The San Francisco Giants are mercifully close to the end of another losing season. When it’s over, it will mark the worst two-season loss total for the franchise since the mid-1980’s.
Teams with sustained runs of excellence — certainly a fair description of the Giants’ results in the first half of this decade — often collapse in this fashion: holding on too long to past glory, paying too much for aging non-contributors, falling into ignominy before a rebuilding period.
Downslides of this nature are frequently punctuated by turnover, not only up and down the roster but in the coaching and front office ranks, so it’s no surprise that the Giants have made changes over the last year-plus. Especially when ownership’s representation is paying lip service to a change in philosophy and “the next generation of Giants baseball,” heads are bound to roll.
If the Giants want us to believe in that vision of the future, though, they are tripping over themselves even more than they have in scrambling to “reload” in the last two offseasons.
This year’s edition of musical chairs began with the dismissal of strength coach Carl Kochan, a seven-year employee who was popular with players, and persisted with Bobby Evans “stepping down” as GM after four seasons of holding that title — the front office version of firing your strength coach.
The fundamental lie of both of these moves is that either man should be held accountable for the struggles of the last two seasons, most obvious in the case of Kochan, who bears even less responsibility than last year’s coaching fall guy Dave Righetti. In the case of Evans, this passive deception is highlighted by the fact that he will remain with the Giants in some other capacity.
Perhaps more to the point, the Giants’ true leadership cabal of CEO Larry Baer and whatever-they’re-calling-him-now Brian Sabean remains firmly in place.
I’m not here to call for Baer or Sabean’s job, but it’s important to point out that they were undoubtedly the men who chose the direction of this franchise in each of the last few offseasons. Suggesting that Bobby Evans had that level of autonomous decision-making power is as reasonable as expecting Buster Posey to hit 25 homers next season.
Major philosophical decisions about the direction of a franchise, particularly a franchise with a sold-out ballpark 81 nights each year, are made at the very top. Whether you believe this regime is more a representation of Sabean or Baer seems irrelevant — given the former’s apparent job security, they amount to one and the same.
It was the SaBaer who, after 2016’s LDS loss, chose to view four consecutive seasons of ceding the NL West to the LA Dodgers as a dip for their title-winning core rather than a decline, leading to an offseason where the only significant addition was the horribly disappointing Mark Melancon. Surely the SaBaer made the call to “reload” last winter, resulting in the acquisition of aging veterans Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria.
Sure, Evans may have been the primary negotiator in those deals, but were they negotiated poorly? The Melancon pickup was remarkably well-received, both locally and by pundits around baseball, as a high-quality solution to a clear problem. His physical collapse was hardly predictable, and it seems arbitrary to blame it on an executive.
After the McCutchen and Longoria trades, there was fair criticism of the Giants — but it was criticism of the philosophy, not the deals. Kyle Crick looks to be the best player the Giants gave up in either deal, and nobody would be crying about that if this team was playoff-bound.
So excuse me if I’m less than convinced when Baer references the “next generation,” because the new boss looks an awful lot like the old boss. As long as both Baer and Sabean are in place, how are we to believe that a new general manager is truly empowered to decide the direction of the franchise?
Moreover, what high-level general manager would want a job that includes a three-time World Series winner who has the ear of the team president looking over your shoulder? If a top candidate from the young generation of analytics-minded front office executive has options, they would likely choose one with more complete control.
If the team does truly embrace a baseball future that arrived several years ago for many of 2018’s playoff teams, it will simply be because the same leadership decided to do so. I would argue that’s the right thing to do — a rebuild is necessary, and an effective rebuild will require a relatively dramatic philosophical adjustment — so I’m not here to bash that decision.
It’s just a pity that Bobby Evans had to suffer the indignity of “reassignment” to convincingly package the narrative arc of other men’s bad decisions.
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.Bobby EvansBrian SabeanLarry BaerSan Francisco Giants