SAN FRANCISCO — When he finished a long session with reporters Friday afternoon, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi retreated to the clubhouse and went to Gabe Kapler’s office.
Kapler’s guitar was still sitting in the corner. Bar Cart was still in stock, sneaking out of sight of the cameras during several post-game interviews. Everything seemed normal, but knowing that Zaidi would never sit in that office again discussing baseball, Zaidi returned to the clubhouse with the man chosen to lead the Giants into the future.
Earlier on Friday afternoon, Zaidi met with Kapler for nearly an hour. At one point in the conversation, he informed his longtime friend that his time as manager of the Giants was over. Zaidi said it was his choice and his recommendation for ownership.
It was a difficult conversation for Zaidi, and when he explained his reasoning hours later, the emotion still came through in his voice. But Zaidi felt it was necessary. The Giants are ready for a new voice.
“The thing that’s been in my mind and in the minds of other people in this organization is that as a group, as a team, we’ve played some really important baseball,” Zaidi said. “I know you’re working on figuring out why that happened, and there are a lot of questions from fans about why that happened. We have a lot of work to do to figure out why that happened.
“We felt this change was a step. I think we were looking for new and different leadership in our clubhouse, a different kind of movement.”
The words “step one” are important because Kapler’s firing is only the beginning. The Giants enter an offseason of ups and downs. They’ve been disappointed in three of four seasons under Kapler, and the manager knows full well that a member of the franchise could have been sitting in that dugout on Friday about how both Zaidi and Kapler were ejected.
Zide has repeatedly said he is accountable for the problems that led to the firing of the first manager he hired as a lead executive.
“I know it’s ultimately my job to put a product on the field that our company is proud of and our fans are proud of, which hasn’t happened the last couple of years,” he said. “It was hard for me. It was hard for a lot of people. But I feel very determined to fix it.”
Zide will have that opportunity, and starting next month he will begin the search for Kapler’s replacement. They’ve long been seen as a package deal, but ultimately someone had to pay for the second-half collapse.
The news didn’t completely surprise the players, leaving them mostly sad. Despite Kapler’s shortcomings, he was generally liked by his players and those around him. Austin Slater, the second longest-tenured player on the team, pointed out that Kapler has washed his hands too much, but he appreciates it.
“This is what happens when you lose baseball games,” he said. “Honestly, after the All-Star break, we haven’t worked hard in the last month, month and a half.”
The Giants were 13 games over .500 at one point and in the thick of the playoff race heading into September. On the first day of the month, they had a 60 percent chance of grabbing a wild card spot. They were evicted on Tuesday.
The Giants will spend the coming weeks digging into what happened, how it happened and why. But on Friday, it’s easy to pinpoint when all that changed.
Even this week, both Zaidi and Kapler have been active in the lineup for most of the season, hoping to return next season. But the cracks widened on the last road trip, when the Giants lost three of four at Coors Field and then dropped both games to the Arizona Diamondbacks to clinch the NL West’s second postseason berth this weekend.
During those two games at Chase Field, the Giants looked old and slow, a problem more for the front office than the coaching staff. But they also didn’t seem to realize how big the games were. Afterward, veteran players spoke about the team’s lack of edge and the need to commit more to a winning culture.
Even insiders can find it difficult to judge whether a manager is really doing a good job or not. But if a poor run of form is matched by questions about production and the clubhouse, no manager will survive.
“Playing the way we did when we controlled our own destiny, it was hard for everyone to see,” Zaidi said. “It was tough for the players to go through, tough for the fans to watch, tough for us to watch as an organization. Again, I think it really accelerated our vision of having to make tough decisions and think. Things are different.
“I can’t argue against drawing a line between that road trip and how we finished the season and what we’re talking about now.”