Donovan Solano is about the last player you would expect to end up in the Giants' first arbitration hearing in nearly two decades.
Solano is popular with teammates and coaches, who enthusiastically refer to him as Donnie Barrels. He's respected for his journey, having turned himself into a starter in his thirties after three years away from the big leagues. He's coming off a year in which he batted .326, came up with a seemingly endless supply of huge hits, and became the first Giants second baseman to win a Silver Slugger Award since Jeff Kent in 2002.
But baseball is a business, and the Giants are a file-and-trial team, refusing to negotiate once figures have been exchanged. The club faced off with Solano and his agent via Zoom a few days before he reported to camp and Solano lost. Instead of making the $3.9 million he asked for, Solano will get the $3.25 million the Giants offered.
This came a few weeks after the Giants signed Tommy La Stella, adding to a crowd at second base. You could understand if Solano held some bitterness when he walked into Scottsdale Stadium, but he posted excitedly on his Instagram page over the weekend, and on Wednesday he said the hearing was a "great experience" and one he has moved on from.
"We were fighting for different things," he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "I'm fighting for one thing, they're fighting for another. The outcome doesn't have any reflection on how I feel for the team and the team feels for me."
Solano said he initially asked himself what he could have done differently. The numbers certainly weren't lacking. Solano had a .828 OPS, finishing sixth among big leaguers in batting average and fifth among second basemen in OBP and slugging.
"You think about it and you only played 60 games, so it was difficult," he said. "You go out there and you gamble and I lost, but at the same time you kind of have to reflect on the fact that not too long ago I was in Triple-A, so you've just got to move forward."
The arbitration process is an ugly one for players. In essence, their employer is trying to point out everything they did wrong and every reason they should not get that additional money, $650,000 in Solano's case. Teams get remarkably detailed with their presentations. But manager Gabe Kapler isn't worried about Solano, saying he's "as mentally tough as they come."
"One of the things that I would say is that once players cross into the clubhouse, they come into the building, it's gone," Kapler said. "Maybe they're using it as motivation, but I've never seen that beat a player mentally, and certainly I wouldn't expect that with Donovan. He's just a mentally tough individual and he's really happy to be on a baseball field. I just see this as a non-issue."
Solano does, too, and he said Wednesday that he's excited to be back on the field and not concerned about where he fits in. For now, Kapler said, it will be a familiar role. He expects Solano to get nearly all of his time at second base, although he could see some reps at third.
Solano thus far has played just a half-season and a shortened season with the Giants, but in that time he has been one of the most impactful pickups of the Zaidi Era. Parts of this past offseason may have been disappointing, but it started with a huge honor. Solano said he heard after the season from some National League coaches that they had voted for him for the Silver Slugger, but he still thought the Mets' Robinson Cano would take it home.
"I thought it would be difficult," Solano said. "I was surprised that I won it."