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."
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.”
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.”