Giants

2019 Giants Position Preview: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik have company

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2019 Giants Position Preview: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik have company

SAN FRANCISCO — When Joe Panik broke through and solidified a spot alongside Brandon Crawford, it looked like the Giants could be set up the middle for a decade. They even came up with a name for the duo, Crawnik, which the organization uses often on social media. 

With new leadership, though, comes a new path, and it’s no secret that the duo was nearly broken up over the winter. Panik was brought up often in trade discussions and the Giants did their due diligence on free-agent second basemen, most notably DJ LeMahieu. 

But here we are, in the month when spring training begins, with everything intact up the middle, and a wide variety of possibilities for how the infield will look at this time a year from now. In Part III of this preview series — here’s Part I, on the catchers, and Part II, on the corner infielders — we take a look at the middle infielders: 

Returning: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Alen Hanson, Abiatal Avelino

Crawford was a borderline MVP candidate in the first half last season, but his numbers tailed off after the break as he dealt with nagging injuries. Still, it was a seventh consecutive two-WAR season, and there’s no reason to think that streak will end. You can bet he comes into this spring with a little extra motivation, too, after losing his Gold Glove to Nick Ahmed. 

Barring a surprise February trade, Panik will get a shot to reestablish himself. He is coming off the worst season of his career, but he’s still just 28, and still has elite bat-to-ball skills. Perhaps an upgraded analytics department can find a way to build on what Panik does best. If not, he could be headed for a platoon. 

Hanson was a nice story last year and could be a very interesting dude under the Zaidi regime. He had a .781 OPS against right-handers last season with all eight of his homers, and he can play all over the field, including in left, where there’s currently a gaping hole. That’s the type of skill set that could have him in the lineup quite often to take advantage of platoon splits. 

While Hanson succeeded as a left-handed hitter, Avelino has a chance to make a mark given his status as a righty in an infield full of the opposite. He impressed coaches last September with his energy and enthusiasm, and while he didn’t put up big numbers in winter ball, his work in the field is notable.

He played six different positions for Gigantes in the Dominican Republic, including left field and center field. The Giants believe he has a good shot at being a do-everything type

The departed: Kelby Tomlinson, Chase d’Arnaud, Miguel Gomez. 

These three combined for 265 plate appearances but very little production at the plate. Tomlinson is now a D-Back, d’Arnaud is with the Rangers, and it’s unclear where Gomez has landed. Zaidi has focused on upgrading the back end of the roster, and this is one area where the Giants can surely do better. 

Additions

The Giants did not sign anyone in a loaded second base market, but they did trade for Breyvic Valera at the beginning of the new year. The 27-year-old is a .299 hitter in the minors with on-base skills and the ability to play second, short, third, left or center.

He's on the 40-man roster, so he enters the spring with a leg up on some others vying for bench jobs. 

Non-roster invitees: Ryan Howard, Levi Michael, Donovan Solano

Howard, 24, is one of those players you hear about all the time when talking to team executives and scouts. The Giants drafted him twice and he’s had a steady rise, batting .287/.335/.391 in the minors.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ryan Howard embraces being an underdog]

Howard doesn’t strike out much and the Giants are hopeful his doubles power (32 last season) turns into more as he matures. He could start the year in Triple-A and develop as the No. 2 to Crawford at short, with the ability to move around. 

Michael, 27, had a .858 OPS at two levels for the Mets last season. He has flashed solid on-base skills throughout the minors, which is an emphasis as the Giants rebuild their roster.

Michael has primarily been a second baseman in the minors, but has also played plenty of short, as well as third and all three outfield spots. You might have heard that versatility is another point of emphasis.  

Having taken over 1,000 big league at-bats, Solano is an outlier with this group, but he adds some experience. He spent all of last season in the minors with the Dodgers and can move all over the infield. 

Outlook:

Crawford is as dependable as any Giant, but the rest of this group is unpredictable. If Panik can get back to his old form, the middle of the field should be a strength for the Giants. Long-term, though, they’ll need to start finding some additional depth and developing contributors again.

It’s been a long time since Crawford, Panik and Matt Duffy broke through … 

MLB rumors: Didi Gregorius chose Phillies over Giants due to Joe Girardi

MLB rumors: Didi Gregorius chose Phillies over Giants due to Joe Girardi

The Giants added a veteran shortstop Tuesday when they acquired Zack Cosart and prospect Will Wilson in a trade with the Angels for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Wilson was the prize of the deal, but there remains a possibility that Cozart could play a considerable role in San Francisco's middle infield this coming season.

As it turns out, though, the Giants reportedly went after a different veteran shortstop before pursuing the trade with the Angels. Didi Gregorius signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Phillies on Tuesday, and according to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, Gregorius reportedly chose them over the Giants in part due to the presence of Phillies manager Joe Girardi.

Gregorius previously played under Girardi with the Yankees, and it would appear they enjoyed their time together. While his offensive numbers might have been inflated somewhat by Yankee Stadium, Gregorius remains a standout defender and he was worth at least four WAR in both 2017 and 2018.

[RELATED: New Giants prospect Wilson already hates rival Dodgers]

The Giants absorbed the entirety of the $12.67 remaining on Cozart's contract, so there isn't much of a price difference between he and Gregorius. That said, the fact that San Francisco was able to acquire the Angels' No. 4 ranked prospect along with Cozart likely made that the more prudent acquisition.

MLB rumors: Dodgers shifting focus to Madison Bumgarner in free agency

MLB rumors: Dodgers shifting focus to Madison Bumgarner in free agency

Heading into free agency, the Giants made it clear that Madison Bumgarner had earned the right to go anywhere he wanted. A couple days into the Winter Meetings, that sentiment likely remains the same, but they'd be lying if they said they didn't have a preference where he ended up.

Now that Gerrit Cole reportedly has agreed to a record-breaking nine-year contract with the New York Yankees, San Francisco apparently inched closer to its greatest nightmare.

The rival Dodgers were considered to be a finalist for Cole, and apparently they didn't waste any time pivoting once the news broke. Giants fans really, really, really won't want to hear the direction in which Los Angeles reportedly is pivoting, though, according to MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal.

If you need to go rinse the vomit taste out of your mouth, go for it. You're certainly not the only Giants fan doing so.

After everything Bumgarner achieved in San Francisco, it's unbearable to think of him exchanging his orange and black for Dodger blue. I mean, think of all the run-ins Bumgarner has had with LA over the years. Yaisel Puig. Max Muncy. Go get it out of the ocean? How about we just get this rumor out of here.

Yuck.

[RELATED: New Giants prospect Wilson already hates rival Dodgers]

Bumgarner is expected to receive a contract in excess of $100 million, and the Dodgers certainly have the ability to afford him. So do the Giants, though, and as NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic notes, they might be forced to revisit the situation due to their rival's reported interest.

And guess which two teams face each other on Opening Day?

The Giants are used to seeing MadBum take the mound on the first day of the season. For the sake of all that is good and holy, let's hope they don't have to learn what it's like to go against him in that situation.