How Pete Putila’s Astros success prepared him for Giants GM role

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SAN FRANCISCO — Yordan Alvarez’s mammoth home run in Game 1 of the ALDS was the type of moment baseball executives dream of. The Astros acquired Alvarez in one of the best trades in recent baseball history, helped him become a superstar, then watched a ballpark explode when he hit a no-doubt in the biggest time of their season up to this point.

Pete Putila had been there every step of the way, but as Alvarez began to tour the bases, Putila wasn’t hugging fellow executives or clapping strangers at Minute Maid Park. He was on the phone with Giants director of player development Kyle Haines.

“I think that’s when I really realized I was on a new team,” Putila said on this week’s Giants Talk podcast.

The departure came less than 24 hours after the Giants named Putila the 10th general manager in franchise history. Within 30 minutes of the official announcement, Putila was on a Zoom call with local reporters, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler. Within 48 hours he was on a flight to San Francisco, where he settled into an empty office and began meeting people at all levels of the organization.

It’s been a whirlwind for the 33-year-old, but it’s nothing compared to what’s to come. Putila secured the No. 2 job in the front office just weeks before the start of one of the most important winters in franchise history. As he previewed the upcoming work, Putila noted, “I think all the options are on the table,” and they should be.

When Putila was first interviewed for the GM job in 2019, the Giants were in the midst of a restart. He watched Scott Harris get the job, then watched from afar as Zaidi, Harris and Kapler built a roster that shockingly won 107 games two years later. It all fell apart in 2022 and Harris left for the Detroit Tigers, who are in the middle of their long rebuild.

All this time, Putila has worked for an organization that just keeps winning and winning. Much has been said over the years about how Zaidi will try to replicate what the Dodgers have built, but a better model might actually exist in Houston.

For all their success in player development, the Dodgers have also spent more than anyone in recent years. In the other league, the Astros relied more on filling gaps internally, and they did it better than anyone by reaching the ALCS for a sixth straight season.

They lost George Springer to the Toronto Blue Jays but replaced that production with Alvarez, acquired in a savvy move with the Dodgers in 2016, and Kyle Tucker, a former first-rounder who has 30 straight seasons. When shortstop Carlos Correa flew to the Minnesota Twins, the Astros simply turned to Jeremy Peña, a third-rounder who hit 22 homers as a rookie and was a playoff star. Longtime stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are both included, as is center fielder Chas McCormick, a late-round pick in 2017.

The Astros have perhaps the best rotation in baseball, and while ace Justin Verlander was a stellar addition, the rest of the group came from the farm system.

Cy Young contestant Framber Valdez left the Dominican Republic for just $10,000, joining a class that included Cristian Javier. Jose Urquidy signed as an international free agent outside of Mexico and two years later Luis Garcia signed outside of Venezuela. Former first-rounder Lance McCullers is still part of the mix, and the next ace could be right-hander Hunter Brown, drafted in the fifth round in 2019.

It’s still unclear how to distribute credit for the front office work, but at the very least, Putila can say his fingerprints were all over the construction of this list. Most of Putila’s 12 years in Houston were spent working with prospects, including a stint as director of player development before being named assistant general manager.

“I think it starts with the draft and the international signing process, trying to acquire players who have a base level of skill and performance that we can build on in player development,” Putila said. about this success. “And then once they get into the system, I think it’s just having a clear diagnosis of what they need to work on that will actually improve performance on the pitch, and then trying to find systems that give them feedback, ideally live feedback, so they can train different parts of their game. I think the process of physical development is also an important part of that.

The Giants have overhauled their own minor league operation since Zaidi took over, but they still have work to do. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Zaidi’s tenure so far is the fact that they have yet to be able to graduate consistent contributors.

They’re closing in, with players like Kyle Harrison and Casey Schmitt teetering on the brink, but they’re still behind organizations like the Astros and Dodgers. Zaidi hopes Putila will help them take the next step.

“There’s no lack of ideas, technologies and viewpoints in player development, but actually streamlining it and identifying the key priorities for the organization and the things we really want to focus on and be the best in our class, I think that’s something we want to focus on,” Zaidi said last week. “I think Pete will be an incredible asset for us to achieve that.”

Zaidi said he was blown away by the quality of recommendations he received from current and former Putila colleagues, and his CV certainly shows an ability to connect. Putila started with the Astros as a baseball operations intern and survived two general manager changes, a move to a new league and, as he jokes, a uniform change.

Perhaps most impressively, he survived the sign-stealing scandal that led to an entirely new direction for the Astros. Putila was the only baseball operations manager in Houston who preceded Jeff Luhnow, and when Luhnow was fired in 2020, Putila was carried on by new general manager James Click.

Any conversation about everything the Astros have done right over the past decade must also include what they’ve done wrong, but Zaidi said the Giants did their due diligence before hiring Putila, who spent two seasons working in the replay room at the big league club years before. become the centerpiece of a scandal.

“We spoke to the MLB Investigations Department about what happened in Houston a few years ago and they assured us that Pete was not even interviewed as part of that investigation,” Zaidi said. .

Putila was back in player development during the 2017 season in question and said he was unaware of anything going on with the sign theft, calling it a “shocking and disappointing” time for the players. Astros. As the organization tried to move forward, the pandemic hit.

“It was a tough time,” he said. “The 2020 season was kind of a rebirth because it was a shortened season and there were no fans and we raised a group of young guys and a lot of those guys ended up being essential parts of this team now.”

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The Giants hope Putila can help them do the same, and three years after initially interviewing him, they have officially signed him. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Putila, who took an unusual path to the top of a big league front office.

Putila comes from a coal mining family in little Camichaels, Pennsylvania, about 65 miles south of PNC Park. He grew up a Pirates fan and always knew he didn’t want to have your traditional 9-5 job, even though he wasn’t sure what that would ultimately mean. After serving as a student coach for the West Virginia baseball team, he got an internship with the Astros.

Putila moved to Houston before graduating and graduated while sitting at his desk at the Astros reception. The rise to prominence has been rapid since then and Zaidi is counting on Putila to help them regain their prominence in the NL West. While Putila helped make the Astros a perennial contender, Zaidi did the same in Los Angeles, though they had a notable misstep.

Zaidi was the Dodgers’ general manager when they acquired reliever Josh Fields from the Astros in exchange for Alvarez, an unknown prospect who was signed earlier this summer. Putila smiled and said he never brought up the Alvarez trade during his talks with Zaidi, although it certainly looks like he will now be on the winning side of the trade for the second time.

“Looking back,” Putila said, “it’s good that we got him out of the NL West.”

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