- Associated Press - Thursday, September 15, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Newly promoted Giants CEO Larry Baer might be open to making a run at a premier free agent this winter, though his philosophy will still focus on building a franchise from the bottom up to develop a deep and talented farm system.

So, might a slugger like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder be splashing home runs into McCovey Cove come 2012? That remains to be seen.

“That’s been a winning philosophy,” Baer said Thursday of relying on homegrown players. “That’s a good template. Don’t interpret that as we wouldn’t go after a premier free agent but I don’t think we wake up in the morning and say that’s the first choice.”

In a surprising move by the reigning World Series champions late Wednesday, Baer is taking on a bigger role and Bill Neukom is stepping aside as managing general partner at the end of the calendar year. The announcement comes 10 1/2 months after the Giants captured the franchise’s first title since moving West in 1958.

Neither Baer nor Neukom would clearly answer Thursday whether Neukom had been pushed out of his decision-making duties by ownership’s executive committee, as it appears, and both insisted there were no communication issues among the brass.

Even regarding the recent release of outfielder Aaron Rowand, the club’s second-highest paid player who is still owed $12 million for next season. Neukom said the decision was supported by the other investors ahead of time.

“There was no precipitating event that I’m aware of,” said Neukom, sporting one of his signature bow ties _ with black and orange stripes. “The Aaron Rowand decision, if anything, we have been generally applauded for doing that. It wasn’t easy to do. We liked the guy and he was in center field for us in November. I’ll never forget that. He was a good influence in lots of different ways. But we had to put together the best team we could to give ourselves the best chance to get as far as we could this year. After a lot of agony and a lot of analysis, we made the tough decision. I think the fans understand why we did it. We had a lot of good advice and guidance from the baseball brain trust.”

Baer and Neukom will work jointly to lead the Giants up until the late December departure of Neukom, who plans to serve in an advisory role as chairman emeritus for a season and teach at Stanford Law School before giving up his stake in the team altogether. He said he will remain a season ticketholder.

“Business as usual,” Baer said of the transition period.

Well, not completely.

Baer won’t assume the title of managing general partner _ the franchise will go without one for now in this new leadership structure.

“Everybody has a boss,” Baer said. “They’re employing me to come in and run the thing. I’m accountable to the board.”

Or nine of them in his case.

Baer will have that many top investors on speed dial when he wants to make a major decision.

He indicated general manager Brian Sabean, who along with manager Bruce Bochy is signed through 2012, is part of the long-term plans and said it’s safe to expect any players under contract to return next season _ including $126 million left-hander Barry Zito. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland has struggled in his five years across the bay in San Francisco. He is owed $19 million next year, $20 million in 2013 and has an $18 million team option with a $7 million buyout in 2014.

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