Giants new president believes in winning, not stars

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — He came on purposefully and quietly, which seems to be Farhan Zaidi’s way — if not the way Giants fans might wish the team’s new president to act.

The Giants have had consecutive losing seasons, interest declining along with attendance. You might then expect Zaidi, hired away from the dreaded Dodgers, to make a boast or two about how he is going to turn the Giants into the champions they used to be.

Maybe a mention of Bryce Harper or a suggestion about Madison Bumgarner’s future. A tease, a promise, a hint.

But Zaidi, a 41-year-old Canadian who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did graduate work at Cal, made no headlines. What he talked about on Tuesday at AT&T Park was making progress.

Zaidi never played baseball in the pros, but he’s played the front-office game, learning with Billy Beane in Oakland, then working as GM of the Dodgers, who were in the World Series a second straight year.

But again didn’t win. As opposed to the Giants, who did win the Series in 2010, '12 and '14, making us remember Beane’s sad words after the A’s were bounced in the early 2000s that the postseason is a crapshoot.

“Bittersweet,” Zaidi called the Dodgers’ everything-but-the-championship years. “Coming up short. But you’d like to get to the doorstep every year and take your chances.”

The Giants don’t seem to taking any chances with Zaidi. He knows the landscape. The Dodgers play the Giants 19 times a season. He knows what succeeds, attention to detail, rebuilding a depleted farm system. No move is too small, though the Giants' home run output was.

“The message," he said, "is to have maximum flexibility in the organization.”

Zaidi is new baseball, analytics — which you would expect from an MIT grad — but he is not opposed to old baseball, which is that the eyeball tells you about a player. So that makes him very accepting of longtime Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whom Zaidi calls “Boch.”

The front office (after discussions and advice) determines who will be on the roster. The manager, said Zaidi, determines who will be on the field.

“That new school-old school potential conflict is oversimplified,” he said. “It’s a convenient narrative to see a class of schools of thought. But I don’t see it that way. We had two managers of the year, Bob Melvin (A’s) and Dave Roberts.

“The game is hard. Managing is real hard. Fans wonder why a guy swung at a slider down and away. As somebody who doesn’t have the most illustrious playing career on his resume, I think it’s fair for me to always remember that.”

What Zaidi found out with the thrifty A’s was that "no move is too small not to be worth a certain level of detail.” Baseball is a sport by committee. The lineup counts more than the individual.

The Dodgers and Giants are big-budget teams, but the money must be spent wisely.

“I feel fans want to see a winning team, and winning drives up attendance,” said Zaidi. ”Just try to put together a good baseball team. Stars will come out of that. What kind of total team you develop is important. I don’t see targeting stars as important as trying to fill a team with good players.”

Zaidi said he owes his career to Beane, who in getting the A’s from the bottom to the playoffs in only a season deservedly was named major league baseball executive of the year. “To be in the same city as Billy is really exciting,” said Zaidi, ignoring the dividing waters of the bay. 


When he accompanied the Dodgers to San Francisco, he walked to the games from Union Square, savoring the opportunity to mix with pedestrians and as he neared AT&T the fans.

“My first major league game,” he recalled, “was in 1987, Candy Maldonado and Will Clark went back-to-back. I thought all games were that exciting.”

They may be again in San Francisco. In part, it’s up to Farhan Zaidi.

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