Gabe Kapler is gone, but the Giants' biggest problem still remains (2024)

That escalated quickly.

Seven hundred and twenty-six days after Gabe Kapler was in the middle of a division-title scrum following his 107th win, 682 days after he won the National League Manager of the Year award and, most importantly, 103 days after sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium and moving ahead of them in the standings, the San Francisco Giants are looking for a new manager. They didn’t even wait until the end of the season. It’s only fitting that in a season where three games out of five had “TBA” as the probable starting pitcher, the Giants had “TBA” as the acting manager until Kai Correa was announced as the interim manager.

Kai Correa announced on the jumbotron as tonight’s manager pic.twitter.com/MuMnqTtdYF

— KNBR (@KNBR) September 30, 2023

This is the first time that the Giants have fired a manager since 1985, when they lost 100 games. The 2023 Giants aren’t going to lose 100 games; it only feels like it. Here are some earlier takes that hold up:

• The Giants were unwatchable in the second half.

• Farhan Zaidi finally ran out of luck when it came to their free agents, which was to be expected, considering that most free agents flop. But it was especially notable this season how little they got from their offseason maneuverings.

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• The real issue with the 2023 Giants is that Austin Slater was the best homegrown position player to debut in the last decade before this season. Matt Duffy is probably second. After that, it gets murky. By WAR, it’s probably Kelby Tomlinson, and this is not a bit. Camilo Doval is the best international free-agent pitcher since Juan Marichal, and Reyes Moronta might be second. Also not a bit.

• Kapler did fine with what he was given, which wasn’t enough to contend reliably. Not even sure how that’s controversial, but it takes all kinds.

• Fan perception is what matters more than the buttons a manager can push, though, so maybe it was time to move on.

GO DEEPERGiants fire manager Gabe Kapler after 4 seasons

Kapler didn’t stand at a podium at the end of the 2022 season, look reporters in the face, and say, “If you give me Joc Pederson in the middle of the lineup, and Mitch Haniger for a couple hundred at-bats when he’s healthy, I’ll win the division. And if you give me only two pitchers who can semi-regularly go six innings or more? That’s World Series time, baby.” He didn’t say this because that would have been absolutely delusional.

Yet that’s the basket that Kapler was given on this episode of “Chopped”. Here’s a basket with anchovies, salt pork, quinine powder and rock salt. Make us a gourmet meal. And if it’s too salty, I’m sorry, but you’re chopped. So it goes. It’s a cruel sport, and there isn’t a crueler gig in baseball than manager. (Other than scouts, who are paid in company scrip and live out of their cars and then get fired for no reason when teams are trying to save money. But it’s not easy to be an MLB manager, that’s for sure.)

This isn’t to suggest that the Giants made a mistake. Man, I don’t know about that. The biggest part of the managerial position is to make sure fans are happy, and Giants fans weren’t happy. That was reason enough to consider this move.

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And lest you think that I’m trying to blame Zaidi instead, let’s be clear that the anchovies and quinine powder were put in there by Bobby Evans and that front office. Zaidi contributed the salt pork and rock salt and relayed a request for the dish to not be so salty, and now we’re here.

At the same time, I’m not seeing the quick fixes or developmental strategies, even back in 2019, that would have made this roster a favorite this season. If we accept that 2019 was guaranteed to be an unsalvageable mess — nobody disputed this at the time — and that 2020 shouldn’t go on anyone’s permanent record, sports or otherwise, then we’re left with three seasons of available evidence with which to judge a president of baseball operations. Zaidi has gotten more excellent seasons out of free-agent starting pitchers than, say, the Cincinnati Reds have in franchise history. He’s done well in free agency, considering the long odds against most free agents, mostly because free agency is an awful way to build a team.

If you’re wondering about trades, note that three of the Giants’ top 10 players in WAR this season (Mike Yastrzemski, LaMonte Wade Jr, Tristan Beck) came to the team in trades. And if you’re also wondering if it’s a little weird that a rookie swingman (Beck) was among the 10 most valuable players for the 2023 Giants, yes. Yes, that’s weird, and probably not ideal. That’s another point to consider. There have been trades, but we’re not exactly talking about Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio here.

Still, this comes back to the point that I’ve been hammering, hammering, hammering home for the last couple of years. You need more than supplemental players from the farm. You need stars from the farm. You need a robust farm. In a recent column, people whataboutted me with the Atlanta Braves, and, yes, the Braves are really good at winning baseball games. The Giants probably should have signed Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies and traded for Max Fried … back in 2014, when the Braves did. They should have acquired Marcell Ozuna this most recent time, not the time before that, when acquiring him cost not one but two Cy Young candidates. They should have raided the Oakland A’s and traded for Matt Olson and Sean Murphy.

OK, that last one is legitimate. They definitely should have done that. But the real foundation of the Braves was built closer to 2013 than 2023. It takes a while to build a juggernaut.

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None of this has to do with Kapler, which is the point. I’m not even saying that Zaidi is entirely to blame, or that it’s unfair that he’s keeping his job and Kapler isn’t. It’s that the only way the Giants were going to be a powerhouse in 2023 is if they had minor leaguers burst through the system. Because you can’t expect free agents to do everything. And you definitely can’t expect minor-league free agents to do everything. And you definitely definitely can’t count on trades to work out in your favor every time. Which means the Giants were always going to be hosed until they developed players*.

* If you want more evidence, remember that the 2021 Giants don’t get nearly as far without Logan Webb’s emergence. They don’t win the division. They don’t give the Dodgers a scare in the NLDS. Development, development, development. It solves a lot of problems.

Kapler, however, was fired because he made fans unhappy. That’s it, that’s the overarching explanation. If a manager’s job is to curate the vibes, both in the clubhouse and in the stands, someone in the Giants organization (probably with a net worth that has a dollar sign and 10 or 11 numbers after it) decided that the vibes weren’t there. And they weren’t making it up. They were reading news reports about the clubhouse, listening to fans, taking the temperature of the room. The vibes were bad. The product was lousy. That counts. That counts an awful lot. Nobody liked pinch hitters in the fourth inning, even if they were statistically the right move. Nobody liked being hyper-aware of the manager’s thumbprint on every game.

It’s also possible that the rumblings of the clubhouse played an outsized role here, but I’ve watched a few clubhouse mutinies from afar before, and this wasn’t one of them. Discontent or indifference, sure, and that’s not ideal in a pennant chase. But when a manager is fired because the players didn’t play better, my first response isn’t good riddance. It’s to wonder why the players didn’t play better, regardless of who was patting them on the butt. Maybe because they weren’t as good at playing baseball as the players on the other teams?

The best argument for a change might come with the state of the current Giants. They have Marco Luciano, who has star potential and should be left alone, free from platooning concerns. They have a couple of athletic and complementary low-exit-velocity outfielders, Luis Matos and Wade Meckler, who will require patience and encouragement. They have a gaggle of young arms who would probably be better served if they were starters and not second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh-inning guys, maybe all in the same game.

Are the 2023 Giants better without Kapler? If we’re talking about the final series of the season, probably not. There isn’t a button-pusher alive who can make this roster better right away.

Is there a manager who might be better for the transition the Giants need to undergo, which is to move from veteran-heavy triaging to something uncomplicated, youthful, athletic and sustainable? Yeah, maybe.

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Check the standings right now, though. The Arizona Diamondbacks are several games ahead of the Giants, and it’s not because of Torey Lovullo’s secret genius. It’s because they have a Corbin Carroll, and the Giants don’t. There are other reasons, but none that you need to pay that much attention to. The Giants didn’t have a Corbin Carroll. That’s the story of the 2023 season. The Padres didn’t have a Buster Posey in 2010, and boy did they regret it.

Development, development, development. Once the rookies are in place, I’m sure that whichever manager is in place will be lauded. And if the rookies don’t develop, that manager will be gone. I’m not saying that Gabe Kapler should still be the manager of the Giants. I’m just not sure what else he could have done to convince the world that he should. Whatever happens next, it’s probably not going to be a manager making it happen then, either.

(Photo of Gabe Kapler: Matt Kartozian / USA Today)

Gabe Kapler is gone, but the Giants' biggest problem still remains (2)Gabe Kapler is gone, but the Giants' biggest problem still remains (3)

Grant Brisbee is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the San Francisco Giants. Grant has written about the Giants since 2003 and covered Major League Baseball for SB Nation from 2011 to 2019. He is a two-time recipient of the SABR Analytics Research Award. Follow Grant on Twitter @GrantBrisbee

Gabe Kapler is gone, but the Giants' biggest problem still remains (2024)

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