What we learned from Zaidi’s season-ending press conference

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SAN FRANCISCO — As a half dozen ballparks radiated on Tuesday, the official start of the postseason, with the kind of energy that only playoff baseball can provide, Oracle Park sat empty. Quiet. The only sign of activity was a not-so-small group of reporters and cameras encircled around Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ head baseball man who wished his team was gearing up for October, not kicking off his offseason perched on a dugout bench answering questions for 45 minutes.

“We’re sitting here with the playoffs starting, talking about the end of our season, finishing under .500, that’s a disappointment,” Zaidi said, about half-an-hour in to his post mortem. “That’s not where we wanted to be.”

Just a few days earlier, Zaidi spoke of needing to “rethink everything.” His club wilted down the stretch, exposing deeper problems on a roster and an organizational philosophy that has produced only one postseason appearance in five seasons. As these things go, the manager, Gabe Kapler, bore the brunt of the responsibility, but larger changes are afoot, as Zaidi outlined further Tuesday.

The manager search

Last week, Zaidi said you could draw a line between the Giants’ final road trip that knocked them out of postseason contention and the decision to move on from Kapler. In other words, it was a rare hasty move from a decision maker who tends to value long-term trends.

That meant Zaidi didn’t even have a list of internal candidates to share on Tuesday, though it sounds as though the bulk of the search will take place externally.

“I imagine we’ll have at least one or two internal interviews,” Zaidi said of the group that includes third base coach Mark Hallberg, bench coach Kai Correa, catching coach Craig Albernaz and special assistant Ron Wotus.

With the intention of securing a manager by the start of free agency, the Giants will have to move with purpose in their search. The internal process could begin later this week, Zaidi said, while they will begin asking permission to interview external candidates at the start of next week.

Logan Webb has expressed a desire to be included in the decision, and Zaidi said he and other players, as well as Buster Posey and other members of ownership, will get a chance to meet with prospective candidates later in the process.

“There’s no template,” Zaidi said. “I’ve worked with managers who have different experiences and different styles. I think we want to be as broad in our search as possible. … We’re not really looking for a manager who is bound to certain strategies, one way or another.”

Offseason plans

No matter Kapler’s successor, he will be working with many of the same tools.

“Even with a lot of turnover, we’re going to have 15-20 of the same players next year,” Zaidi said. “We have to make sure we get the most out of them. As we get into free agency and recruit players, we have to convince them we have the right players around them. I think a lot of the players we have are part of the solution.”

Asked about his priorities for this offseason, Zaidi understands he sounds like a broken record.

“I think some of these quotes will be compared to what I said last year because they’re going to sound pretty similar,” he said. “But one of the big things is just gonna be to go into next year with as good of a defensive club as we can have.”

The outfield, in particular, Zaidi singled out as an area to improve.

That group includes Michael Conforto, Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater, who all have decisions to make or be made about their future. Conforto possesses the ability to opt out of an $18 million salary next season, while Slater and Yastrzemski are both in line for raises through arbitration. Their biggest weak spot defensively, Joc Pederson, is set to be a free agent.

“We had a significant issue with our outfield defense last year. It was improved this year, but it still wasn’t where we wanted it to be,” Zaidi said. “I just think being more athletic, having more range in the outfield, we talked about our pitching staff for the second time in three years having the lowest walk rate in baseball, to really get the best out of that, if your pitchers are forcing the action on the opposition, when they get guys to put balls in play, you want to be able to convert them into outs.”

Position players are likely to be the focus of the Giants’ offseason.

Between Webb, Alex Cobb, Kyle Harrison, Keaton Winn and Tristan Beck (and with Anthony DeSclafani back from injury, Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling potentially back if they pick up their player options and another group of young arms expected to graduate from the minor leagues), Zaidi said “I don’t imagine us looking to add starting pitching depth,” though he didn’t rule out top-of-the-rotation options.

Beyond Shohei Ohtani (whom Zaidi deftly avoided talking about), the free agent market is sparse.

It’s possible the Giants deal from their surplus of pitching to acquire an impact bat, and Zaidi said, “even at the deadline this year, we were open to trading just about anybody and I imagine we’ll have the same outlook this offseason.”

Shortstop shuffle

One position where the Giants are almost certain to have a new Opening Day starter is at shortstop, where they’ve had the same player for the past 12 years.

When Marco Luciano replaced Brandon Crawford in the top of the ninth inning Sunday, it really was a changing of the guard.

“As we sit here now, we want to give Marco Luciano the chance to be the everyday guy next year,” Zaidi said. “We would’ve liked to see him up here a little bit more, but he’s worked his way up, earned this opportunity and we’re really excited about it.”

Crawford, 36, is one of the Giants’ six pending free agents.

He has not said whether he plans to retire or intends to continue playing, but Zaidi said, “it’s a challenging fit.”

“We view Marco as our shortstop next year.”

Slater needs surgery

Moments before Zaidi took his perch on the dugout bench (in use because quantitative analysts took over the old interview room), a notification flashed across reporters’ phones: Austin Slater will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, the procedure set for Oct. 11.

Slater’s elbow has been a recurring issue. It sidelined him in spring training this year and, even when he returned, limited his throwing ability.

“The plan will be for him to be ready for Opening Day,” Zaidi said. “We may have to be careful with his workload in spring training, but he should be ready for Opening Day.”

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