About a week ago, Virgin America invited me to fly out to New York with a group of Giants employees and the World Series trophy. It was a whirlwind trip — arrive at the SFO ticket counter by 5 am on Wednesday, back at SFO at 7:10 pm on Thursday. It was a fun, productive journey. Not only did I get to see the trophy up close, I got a chance to chat with Joe Panik at Madison Square Garden, see Times Square for the first time, and catch the second half of Wednesday night’s Warriors game at Finnerty’s.
The flight to New York was a lot more fun than your average cross-country trip — they played a documentary-style recap of the Game 7 win in Kansas City on the TVs, passed out orange rally rags that the passengers waved at different times, and everyone got a free Anchor Steam and roasted almonds.
I was also invited to the first class section for a 10-minute interview with Giants CEO Larry Baer, who graciously answered all of my questions. I didn’t ask everything I wanted, as others were there to interview him and he needed time to walk down the aisle of the plane with trophy (which brought loud applause from several Giants fans onboard).
Questions that missed the cut: Warriors moving into the Giants’ hood, the Olympics bid that didn’t pan out, how the Mission Rock development is coming along, and whether Brian Wilson burned every bridge with the Giants when he yelled at Baer a while back.
I asked just about everything else that came to mind, and here’s how the Q&A went …
BASG: One thing that kind of intrigued me was the connection to New York for New York Giants fans. Because this is your third time going on this trip, what’s been your experience with New York Giants fans?
BAER: To me, it’s been a magical experience. Because while we’ve been in San Francisco 57 years. We were in New York longer. We were in New York, what, close to 80 years. I think it’s always really important to pay respect to your roots and the heritage of the franchise, it’s a big huge part of the history of our franchise. We think of ourselves as the New York – San Francisco Giants. We’re the San Francisco Giants, obviously. Some teams may want to put aside their past, if they were in a different city. For us, it’s just the opposite. We want to celebrate our past. From that perspective it’s fantastic. Then the other perspective is, we have a lot of people that were alive when the Giants were in New York. We have a lot of people who were not alive, but their parents and their grandparents were, and they talk about their great memories of the New York Giants. Willie Mays in 1954. In 1951, Bobby Thomson. All the amazing history. And as such, something for them to celebrate. We hope they feel a part of the Giants’ success by having the New York Giants in their blood.
BASG: I had some questions about the offseason.
BASG: Some fans aren’t all that thrilled with the offseason, because of a lack of big-name signings – these feelings are pretty much based off how much players are making. So when there’s talk about Lester and Pablo, and that didn’t occur, fans wonder what’s going on. But in looking at the payroll, your payroll generally moves up incrementally. It’s up from opening day of last year, and you guys are generally known for 10-15% increases each year, sometimes more, sometimes less. How do you feel about the fans’ reaction?
BAER: Well, a couple things. We want to be steady and consistent with our payroll. As long we have the revenues, we’re going to go up every year. This year we will be up considerably in that range. Could be 10%, we’ll see where we end up. And that’s fine. In the last five or six years, we’ve been $90 million more than the Dodgers, and $90 million less than the Dodgers, because the Dodgers have been wildly up and down. And some other teams have, to. That’s just not who we are. That’s not how we go. We want to have a disciplined, steady progression of growth. And look, we’re going to end up being the fifth or sixth top spending (team). People forget, we’ve made a lot of big deals with guys that are on the team. Matt Cain’s at $20 million a year, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, you can go on and on. Tim Lincecum.
BASG: And a lot of raises.
BAER: A lot of raises. So we’re going to be in the high 160s, which clearly is enough to win. There’s only four or five teams that are more than us. But the payroll is more … we’re not so fixed to payroll as much as we’re fixed to how we put together the best team. And then, we’d like to save some capacity to add during the season or even Spring Training. And they may not be big adds, or they could be big adds. So in each of the three years we’ve won the World Series, we’ve made some big adds. Obviously people remember Burrell and Ross in 2010. Pence and Scutaro in 2012. Jake Peavy last year with Joe Panik who came up. So, we need to preserve that flexibility as well. You don’t win a World Series in November, December. You don’t win the hot stove league, or maybe you do win the hot stove league, but if you win the hot stove league, you don’t get much for it. If you want to see the teams that have made the most trades won the hot stove league, that’s OK. We’re OK not being that team. The other thing that is interesting is in our division, each team has a new general manager. And a new general manager is going to want to make a splash. And a new general manager is going to (a) want to make a splash and (b) be less reluctant to trade away a previous general manager’s draft choices. So think about that, you come in and say, “I want to make an impact here. I want to do well. Hey, those draft choices — maybe the old regime thought they were great, but I don’t have any loyalty to those players.”
BASG: Speaking of that, Brian Sabean is the longest tenured GM in baseball. But he hasn’t really that active in terms of talking to the media. He even mentioned during the parade that he doesn’t like that part of it — Brian’s got a funny, blunt style. But is there a transition coming soon, do you think?
BAER: Brian enjoys doing what he’s doing. He does it in a different, a more low-key style maybe than some of his peers. And I think that’s who he is. It’s authentic. Bobby (Evans) has worked really hard in a lot of areas, in combination with Brian as does Dick Tidrow, as does John Barr in their areas. So no, we’re forging ahead and it’s a good formula for us. Brian’s connection and relationship with Bruce Bochy is mission critical to the organization. That has meant a lot and and that’s something that we obviously want to honor, preserve. Brian, I wouldn’t say he’s media shy, but I would say he’s fine with being in the background, too.
BASG: Cain really is the one big long-term deal for a pitcher you guys have done since Zito, and Lester was the one guy you pursued. No Shields, no Scherzer. Did it give you some trepidation when you were pretty close while you were bidding for Lester, that it might take away some of that flexibility you talked about?
BAER: It did give us some trepidation. We debated it long and hard and we felt that for him it could’ve been a difference maker. But probably for him, whatever that number is, 20-something, let’s just say it’s 25 (million dollars). Probably valuing the early years more, so you probably pay a lot more than your AAV in the early years and then less in the later years where the risk goes up. What gives pause is the fact that if you name a pitcher 30 years or older that’s received five years or more, you can’t name one where it’s been a successful contract.
BASG: I was surprised that you guys got so close.
BAER: We thought he was as good a bet as you’re going to find. But still, how good a bet is that, I’m not sure. But still, as good a bet as you’re going to find. And understand the Cubs psychology, they’ve got to have those early years work. He’s probably a very safe bet for the next couple years to perform very well, absent injury.
BASG: Speaking of another way to spend money, there was a report from Ben Badler of Baseball America about Yoan Moncada, and how you held a private workout with him. And his quote was there’s a “push coming from the ownership level.” Several sources have told him that you guys want to get in on Cuban players, especially high-profile ones. How true is that?
BAER: It’s not really true, ownership level. We’re all kind of in it together. I talk to Brian a lot, I talk to Bobby, Dick Tidrow, our group. I don’t think there’s a push one way or the other, really. It’s certainly not an ownership mandate, so it’s not really true. Every decision is a collaborative thing and the recommendation of Brian and his group makes the most difference. We all have our opinions, but what we do is going to be a function of what the baseball experts spend a lot of time poring through. The analytics, scouting reports, their own eyes, scouts’ eyes.
BASG: One more annoying baseball question, then a fun one. Were you surprised that Pablo made the decision he did?
BAER: Um (pause) … I’d say nothing surprises me, because players have short windows in their baseball life. Any sports, basketball, football, same thing. They have short windows, so they have to do what they feel is best in that window. So I wouldn’t say surprised. I think he’s provided us a lot, we’ve provided him a lot. It’s been a really good mutual relationship. We just kind of want to remember it that way. I think there are factors in the American League that probably came into play. The DH and others down the line in (his) thinking, maybe not. Because we weren’t differentiated by offers. And I think that he has a challenge ahead of him that he’s probably up for, because he’s that talented.
BASG: You’re a native San Franciscan. Where are your favorite spots?
BAER: We live out by the Presidio, Land’s End area. One favorite spot is walking in that area by Land’s End. Beautiful walks in the morning. I will go either with friends or family for walks. I love the neighborhood, so I like walking down neighborhoods, popping in and out of different stores, whether it’s Clement Street, Chestnut Street, 24th Street. It never gets old to look at the Golden Gate Bridge. Sometimes it’s on a walk that takes me to the bridge entrance, sometimes it’s on the bridge, sometimes it’s downtown hanging out. But I never get tired of looking at the Golden Gate Bridge