The Giants spent every day of the offseason going over possibilities for 2020, and by the time they reported to Scottsdale in February, they felt they had a pretty good idea of what their Opening Day roster would look like, how they would manage platoons, and how they could get creative with their pitching staff.
Over those hundreds of hours of conversation and simulation, they never could have pictured the current roster discussion. A global pandemic has shut down the sport, shortened the season, and led to the introduction of the designated hitter in the National League, likely for good.
It has long been a lock that the universal DH would be part of any sort of 2020 season, and while the owners and players don't agree on much, they seem aligned on keeping that in place through next season. The collective bargaining agreement expires after that and it has generally been assumed within the game that a universal DH would be put in place as part of the next agreement.
On Wednesday's "Chalk Talk at Home" YouTube show, broadcaster Jon Miller brought that possibility up to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
"I think that's a fair, logical train of thought to have," Zaidi said. "I could certainly see it going that way."
The Giants didn't prepare for having a DH in 2020 -- and it certainly will be a slight disadvantage if they do end up playing the AL West a lot -- but they have some easy solutions. Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson were set to platoon in left, but both could use breaks from the physical strains of playing the field. Zaidi mentioned Pence as an option, along with Pablo Sandoval, who will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery if the season resumes.
Zaidi also twice brought up a veteran who came back from South Korea and entered Giants camp as a non-roster invitee, going 12-for-28 with three homers and five doubles in Cactus League action.
"With some of the performances we were getting in spring training you were wondering how we were going to get at-bats for everybody, and this may create opportunity," Zaidi said. "Take a guy like Darin Ruf, whose primary position is first base and we obviously have Brandon Belt over there. Maybe this opens up more at-bats for him."
Ruf is particularly appealing against left-handed starters, and the NL West is full of them. Over five previous big league seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, he never established himself as a full-time starter, but Ruf did post a .299/.379/.542 slash line against left-handed pitching. He could be a big part of the DH mix.
"I think we're going to stay in-house," Zaidi said.
(A quick note on that: It does not necessarily preclude a run at Yasiel Puig, who would be signed as a true outfielder, not a DH option.)
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Regardless of what the Giants do, this will be a huge adjustment for fans and an organization that watched Madison Bumgarner launch bombs for the past decade. Long-term, Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris will have to put together rosters with a slightly different look, although they've always had that in the back of their minds.
When the Giants took a catcher in the first round for the second time in three years by drafting Patrick Bailey, Zaidi mentioned that having a DH down the line could help ease the logjam. But it's still something that'll take some getting used to.
"I spent the first 10 years of my MLB career in the AL (with the A's) and was a little bit of a DH snob," Zaidi said. "Since then I've really seen the light. I love the National League style of play, I love the strategy that goes into it, the fact that every time you have a rally it seems to funnel to that pitcher's spot. Managers have decisions to make and the pitchers that can swing the bat give you a huge advantage. I think there's just a lot of fun strategy-wise. I've learned to really appreciate that style of play, but there's another side to this.
"It obviously creates more offense, it lengthens the career for some guys who maybe get to the point of their career where they can't go out and play a position every day but they can still hit, and that's something that fans want to see. It's going to change the strategy a little bit for us but it's something that the players, from the sounds of it want, and I think it's certainly manageable for us."