The San Francisco Giants have fired manager Gabe Kapler, the team announced Friday, ending a four-year tenure that featured the winningest season in franchise history in 2021.
In the two years since that season, in which the Giants won 107 games to edge their rival Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West title, the Giants have struggled mightily in trying to replicate that success on the field. The team fell to 81-81 in 2022, losing the West to the Dodgers by 30 games.
This season has been even worse, with the Giants entering Friday with a record of 78-81. They flirted with the playoffs for much of the season — holding the third NL wild-card spot as recently as Sept. 14, when they were 75-71 — but they’ve gone 3-10 in the two weeks since and have been eliminated from contention.
This was Kapler’s second stint as an MLB manager, as he previously held the role with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018 and 2019.
Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi praised Kapler’s work with the team and wished him well in a statement:
“After making this recommendation to ownership and receiving their approval, I met with Gabe today to inform him of our decision,” said Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi. “In his tenure as Giants manager, Gabe led our team through an unprecedented pandemic in 2020 and a franchise-record 107 wins and postseason berth in 2021. He has been dedicated and passionate in his efforts to improve the on-field performance of the San Francisco Giants and I have tremendous respect for him as a colleague and friend.
“On behalf of the Giants organization, we wish Gabe the best of luck in his future endeavors and thank him for his contributions over the last four years.”
Firing Kapler is not a small move as far as Zaidi is concerned. The two worked together for three years in the Dodgers’ front office — Kapler as director of player development and Zaidi as general manager under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman — then reunited in San Francisco in 2019, when Kapler replaced the retiring (at the time) Bruce Bochy.
The pair were well aligned, with Kapler the data-friendly conduit between players and front office that has become the archetype of a modern manager. However, he couldn’t prevent the team from stagnating, which wasn’t entirely his fault.
Will firing Gabe Kapler fix the Giants?
Whether or not they kept Kapler, Zaidi and the Giants were in an awkward spot.
It’s hard to forget how magical their 2021 season felt. That team was not supposed to win 107 games. Baseball Prospectus’ well-respected PECOTA projections pegged the Giants as fourth-best in the NL West, with an expected record of 75-87, and instead they snapped the defending champion Dodgers’ eight-year division title streak.
Not only that, but they held off a Dodgers team that won 106 games, which was then a franchise record. It was Kapler’s second season as the team’s manager.
The Giants didn’t do it by signing a mega-free agent or pulling off a blockbuster trade. Their big acquisitions the previous offseason were Tommy La Stella, Anthony DeSclafani, Jake McGee and Alex Wood. They made mostly marginal moves to improve a core that went 29-31 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Then just about every player on the roster had a career season. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, all at least 30 years old, each posted OPS+ of at least 120, while Kevin Gausman, DeSclafani, Wood and Logan Webb formed one of the best rotations in baseball.
It was astounding to watch. It also made the next two seasons that much more frustrating.
The Giants haven’t done much to change what should’ve been their outlook in 2021. The core that won three World Series titles from 2010 to 2014 is gone, save for Crawford, who hit .197/.276/.319 this season. An attempt to replace that core has mostly failed, and it’s pretty hard to say that was Kapler’s fault. The Giants’ current roster is composed almost entirely of aging veterans and younger players expected to punch well above their weight.
Here is every Giants first-round draft pick and their bWAR from 2014 to 2020: Tyler Beede (-0.4), Chris Shaw (-0.9), Phil Bickford (0.5), Heliot Ramos (-0.8), Joey Bart (0.6), Hunter Bishop (has not reached MLB) and Patrick Bailey (0.7). Only Bishop and Bailey were drafted under Zaidi, but that list shows just how dry the talent pipeline became in the years before Kapler took over.
The blueprint for the Giants was basically to replicate the Dodgers’ model of combining a first-class player-development system with the spending of a big-market team, which the Giants are. So far, the organization has delivered on neither (Joc Pederson was the team’s highest-paid player this season, on a qualifying offer). They tried to sign Carlos Correa to a mega-deal, yes, but we know how that went.
Kapler might not have rallied the team in any way reminiscent of 2021, but he’s also not the singular reason the Giants are on track to finish fourth in their division this season or why they will likely be expected to finish fourth next year, barring a major shakeup.
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.