Commentary: Can Giants make this rivalry with Dodgers an October staple?
Let’s do this again soon.
We waited a century for the first postseason clash between the Dodgers and Giants — all the anticipation, all the loyalty, all the hostility.
The Giants dominated the first half of the last decade, with three World Series championships in five seasons. The Dodgers dominated thereafter, with three World Series appearances in four seasons, capped by a title of their own.
If this out-of-nowhere Giants team is more than a one-year wonder — and it just might be — we could be heading into the most glorious era of baseball’s best rivalry since 1951 to 1956, when either the Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants represented the National League in the World Series every year.
That the Giants are this good, this soon, conflicts with the timetable popularly associated with the takeover of Farhan Zaidi after the 2018 season: Run out the contracts of 30-somethings Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria; and in the meantime rebuild the farm system, collect spare roster parts and gain the financial flexibility needed to win.
Here’s everything you need to know about the historic National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations, said he had planned to build around the veterans all along.
“I know there are other narratives out there,” he said. “But, when I came in and interviewed, this is what I talked about doing.
“None of that is meant as an ‘I told you so.’ But I get bothered by it because of this insinuation that we were waiting for these contracts to expire. It’s a discredit to the great veteran players that we have here.”
It is also how the Giants do business. It did not go well in the second half of the last decade — that is why the Giants hired Zaidi away from the Dodgers, after all — but the Giants have shown that teams need not tank in order to rebuild.
“That’s what the ownership group has always been about, for the 29 years we’ve had this: We don’t want to take a year off,” Giants President Larry Baer said. “That’s a strategy.
“There probably would have been some people that would have come in and said, let’s pull back for three — or many — years. That’s not how we’re constructed, in part because of the DNA of the ownership group and in part because of the market.”
Beyond right field, on the other side of McCovey Cove, an orange banner hangs along a tall building under construction, celebrating the Giants’ NL West championship. The building soon will be occupied by Visa, as the company’s new world headquarters, part of the Giants’ 30-acre real estate development project known as Mission Rock.
“It’s a neighborhood,” Baer said. “A lot of people say, well, it’s like L.A. Live. Nothing wrong with L.A. Live. It’s great. But what we’re doing is building a mixed-use neighborhood with a San Francisco vibe.”
Not that Dodgers fans should care, except for this: The Giants already rank among the top five among major league teams in revenue, and Mission Rock will bring them even more money. Whatever the Dodgers can spend, the Giants can spend it too.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, did not sign anyone for even $100 million in his first five years in L.A. Then he signed Mookie Betts for more than $300 million — right guy, right time. Free agency might lure shoppers flush with cash, but spending money just because the team has it and fans demand it seldom works out.
Dave Roberts’ bold decisions with the Dodgers’ starting lineup for Game 2 proved critical in helping the team secure a series-tying win over the Giants.
“We never had this master plan that people seem to presume of wait for some contracts to run out and then we’ll spend like drunken sailors,” Zaidi said.
In his three years with the Giants, Zaidi has not signed anyone for more than $32 million.
“I don’t think you ever build a plan around trying to acquire one player — trade for one player or sign one player,” Zaidi said. “If you get overly fixated on one spot and don’t put the same thought into the others, you can get tripped up.
“We don’t have a board up with a red circle around one guy’s name that is going to make or break our offseason. We know that there are a lot of paths for us to be successful.”
Zaidi, formerly the chief lieutenant to Friedman with the Dodgers, has unearthed the likes of LaMonte Wade Jr. and Mike Yastrzemski in San Francisco, much as he helped to unearth the likes of Max Muncy and Chris Taylor in L.A.
Financial flexibility is a disturbingly popular phrase among contemporary baseball executives, because the implied promise of better days ahead requires smart personnel decisions. Financial flexibility should be a means to reach a goal, not a goal in itself.
The Angels and Giants filled most of their starting rotation last winter with pitchers on expiring contracts. The Giants hit on Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. The Angels missed on Dylan Bundy and José Quintana last winter, just as they had missed on Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey and Julio Teheran in recent years.
The Giants have $50 million committed to players for the 2022 season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The Dodgers have $139 million committed, the San Diego Padres $151 million.
And a minor league system that ranked 28th among the 30 major league teams when Zaidi was hired now ranks fifth, according to Baseball America. No other NL West team has a farm system ranked in the top 10.
“This is a team you expected to make a run at some point in the 2020s,” Baseball America national writer Kyle Glaser said. “We just thought it was going to be 2023, maybe. The fact that it has happened already is the surprise. And the fact that it has happened already puts them in a really good position.
Julio Urías stymied the Giants in a 9-2 win in Game 2 of the NLDS. Giants manager Gabe Kapler foresaw big things for Urías when he worked for the Dodgers.
“It’s very, very easy to see this team being good for the next five, six, seven years and this not being a one-year fluke when you look back over the course of the decade.”
Under Friedman, the Dodgers have proven they can sustain success. Under Zaidi, the Giants might well do the same at the same time.
Before the NL Division Series started, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put the first Dodgers-Giants postseason clash in this perspective: “It’s what baseball wants.”
So let’s do this again soon. It might not be what ESPN wants, but the Yankees and Red Sox are a tired act. The Dodgers and Giants? It’s what baseball wants.
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