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The Giants Have A Problem And It’s Not San Francisco

11:55 AM EST on December 14, 2023

San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi speaks during a news conference at Oracle Park in the Nick Peters interview room on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 in San Francisco, CA.
Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Farhan Zaidi, the San Francisco Giants’ baseball overlord, worked hard this week to explain all the things he and the team did to close the Shohei Ohtani deal that wasn't, but mostly he left a stronger impression that either he should find someone else to do all his negotiating, resign, be fired, or convince Charlie Johnson to move the franchise to somewhere with a lower crime rate and cleaner streets. Like, say, Oslo.

The Giants dropped the urban blight bomb as one of the reasons Zaidi and his army of rhetorical warlocks couldn't close an Ohtani deal, and they sounded largely like the ones trotted out last year when they didn't close on Aaron Judge. They allegedly offered Ohtani the same money (we'll never know), the same contractual structure (we'll never know), and sold the hell out of the now decade-old magic of being a Giant. But Ohtani, like Judge, didn't really want to leave L.A., and the Giants knew that. They allowed themselves to be played in the free agency market again by chasing the guy they could never have.

That said, they didn't stop there. There was also this, floated via Ken Rosenthal:

And this, from management associate Buster Posey through The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly: 

“Something I think is noteworthy, something that unfortunately keeps popping up from players and even the players’ wives is there’s a bit of an uneasiness with the city itself, as far as the state of the city, with crime, with drugs. Whether that’s all completely fair or not, perception is reality. It’s a frustrating cycle, I think, and not just with baseball. Baseball is secondary to life and the important things in life. But as far as a free-agent pursuit goes, I have seen that it does affect things.”

Let's be honest here and just say this sounds like top-grade nonsense, unless you count organizational ass-covering as a part of modern urban planning. The neighborhood around the Giants' ballpark is seriously antiseptic, plus other cities—among them Los Angeles—have larger crime and homeless issues. It's a dog-whistler's exercise: We woulda had him if not for the Tenderloin.

No, it's all simpler than that. The Giants have nothing to offer a high-level free agent except more money than everybody else, and they don’t do that because they are now firmly established as the stalking horse for the teams that players like Judge and Ohtani really want. In other words, they are chumps, and chumps never operate from a position of equal footing. If we are to take Zaidi at his word (and because he is an executive in a major American professional sport there is absolutely no reason to do so), they offered Ohtani what the Dodgers did, but since the Giants are currently just the Angels in a poor disguise, Ohtani would never be interested in them except as a non-threatening threat to present to the Dodgers.

In other words, all that argle-bargle about San Francisco being untidy, while true enough given that it is a large American city, is just some subtle yet unconvincing CYA for the real truth, which is What's so special about the Giants? That's the story Zaidi isn't selling because it tracks back to his own up-down-and-ultimately-the-same tenure in San Francisco. The story he and Posey are selling is one that undermines every argument they will want to make for the next big free agent, or the one after that. Our town kind of stinks, but you'll live in a good neighborhood is not a pitch that works, and the fact that the Giants are peddling it as a notion is like inflatable front-lawn Christmas decorations: It looks cheap and tawdry but you end up looking anyway, remembering all the while how embarrassed you would be to have it on your lawn.

In lieu of any compelling reasons to be a Giant, Zaidi is selling a reason not to be one that he can do nothing about. All he really had to do here was say, They wanted the places they already live—larger, familiar, more promotional opportunities, and better chances to play in October, and that would have been sellable to the fan base. Not comforting, mind you, but true, and if you can't tell the splashiest story, you may as well tell the one that doesn't look quite so whiny, desperate, or false.

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