Just because a team doesn't have a traditional DH doesn't mean they can't take advantage of the position. Let's look at how Gabe Kapler did exactly that last season with the Giants.
Kapler started eight different players -- Joey Bart, Alex Dickerson, Wilmer Flores, Austin Slater, Darin Ruf, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Justin Smoak -- at DH during the 60-game regular season. He won't have that luxury this season, though. The NL is going back in time once again and will not have the DH in 2021.
That changes things for Kapler in multiple ways, and not just because we get to watch Johnny Cueto hold a bat for some reason.
"Most simply it just means we have to get our pitchers ready to hit again," Kapler said last week to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser on the "Giants Splash" podcast. "It's been a while since we've taken those steps and readying to bunt again. And ultimately I think for planning purposes some players that we may have allocated for DH at-bats, we're gonna have to be a little bit more creative.
"Very frankly and openly, I think there's a sentiment that [Wilmer] Flores, by way of example, would be taking down a lot of DH reps and Darin Ruf might take a lot of DH reps, maybe Tommy La Stella and others for that matter. We really liked to use that spot to rotate players through, rather than have one DH."
Flores led the Giants in games started at DH last season with 21. Slater came in second with 13, followed by Sandoval -- who no longer plays for the Giants -- with 11. But Ruf also had six starts there, and La Stella started eight games as a DH between the Los Angeles Angels and the A's.
The Giants signed La Stella with the intention of playing him nearly every day, especially against right-handed pitching. He hit .303 with a .903 OPS against right-handers last season, and all five of his homers came against them as well.
Before they signed La Stella to a three-year contract this offseason, the longest deal handed out by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaid was the two years he gave Flores. That looked like a steal last season. Flores quietly hit .268 with 12 homers and an .830 OPS. His 125 OPS+ was a career-high. He showed power against lefties (.661 slugging percentage vs. .449) but did hit five of long balls off right-handers.
Slater and Ruf both will have to fight for time in the outfield, but Slater certainly has the edge. He put up career highs last year in batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.408), slugging percentage (.506), home runs (five) and stolen bases (eight). While he crushed lefties with a 1.127 OPS, he also proved to be capable against right-handers with a .735 OPS. Slater, however, experienced yet another elbow injury and was limited to 31 games.
Kapler believes Slater's injury shouldn't hamper him, but he's yet another player who could have benefited from having the DH this year. That's not to mention Buster Posey and the rest of the Giants' catchers.
"What we're gonna be needing to be doing now is just be more creative how we allocate those at-bats, and making sure we get them reps at as many positions as possible," Kapler said. "By way of example, Flores is a perfect example. We know he can play first, second and third. We may even consider some reps in the outfield. Not saying that we're definitely gonna do that, but it's one consideration. Tommy can play first, second or third. We're gonna make sure he gets the reps at those locations.
"And Ruf moving to the outfield, but he can also play some first base. We may have wanted to use the DH spot to get Buster Posey or Curt Casali off their feet. That's the problem -- that's not an option now. We're gonna have to be creative in how we're getting these bats in the lineup on a regular basis."
One of the reasons Zaidi hired Kapler before last season was his creative approach. That will have to be on full display this season to compete against teams in the NL West like the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
The buzzword of the day last season was "versatility." That will be pushed to the max in 2021, with the hopes that competition brings the best out of a Giants team looking to get back to the playoffs.