When the San Francisco Giants made the decision to fire manager Gabe Kapler with three games left in the season, Farhan Zaidi said they planned to “cast a wide net” and look beyond candidates with ties to him, the organization or the Bay Area.
They have looked as far as Boston and a candidate who has spent his baseball life there, on the opposite coast, in a different league. They have widened their search to groundbreaking parameters, the first club in MLB history to formally interview a woman for their managerial post. One candidate finished his 36th season in the organization; another celebrates his 39th birthday next week.
All roads, it turns out, lead back to the most obvious candidate all along, the one who was in the opposite dugout for Kapler’s 543rd and, it would be announced almost 48 hours later, final game as Giants manager.
With the Padres granting the Giants’ request to interview Bob Melvin, as The Athletic first reported, the three-time manager of the year immediately became the front runner to succeed Kapler in San Francisco. In addition to the eight playoff appearances and more than 1,500 wins he has accumulated in a 20-year managing career, Melvin’s Bay Area ties run deep, as does his relationship with Zaidi.
Melvin, who turns 62 this week, was born in Palo Alto and raised in Menlo Park. When Menlo-Atherton High School opened its Hall of Fame in 1994, Melvin, for his two-sport accolades, was the first inductee. He took those talents across the Bay to Cal, where he played for a season before he turned pro. Over the course of a 10-year playing career, Melvin crossed paths with Roger Craig and Mike Krukow in San Francisco before spending more than half his managerial career in Oakland.
Coming off their fourth playoff miss in five seasons under Zaidi, the Giants are in need of stability and credibility. Zaidi confirmed he is entering the final year of his contract, and after firing his hand-picked manager may not get a third crack at it.
“Some of our candidates may be people I’ve had past relationships with and maybe that helps provide some reassurance there,” Zaidi said of the appearance of instability while interviewing prospective managers as a lame-duck president of baseball operations.
Melvin spent 11 years in Oakland, making six playoff appearances, and overlapped with Zaidi for parts of four seasons.
While Melvin’s relationship with Padres general manager A.J. Preller has been described as “unfixable,” he developed a reputation with the A’s for deftly handling Billy Beane’s analytically inclined front office. Zaidi, at the time, was one of Beane’s top deputies until he departed after the 2014 season.
Zaidi acknowledged that whoever the next manager is, it might be beneficial to have more autonomy than Kapler, who moved in lockstep with the front office. Melvin has shown the capability to balance analytics with instinct, and would come with the credibility to push back when he felt necessary.
As the Giants look to replenish their roster and reverse course from their repeated failures on the free-agent market, Zaidi also said they were seeking an “effective recruiter.” Few available managers would come with as sterling of a reputation around the game as Melvin, whose laid-back style has proven popular and successful between stints in Seattle, Arizona, Oakland and San Diego.
The Giants are expected to be active in the international market this winter, and Melvin could potentially be an asset there, too.
With 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the two-time reigning winner of Nippon Pro Baseball’s equivalent to the Cy Young Award, and 25-year-old Korean outfielder Lee Jung-Hoo, the reigning KBO MVP, expected to be posted by their respective clubs, it’s worth remembering where Melvin’s managerial career began — with Ichiro Suzuki, whom The Athletic reported he is close with to this day.
While the star-studded Padres were a huge disappointment this season while missing the playoffs despite opening the season with the league’s third-largest payroll, one bright spot was Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who blossomed into a 5.8-WAR player once Melvin put him into a full-time role. Another prominent member of that team, Juan Soto, is set to hit free agency after this season having not yet worked out an extension in San Diego.
If there’s a knock on Melvin, it’s a lack of postseason success. While his teams have made the tournament eight times, only two have reached the league championship series, and his last trip to the World Series was as the Diamondbacks’ bench coach in 2001. And then there’s what to make of his time in San Diego: After Melvin led them to the NLCS in his first year, how much of their step back in 2023 can be blamed on the simmering dysfunction beneath the surface?
It’s not unprecedented for a manager to change teams, even while still under contract as Melvin is, for one more year at $4 million.
Sometimes in these situations clubs work out some kind of compensation. In fact, it’s how Melvin’s managerial career began. The Tampa Bay Rays traded outfielder (and future Giant) Randy Winn to the Seattle Mariners for the opportunity to hire Lou Piniella, opening up the position for Melvin.
Then again, that’s not always the case. When Melvin was hired in San Diego, he had a year remaining on his contract in Oakland, but the A’s demanded no compensation, satisfied to free themselves of the salary. The Padres were also happy to let Bruce Bochy abscond to San Francisco after 12 seasons.
If the Melvin-Preller dynamic in San Diego really is untenable, then perhaps this is the easiest solution for all sides. Melvin is let out of the last year of his contract and allowed to return home. The Padres get out from their financial commitment. Preller gets out of firing a fourth manager in 10 years. And the Giants get the guy they wanted all along.
— Were Melvin to be hired, his coaching staff would likely be made up of some holdovers from the previous regime and some newcomers. Among the coaches he could bring with him from San Diego, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is third base coach Matt Williams, who spent 10 seasons with the Giants from 1987-96. Former players in consideration for other roles include Pat Burrell and Ryan Vogelsong, who both currently hold positions inside the organization.
— In an ideal scenario, the Giants would have a presumed successor lined up behind Melvin, who has not committed to managing beyond next season. With Terry Francona stepping down and Buck Showalter being let go, Melvin is currently the fifth-oldest manager under contract. An obvious candidate would be Stephen Vogt, who played under Melvin and has already been interviewed by the Giants for the open position.
The Giants, however, would likely have to gain additional permission from the Mariners, where he was the bullpen and quality control coach last season, if Vogt is even available. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Vogt has emerged as a “serious candidate” for the job in Cleveland.