Gabe Kapler

Giants left with uneasy feeling to think differently after firing Kapler

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SAN FRANCISCO -- As the walls started to close in last weekend, Gabe Kapler sat in the dugout at Dodger Stadium and spoke passionately about how the Giants could find a better future. He used words and phrases like "scale," "force multipliers," "action steps" and "process adjustments."

It's the type of messaging that you wouldn't take to most players, but for the people who hired Kapler and those who worked directly under him, it is a familiar language.

For four years, the Giants have tried to be disrupters. They have tried to find new methods to beat the game. They talk proudly about how they search for every single edge, and when Kapler felt that the smallest move -- often overlooked by fans and the media -- made a small difference in a game, he would often go out of his way to shout out the individual responsible, or the process that led to it. 

The front office hasn't handed out long-term contracts, focusing instead on roster churn and getting the most out of players who were overlooked elsewhere. The Giants built their lineups around platoons, and this year, when some of the short-term additions struggled in the rotation, they quickly turned to openers and "featured guys."

This is not to say the Giants have always been wrong, or even been wrong more often than not.

Mike Yastrzemski, Thairo Estrada, LaMonte Wade Jr. and many others have been tremendous success stories. The Giants whiffed on their Kevin Gausman decision, but appear to have made the right call on Carlos Rodón and Kris Bryant. Their methods aren't the main reason for the 2021 division title, but Farhan Zaidi, Kapler and the biggest coaching staff in baseball have their fingerprints all over those 107 wins. They won a lot of games in the first half of this season by finding the right matchup for a hitter or the right pocket of the game for a pitcher.

That 2021 season earned Kapler an extension, and tacked a year onto the contracts of most others. And yet, on Friday, less than 24 months after he was celebrated as manager of the year, Kapler was fired

It was a difficult day for Zaidi, and not just because he had to deliver life-altering news to a close friend. It was also a day that brought an uncomfortable thought bubbling to the surface.

What the Giants have been trying for four years hasn't worked as hoped. 

"I know I have to think about things differently," Zaidi said. "I know we as an organization have to do things differently. A lot of those things are difficult, starting with the move today."

Kapler ultimately took the fall, but this season has been an organizational failure. All involved acknowledged that Friday, with right-hander Logan Webb summing the situation up best.

"It's a s--tty day for Giants baseball in general," Webb said. "As a whole, we haven't done our jobs."

Webb is as hard on himself as any Giant, but as he heads for the offseason on Sunday night, he'll be one of the few who can say he fully did his part. For so many others, from the front office to coaching staff to clubhouse, there will be some trepidation. 

The organization underwent a major shakeup on Friday, but Kapler, the first Giants manager to get fired during a season in nearly 40 years, won't be the only one to take blame. Zaidi made that clear when talking about his own situation. He has one more year left on his contract and the support of Giants chairman Greg Johnson. But Kapler had support a couple of weeks ago, too. There's only so much mediocre baseball an ownership group can take, especially when fans long ago started showing their displeasure with their purchasing power. 

Zaidi noted that Johnson is "pretty dissatisfied" with the last couple of seasons. He also referenced the general feeling within the fan base that the Giants don't play an appealing brand of baseball.

"We want to have a product that our fans are excited about and that our fans come to the ballpark to see," Zaidi said. "I recognize that and I think that's what ownership wants to see."

The Giants recognized that last offseason, too. They still believed strongly that winning would bring the big crowds back more than anything else, but they chased Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, too. 

When those pursuits failed, the Giants fell back on what's familiar. They felt they could keep Mitch Haniger healthy and get the most out of Michael Conforto's bat. They thought they could turn Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling into mid-tier starters. They thought they could build enough depth that Joc Pederson would never need his outfield glove. 

Zaidi was not the only one who felt passionately about the group heading into the spring. Kapler is such a strong believer in the power of preparation and self improvement that he spoke a year ago at this time about how it was possible for even someone like Tommy La Stella to find more athleticism late in his career. He built a staff around young coaches with the same growth mindset.

The Giants have had a lot of individual success that way, but there has been nobody around to tell them that, hey, maybe sometimes they're wrong? Zaidi acknowledged on Friday that perhaps the organization would benefit from the next manager having a bit more autonomy. He was in lockstep with Kapler, who felt a similar connection to his employees, but that might change.

"Having greater separation between the manager, coaching staff and front office might be something we need to take a look at," Zaidi said. 

The Giants will look at everything, which is ironic, because that's what they have taken pride in doing for four years. For all that will be said and written about the Kapler Era, he was not outworked. He was curious and thoughtful and turned over every rock. During that same media session last week at Dodger Stadium, he smiled and said one of his greatest wishes was having 48 hours in every day. 

The Giants thought they could outwork and outsmart the opponent. But sometimes the opponent has Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. Sometimes you're overwhelmed by the athleticism on the other side. Sometimes you're sitting in the dugout late in a game wondering how much easier life would be if your starting pitcher had thrown six innings. 

As he sat in the dugout Friday, Zaidi brought up a recent article he read about Jason Heyward, who has found new life in Los Angeles in large part because he is being carefully platooned. A lot of what the Giants have done this year will work next year. But a lot needs to change. 

"At the end of the day, these strategies, we don't view ourselves as a front office or as a coaching staff as being a 'system' organization, whether it's platooning or using openers. I don't think we want to rule out any of those strategies when we think it gives us the best chance to win," he said. "We have to look at everything, and to the extent that we have not put our players in the best position to succeed and haven't gotten the most out of them, that's going to be part of the assessment this offseason. I think it's not just a matter of what strategies we employ in games but also how the roster is constituted.

"We're going to have to look at all of that."

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