ORACLE PARK — As he sat among a throng of well-wishers, Giants legends, World Series heroes and one Tim Lincecum, all paying tribute to the retiring Bruce Bochy, San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi felt like he didn’t quite belong.
“Obviously, I felt a little less deserving than some of the guys that actually, you know, put those teams together and had actually been on the field and won games,” he said.
Two days later, Zaidi announced that he would interview two internal candidates — and six to eight external ones — for Bochy’s vacated post. While Bochy lieutenants Ron Wotus and Hensley Meulens will get first crack at interviews in the next week, the candidate pool — and the job requirements — extend far beyond having strong gut instincts and the ability to manage a bullpen.
An emotional Bochy said on Sunday that the Giants manager job is “the best job in baseball,” but it’s certainly not the only one that’s open this offseason. As of Tuesday afternoon, five other teams are looking for new skippers, and the candidate pools may overlap, complicating timing.
Zaidi did give some clues as to what San Francisco is looking for, and they started with what he witnessed on the field on Sunday.
”A really important feature of quality that I want the next manager, I mean, it’s not something you can necessarily pinpoint, but just being a relationship builder,” Zaidi said. “Somebody that has the demeanor and personality that people want to play for you do your best for you and actually put the team above individual goals. That’s maybe the truest of leadership traits.”
While managerial jobs are trending toward younger, less-experienced skippers who will work as partners with analytics-heavy front offices, Zaidi said that experience — at any level — would be a plus, but not a prerequisite.
“If nobody every hired any first-time managers, we would just have the same pool of candidates,” Zaidi said.
The Angels, Royals, Pirates, Cubs and Padres are all looking for new managers, with the Phillies possibly set to join after a disappointing maiden year with superstar Bryce Harper.
With Philadelphia missing the postseason, it’s highly likely that manager Gabe Kapler is relieved of his responsibilities. Kapler — who had never managed before being hired by the Phillies — is famously immersed in the world of analytics, and was one of Zaidi’s favored candidates before the Dodgers hired Dave Roberts.
“I think what we’ve seen with managers is that there’s a learning curve, not just within an individual managing experience, but a lot of times guys do better and have more traction their second time around because of the lessons that they’ve learned,” Zaidi said. “I think all that will be factored in. And certainly not disqualifying to have not done it before.”
The ability to build enduring, personal relationships will be paramount for the Giants as they evaluate candidates. Given that the general manager search will happen concurrently, out of necessity (“Neither pool is going to wait around to have one process done,” Zaidi said), the ability of the manager and general manager to work together will be a factor.
“I think in the modern game, having a manager that can have productive and trusting relationships in both avenues is really important,” Zaidi said.
The external candidates could include Kapler, A.J. Hinch (who, as a Stanford grad, has Bay Area ties), Eric Chavez (he and Zaidi know one another from their time in Oakland), Ron Washington, Mark Kotsay or any number of first-time, long-time or no-time managers. Maybe if they throw enough money at Bob Melvin, he could come across the Bay.
Both Meulens and Wotus have managed, and both bring years of player development and player relationship building to the table.
Meulens, a Curaçaoan native who’s played in Japan, Korea, the Dominican Republic and the United States, speaks five languages (English, Spanish, Japanese Dutch and Papamiento) and has managed the Dutch entry into the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s been Bochy’s hitting coach since 2010, and is beloved among the players for his ability to relate, and, like Bochy, to spin an instructional yarn.
Wotus, Zaidi’s third-base coach, has been with San Francisco since 1998, originally serving under Dusty Baker, who’s still a consultant with the organization. He’s managed at Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A, earning Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 1997 for the Phoenix Firebirds.
There wasn’t nearly as much clarity in terms of the general manager candidates. Zaidi left the job requirements fairly open-ended.
“It’s really about just sharing the load of managing the overall operation,” Zaidi said. “And I think by not defining it, specifically, it opens up the candidate pool, whether it’s somebody that has experience and expertise in scouting, or player development, for administration — whatever their strengths are — hopefully we can complement each other, work well and increase our overall management bandwidth.”
Both hirings, Zaidi said, will be a true process.
“There’s no favorite,” he said, “let alone somebody who has either job in the bag.”