Farhan Zaidi taught Giants fans last spring that it's never too late to add a starter to your Opening Day lineup. Connor Joe and Michael Reed had barely had time to unpack their duffels before taking the field at Petco Park to get the season started.
By that standard, the addition this week of Yolmer Sanchez comes remarkably early, and it gives manager Gabe Kapler plenty of time to figure out what he wants to do at second base. The Giants let Mauricio Dubon take the starting job for a spin last September and the results were encouraging, but there are plenty of options as 2020 kicks off.
Earlier this week, we looked at the race to be the backup catcher and the lack of any sort of drama at first base. Today, the focus is on second base, where the Giants will head to spring training with a true competition to see who will jog out to the infield at Dodger Stadium on March 26 ...
For all the talk about Mike Yastrzemski, the Dubon trade might have been Zaidi's best move in his first full year in charge. When Drew Pomeranz tanked as a starter, the Giants moved him to the bullpen and turned a few 97 mph fastballs and scoreless relief outings into Dubon, a 25-year-old middle infielder who has a legitimate shot at being a big part of the next good Giants team.
Dubon was called up at the end of August and hit .279/.312/.442 while basically serving as the everyday second baseman. He showed surprising power, hitting four homers, and looked to have the potential to be one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.
The Giants won the Mauricio Dubon trade. pic.twitter.com/QJsc19ZaFJ— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 30, 2019
Bochy spent a few minutes today talking about how smart Dubon is on the field. He probably enjoyed this one, too: pic.twitter.com/saircBDGah— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) September 12, 2019
Dubon has a strong desire to get better and already has formed a bond with shortstop Brandon Crawford. If you extrapolate his numbers from September over a full season, he's a two-win player, which the Giants haven't had at second base since Joe Panik was an All-Star in 2015.
So ... why does this article even bring up any hint of a competition? Why aren't the Giants just handing second base to Dubon and giving him a shot to lock it down for a half-decade?
For as much promise as Dubon showed at second, the Giants believe his true ceiling can be reached if he becomes a super-utility guy, someone capable of shifting positions two or three times a game and letting Kapler maximize matchups elsewhere. The Giants will take a look at him in center field and some of their people believe he can be an above-average defender there, giving Zaidi his new version of Chris Taylor or Kiké Hernandez.
Dubon still could be a 155-game player, just in a unique way. Imagine him starting a game at second, then sliding over to short in the sixth if Kapler wants to keep Crawford from facing a tough lefty reliever. Or starting a game in center against a left-handed pitcher, then moving back to the infield if Steven Duggar pinch-hits against a righty. Those are the types of things the Giants are contemplating.
Dubon might not be the starting second baseman every day, but he'll get plenty of time there, and between his talent, energy, and personality, he's a strong bet to become the next fan favorite.
Players who have batted .400 on the road in a season over the last 40 years: Ichiro Suzuki and Donovan Solano. That's it, that's the list.
A non-roster invitee who hadn't been in the big leagues since 2016, Solano was one of the better stories of the season, batting .330 in 81 appearances and posting an OPS+ that was 17 points above league average. Solano hit both lefties and righties and batted an MLB-best .394 against fastballs, so he figures to be a valuable weapon for Kapler in the late innings.
Solano had never done anything close to any of that in the big leagues before and he turned 32 in December, so the Giants certainly aren't looking at him as some sort of found starter, but he's a solid hitter who can handle second and short, and he should see plenty of time as the Giants go righty-heavy against some of the division's left-handed aces.
You probably don't know much about Yolmer Sanchez, but there's a decent chance he's one of your favorite new Giants after a few weeks.
Sanchez won a Gold Glove with the White Sox last season but was let go because they didn't think his bat would justify what he was due in arbitration. The Giants scooped him up, and while they surely have ideas of how they can get a little more out of him at the plate, it's that glove that could put Sanchez in the lineup regularly. Sanchez led AL second basemen with 11 Defensive Runs Saved last season and has been worth 8.2 WAR the last three years thanks to his defensive work.
Sanchez has a career OPS+ of 80 and was at just 73 last season, but he's a switch-hitter who can play second, third or short, so there's certainly a spot for him on this roster. Sanchez's platoon splits bounce around a bit, but he had 11 homers from the left side in 2017 and eight in 2018. If he can find that form, he's a perfect fit alongside Dubon and Solano.
Speaking of lefties, the Giants claimed Wong from the Angels early in the offseason and never let him go. The younger brother of St. Louis' Kolten Wong, Kean is a former fourth-rounder who still is just 24 years old. He has a .287/.342/.383 slash line in the minors, and while there hasn't been much power in his career, he did hit 10 homers and 29 doubles in Triple-A last season, so perhaps there's something to tap into.
Wong can play third base, too, and has some outfield experience, so he's another one who should get a look as a utility guy. With Crawford, Dubon, Sanchez and Solano all likely headed for the Opening Day roster and Pablo Sandoval not far behind, there's not much room for Wong at the moment. But he's on the 40-man, and if it stays that way, you'll certainly see him at some point in 2020.
The Rest of the Field
The lasting memory of Abiatal Avelino in 2019 was a poorly-timed sprint through a stop sign. He had a .759 OPS in the PCL but he's still just 24 years old.
The Giants liked what they saw from Cristhian Adames and re-signed him to a minor league deal. He'll be in camp as a non-roster invitee, and he's another one who can handle both second and short.
The other middle infield option from the non-roster crew is Drew Robinson, who mostly played the outfield for the Rangers and Cardinals but was listed as an infielder with the Giants. His versatility is his calling card. Robinson, 27, has started at center, left, third and second in the Majors, although he has just a .655 OPS in 253 career plate appearances.