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Dodgers tenure has Zaidi focused on retaining Giants' core originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
When the Giants and Brandon Crawford agreed to a two-year extension in August, it made perfect sense for both sides. Crawford grew up a Giants fan and has never wanted to be anyplace else, and the Giants have a strong history of keeping their stars around late into their careers.
All of those previous deals, though, were engineered by a different front office. What made Crawford's deal notable was that it was a sign that Farhan Zaidi values the whole Forever Giant thing, too, although that shouldn't have been a surprise. At Zaidi's previous stop, he was part of a similar plan.
Zaidi was general manager of the Dodgers when they re-signed Justin Turner, 32 years old at the time, to a four-year, $64 million deal after the 2016 season. Less than a month later, Kenley Jansen got five years and $80 million, a massive investment in a homegrown closer. Four days before Zaidi was hired by the Giants, the Dodgers agreed to a three-year extension with Clayton Kershaw, keeping him from opting out of his previous deal.
Zaidi might have gotten his front office start in Oakland, where stars are regularly shipped out, but he's a big proponent of keeping winning groups together, and that was the case even before he watched a team led by Buster Posey and the Brandons win 107 games.
"I think my time in L.A. really allowed me to appreciate the value of continuity," he said on Thursday's Giants Talk Podcast. "And to be fair, in Oakland, it wasn't that it was not something that we believed in, but really just a reality of our financial situation and knowing that there was going to be some natural churn in our roster. Being here, and when I was in L.A., we had the ability to retain some of those players, even as they progressed in their careers.
"The way this group gets along off the field as well as the way they were able to bring out the best in each other on the field, it just kind of adds a level of motivation to retain as many of these guys as you can, which you would have after a season like this anyway."
As the Giants were marching to 107 wins and an NL West title, Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris made no secret of the fact that this front office wants to keep the band together. They started talking more and more about continuity as the season wore on, and when Crawford signed his deal, everyone involved expressed hope that it was just the start of a string of similar reunions.
It's easy to bring a player back when he's an MVP candidate, but this approach goes beyond the raw numbers. At his end-of-season press conference Monday, Zaidi talked about how the players "bring out the best in each other and really have this 'whole greater than the sum of the parts' dynamic."
"We're going to have conversations with all of these guys for that reason," he said. "That's a big factor for us."
Recapturing the 2021 magic starts by making sure the clubhouse -- which Crawford and others have called as good as any they've ever seen -- stays mostly intact. Posey has been the leader in there for a decade, and Zaidi made it clear that locking him in for 2022 is the priority at the moment.
Brandon Belt was the team's best player over the final two months and helped absorb the pressure down the stretch by becoming The Captain. The Giants and Belt had discussions on an extension during the season, but they didn't get too far. Those talks happened before he broke out over the final month and reached 29 homers, so the terms have certainly changed, but Belt said last week that his preference remains to stay in San Francisco.
"He's happy here," Zaidi said Monday. "I think he feels really appreciated, and we appreciate him. He's been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last couple of years. He's a big part of this team and we'll certainly hope that those are productive dialogues."
After that it gets more complicated. Kevin Gausman loves San Francisco and was eager to return on a long-term deal last offseason, but after having an All-Star season, the 30-year-old could find himself as the jewel of the pitching market. Those types of players often get nine-figure deals.
Kris Bryant was a perfect fit in the clubhouse and gave Gabe Kapler more options with his lineup, but the Giants have indicated that they won't necessarily wait around for the Scott Boras client to survey the whole market into the new year. If a pact is reached there, it will also be an extremely expensive one.
That's another lesson of Zaidi's Dodgers years, though. The best front offices in the game do not dream of giving closers $16 million a year, but sometimes chasing continuity causes you to stretch. Zaidi said he still strongly believes that the Giants' main goal should be to take the long view and form rosters that are "a product of a lot of good moves made over a lot of years," but he knows sometimes you have to change course for a couple of players.
The Dodgers, who have supplemented that core with strong moves on the margins and all-in moves for the likes of Mookie Betts, Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, continue to show the value of continuity. Kershaw got hurt before these playoffs started, but he helped the Dodgers win it all last year. Turner finished in the top 15 in MVP voting the two years after he signed his new deal. Jansen has had his ups and downs, but as he once again approaches free agency, he's throwing as well as he ever has.
For the rival Giants, this offseason will be a complex one. But as much as they can, they want to keep their core together and take another run at it.
"You just don't know what directions the offseason may go in, what interests players may have from other teams, what geographic preferences they may have to maybe play closer to home," Zaidi said. "We'll have to navigate through all that, but I think that adds an additional layer of wanting to keep as much of this group together as we can."