Farhan Zaidi's Giants roster will emphasize positional versatility

Farhan Zaidi's Giants roster will emphasize positional versatility

SAN FRANCISCO — The ritual is the same every spring. 

Position players love to show off their new gloves, and once or twice a week at Scottsdale Stadium you’ll see them actually take those dreams of versatility onto the field. Brandon Belt will shag fly balls during batting practice. Corner outfielders will see what the view is like from center field. Austin Slater does drills at second base, his former position. Pablo Sandoval moves all over. Anyone who catches or plays third base does work with Ron Wotus at first. Back when Hector Sanchez was a Giant, he would regularly take grounders — just in case.

These are fun stories in the spring. Distractions from the tedious daily work. But in the Farhan Zaidi Era, you can no longer shelve those spare gloves on Opening Day. 

Zaidi’s Dodgers were famous for their versatility. On Wednesday, on the Giants Insider Podcast, he said that will be part of a new Giants roster. 

“There are certainly going to be chances to add guys,” he said, “and positional versatility will certainly be something we look at as a positive."

[RELATED: How Giants lured Farhan Zaidi from Dodgers as new president of baseball ops]

The Dodgers moved players around more effectively than anyone. Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor are Swiss army knives, capable of playing all over the outfield and middle infield, and playing those spots well. Cody Bellinger moves back and forth from first base to center field. Max Muncy made double-digit starts at first, second and third and also played a few innings in left. Backup catcher Austin Barnes made six starts at second base. Kyle Farmer, another backup catcher, made 14 starts at third base. 

It went on and on for the Dodgers. Zaidi said he viewed versatility as a strength for a couple of reasons. 

“One is, it just insulates you from injuries better,” he said. “When you have a bunch of guys that serve as interchangeable pieces for the manager, when you have an injury, a lot of times you don't have to go get another second baseman. There are two other guys on the team that can occupy that position.

“Secondly, when you start looking at off days and making sure that everybody on your roster is getting adequate rest, the ability of guys to play multiple positions gives you more opportunities to do that.”

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There’s another reason Zaidi likes moving guys around. He believes there’s an off-field effect. 

“I do think it has a cultural impact on a roster when players move around and they don't identify as 'I'm the shortstop and I'm the third baseman.' You're just a baseball player and you're part of the team and you do whatever the team asks or needs of you, and that creates a different kind of culture that I think is really conducive to a winning environment,” he said. 

To pull this off, Zaidi will need to overhaul the roster a bit. There are guys — Belt, Buster Posey, Sandoval, etc. — who have moved around during games in the past, and utility types like Slater, Alen Hanson and Abiatal Avelino will have increased value. But for the most part, Bruce Bochy’s in-game lineup decisions haven’t been complicated.

“When you look at the [Giants] infield you've got established players that are kind of single-position guys,” Zaidi said. “Look, Corey Seager is a shortstop and he played shortstop for the Dodgers before he was hurt and there wasn't much of an inclination to move him around. When you have everyday players of that caliber, the versatility is maybe less relevant, but on the same token I think this is a roster that can use some multi-position guys on the infield to keep those guys fresh and maybe play matchups a little bit more and give some of the lefties days off against tough left-handed pitching and vice versa.”

The easiest moves to make right away will be in the outfield. Bochy has always been willing to experiment in left, and Zaidi sounds eager to give his manager a few more bat-first options who can handle the field’s easiest position. 

“I think there are opportunities to bring in some guys into that mix who have a chance to really impact the team offensively,” he said. “Corner outfield is really the lowest hanging fruit in terms of when you're trying to add offensive impact to the lineup.”

[RELATED: Giants' Farhan Zaidi goes for fourth fantasy football title with Dodgers]

Why Giants brought up Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole when explaining new staff


Why Giants brought up Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole when explaining new staff

SAN DIEGO -- When you hear the words "player development," you think of 19-year-olds learning on back fields at the minor league facility in Scottsdale, or a roving hitting instructor spending time making swing changes with prospects Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos, or a coach teaching a Logan Webb or Sean Hjelle a new pitch. 

But when Giants manager Gabe Kapler talks about player development -- and he does so often -- he's also thinking about guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Kapler said this week that there's "not much I feel more strongly about" than players continuing to develop at the big league level, and that played a huge role as he hired a young staff that will ideally bring an innovative approach.

"There's evidence all over the place in Major League Baseball about players who reinvent themselves or take major steps forward and reestablish their value at the Major League level," Kapler said this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

The Giants are building for the future, but they also believe they can squeeze much more out of the existing core. And when Bart and Ramos are veterans one day, they want those guys to continue to find new levels, too. As he talked about player development at the big league level, Kapler pivoted and told a story about Bryce Harper, who already had more than 900 games under his belt when he joined Kapler's Phillies last season. 

"Bryce Harper, I think, was influenced heavily by Paco Figueroa, our first base and outfield coach, mostly just because Paco was not concerned about approaching Bryce," Kapler said. "He recognized that Bryce Harper wanted to be coached and wanted to develop, and he was willing to approach. Bryce recognized that so much so that at the end of the year when we were doing our exit meetings, Bryce recognized that Paco had been influential in his career and helped him become a better outfielder and baserunner."

Harper was worth negative-26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 according to Fangraphs -- just about the only blemish on his résumé as a free agent -- but was plus-9 in his first season in Philadelphia, a massive improvement. The Giants were actually intent on going that path long before Kapler arrived. When they offered Harper $310 million last year, their existing analytics and coaching staffs had ideas about how they could get more out of Harper defensively with positioning changes. 

Harper's not the only example the Giants will use to sell their vision to veteran players. General manager Scott Harris mentioned Gerrit Cole as another who found new ways to add to his game. 

"Look at the strides he made the last two seasons and now he signed the largest free-agent contract (for a pitcher) in the history of the game," Harris said. "You look at the strides he made when he first burst onto the scene for the Pirates and what he did in Houston. Their coaching staff was largely responsible for the development he saw at the Major League level."

The Astros' staff has gotten a lot of credit for turning Cole into the pitcher the Pirates were expecting when they took him first overall in 2011. Cole had a 3.50 ERA in Pittsburgh and a 2.68 ERA in Houston, where his strikeout rate jumped from 8.4 per nine innings to 13.1. He was worth 15.4 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates and then skyrocketed to 13.4 in two seasons in Houston. 

[RELATED: Kershaw believes Dodgers signing MadBum would be 'great']

Kapler and Harris are not walking into an organization that has a Harper or Cole, but they believe their new coaching staff and player-development methods can get the most out of existing talent. That'll be a focus in spring training, and the conversations have already begun with some veterans. Kapler, who mentioned J.D. Martinez as another example of late-career adjustments, said he has spoken to Posey multiple times since getting hired. 

"I think that a lot of established successful Major Leaguers want to get better and sometimes they don't know how," Kapler said. "In some cases, it's because coaches haven't approached them because they don't want to break something that's working well, but I think those days are gone and I think players crave having coaches approach them and ask them to make changes."

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Despite what Giants fans want to believe, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw are friends.

Before many Giants-Dodgers games over the years, they could be seen talking on the field, in plain sight of everyone.

So it should come as any surprise that Kershaw would love to have Bumgarner on the Dodgers.

"I love Bum," Kershaw said Friday at a Dodgers holiday event according to Dodgers Nation. "If we signed him, that’d be great."

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Dodgers and Bumgarner have a mutual interest in a deal.

Bumgarner in Dodger blue is the worst nightmare for Giants fans. But it's a real possibility with Los Angeles missing out on top free agent Gerrit Cole.

[RELATED: Padres reportedly looking at Bumgarner]

Kershaw hasn't been able to bring a World Series to Los Angeles on his own, so of course, he would love for a postseason hero to come help him end the Dodgers' title drought.