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Kolsky: Farhan Zaidi’s blend of traditional scouting and new-age baseball analytics will move Giants forward

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Farhan Zaidi addresses the media as he is introduced as the new San Francisco Giants President of Baseball Operations on Nov. 7, 2018. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

I won’t lie to you here, I was hoping the Giants would hire Kim Ng for no reason more clever or complicated than thinking it makes for a good story — traditionalist baseball franchise in liberal city hires first female head of baseball in MLB history. I write and talk about sports for a living, sue me if I’m rooting the most delicious narrative.

The fact is, I truly have no idea which of the candidates to head up San Francisco’s baseball operations would do the best job at spearheading the massive undertaking to come. Heck, they may still hire Ng as the GM under new president Farhan Zaidi; she’s certainly qualified and was an appealing enough option to earn multiple interviews.

In the meantime, what the Giants have done is noteworthy. Zaidi is both a hot name and a perfect fit for the job description the team provided at the start of their search — Larry Baer said the club wanted a “next-gen,” modern baseball executive to employ a philosophy combining advanced analytics with traditional scouting, and told us that “the most important thing is a great baseball mind.” Zaidi is all of that and more.

Without belaboring his non-traditional path to baseball aristocracy, Zaidi is among the most unique and well-educated folks in the game. He has developed a reputation for both great scouting (credited for discovering Yoenis Cespedes, among others) and outside-the-box, forward thinking as an executive.

He also answers a major question for me: I viewed this search with concern, wondering how new any Giants regime could be if Brian Sabean and Baer were active participants in it. I have great respect for the work that both of those men have done, but they have also presided over the recent collapse and both clearly make their presences felt in any room around AT&T Park.

That said, there is no doubt in my mind that those organization stalwarts must have promised to cede full control to Zaidi in order to lure him away from a great job with a winning franchise in Los Angeles. Taking a valued front-office asset from the Boys in Blue is just another positive aspect of the move — it’s not a perfect analogy, but taking Zaidi from the Dodgers could be the Giants’ front office version of the Warriors’ signing Kevin Durant.

What comes next is still a long row to hoe. Zaidi has about a month to self-scout the Giants system and develop a plan for the future, then he’ll have to hit the winter meetings running to begin resurrecting a squad that has lost 187 games over the past two seasons. The first major decision — whether to pursue Bryce Harper and a “re-load” strategy to bolster a veteran roster, or instead go full rebuild and attempt to get reasonable trade value for some of the most cherished names in recent history?

I lean towards full rebuild, simply because even in the seemingly unlikely event that they land Harper, it’s difficult to imagine the Giants assembling a championship-contending team around him in the immediate future.

Harper would only partially address a destitute offense. The current pitching staff has veterans who are capable of greatness (if healthy), and even some promising youth (at least in Dereck Rodriguez), but it’s a far cry from the World Series rotations.

This roster appears to need at least one high-level starter and another big bat in addition to Harper to build a real contender for the division, not to mention a championship; and that’s without addressing a questionable bullpen. Even with that, they would remain vulnerable to the sorts of injuries and production dips that often come with aging rosters and have defined the last two seasons.

Full rebuild is no picnic either, though — and to this point, Giants’ upper management has been unwilling to risk the box office hit that tearing apart an old title team can often produce. It’s even more difficult in this case because of those same roster deficiencies.

Frankly, there are very few players on the current roster whose trade value would provide a return sufficient to jump-start a rebuild. Madison Bumgarner is the obvious candidate — a stud left-hander with serious playoff pedigree who has actually been pretty darn good when he’s been on the field the last two seasons.

It’s hard to find another player that teams would sacrifice a major prospect for. Buster Posey is infinitely more valuable here than elsewhere; Johnny Cueto is expensive and injured; Jeff Samardzija is expensive and bad; Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria are over 30 and playing some of the worst baseball of their careers; Joe Panik is playing worse. Maybe Brandon Crawford has value.

The point is, this is a tough gig. The Giants are in one of the worst places a baseball franchise can be — a past champion with an aging, losing roster and no clear path to significant improvement.

The good news is, the Giants did find their baseball executive for the modern era. Farhan Zaidi’s team has made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, from 2012-14 with the Oakland A’s to the last four seasons in L.A.

That streak might be in jeopardy, but it’s a track record that should provide a lot of encouragement around China Basin.

Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, 5a-6a every weekday morning. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.

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