It has taken a while for the first wave of hotshot prospects drafted and developed in the Farhan Zaidi era to arrive at the big league level for the San Francisco Giants.
But the kids are getting here now, as Casey Schmitt, Patrick Bailey and Ryan Walker are already giving the Giants a needed jolt of youth, energy and winning baseball.
More prospects seem to be on the way. Left-handed starter Kyle Harrison could come up at any point now. So could outfielder Luis Matos, maybe as soon as Friday. Shortstop Marco Luciano, outfielder Vaun Brown and right-handed pitcher Mason Black are headlining at Double-A Richmond. Left-hander Carson Whisenhunt may fly through the minors.
This is what Zaidi has been building towards since taking over as the Giants’ president of baseball operations in the fall of 2018.
“It’s exciting to have a number of players who are kind of at the doorstep when it hasn’t really felt like that the last few years,” Zaidi told The Athletic last month. “We’ve had guys that were further away and maybe a guy here and a guy there, but now it seems like you’ve got a group of players that are going to make their debuts this year who have a chance to be here for a long time.”
Unlike the Pirates, who the Giants just faced, and the Orioles, who arrive in San Francisco this weekend, Zaidi never stopped trying to put a competitive MLB team on the field.
The Pirates are coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons and have only had one winning season since 2015 (an 82-79 year in 2018).
Then there’s Baltimore, which bottomed out even harder than Pittsburgh. The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018, 108 in 2019 and 110 in 2021.
(Fans can also see an organization fully burning a roster to the ground right now across the Bay with the A’s. Oakland’s 12-46 record has it on pace to finish 34-128 in 2023, a year after going 60-102.)
“Focusing on the future” at the expense of the major league teams at the time has some benefits, sure. Both teams have “earned” the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft multiple times, and they each have built up strong farm systems.
The Pirates started this season strong, opening with a 20-8 record before tumbling through May. They’re now 28-27 after taking two of three from the Giants. Pittsburgh has developed key pieces of its future in shortstop Oneil Cruz and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and has catcher Henry Davis, 2021’s No. 1 pick, and others coming up soon.
Then there are the Orioles, who turned things around last season and have surged to start the year, all while still holding baseball’s top farm system. Led by catcher Adley Rutschman, a former No. 1 overall pick, the Orioles are 35-21 coming to San Francisco.
But even if some teams have done the full cycle of “bottoming out to winning it all” before, there’s no guarantee of a World Series run. That was the case for the 2010s Pirates and Orioles, who ended decades of suffering for a grand combined total of one division win, six playoff appearances and zero wins in the League Championship Series, let alone the World Series.
A team can’t buy a title, but it can doom itself to ineptitude. The Giants haven’t done that.
Even when they had a horrendous 64-98 season in 2017, the previous front office of Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans tried to get back to winning baseball in 2018, trading for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. That didn’t really work, but the attempt itself is noble.
Since Zaidi has taken over, the Giants have balanced trying to restock their farm system with a dizzying amount of roster arbitrage at the big league level.
The entire time, they’ve been competent and competitive in the majors. The Giants were still a .500 team in late August in 2019 before a poor September. They finished one game under .500 in 2020 and then ended up exactly at .500 in 2022.
And we all remember what a magical run 2021 was, even if it has started to feel more like a full-season fever dream than anything that could be replicable.
Yeah, it’s been hard to get to know and love some of the Giants since Zaidi took over, especially in the way Giants fans have been used to with the likes of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner and others.
There certainly has been a bit of a mercenary feel to the Giants in recent years. Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodón have been like shooting stars, starring here briefly before settling down more permanently elsewhere. Michael Conforto could be on the same path this year.
But the Giants are closer to what Zaidi has been trying to build than ever before.
For the first time in a while, there are Giants players on the roster that fans can hope (and maybe even expect) will still be here nine or 10 years from now.
And Zaidi and the Giants didn’t force their fans to suffer through years of losing 100-plus games to get to this point.