organization either in the run-up to or during 2023. There were 31 such players: eight trade acquisitions, 10 free agents, and 13 rookies. Only four (relievers Ryan Walker, Taylor Rogers, Tristan Beck and September infield callup Tyler Fitzgerald) produced positive WAAs … and those four only totaled +1.2.

The Giants contended because the 21 players constituting the residue of the Zaidi-Harris administration performed well. That residue included most of the roster we think of when we think of the Giants: Logan Webb, Mike Yastrzemski, Wilmer Flores, Alex Cobb, Brandon Crawford and Lamonte Wade.

The Zaidi-Putila free agent record was especially distressing, and statistically probably represented the coup de grace to the team's postseason hopes. They brought in or re-signed four veterans who got significant 2023 playing time: Michael Conforto, Sean Manaea, Joc Pederson and Mitch Haniger. The cumulative WAA impact of those four players on team fortunes was minus-3.3 games.

The total minus-6.1 impact of the team’s free agent signings ranked 29th in baseball, while the minus-1.7 net impact of players lost to free agency ranked 27th. In combination, that gave the Giants front office the game’s worst performance at the free agency bargaining table of 2023.

Here’s the full short-term and long-term statistical profile on the Zaidi-Putila 2023 performance. Again, all figures reflect group Wins Above Average. Because this is the team’s first season working as a unit, there is no prior-season data.

  • Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase: 8 players, minus-2.4 net impact
  • Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons: 12 players, minus-6.1 net impact
  • System products: 13 players, minus-3.3 net impact.
  • Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency: 18 players, minus-1.3 net impact.

In considering all this bad news, it’s perhaps whimsical to consider the various winter might-have-beens. The Giants, after all, came close to signing Aaron Judge, and they did have Carlos Correa under contract before getting cold feet.

But baseball is not played in fantasyland, which is why the San Francisco Giants front office ranks 29th.