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How the Giants can bolster lineup with universal DH

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At some point this year, MLB and the MLBPA will (hopefully) come to an agreement. Teams will scramble to get to camp, to get players ready, and to fill out rosters with free agents and trades, and the Giants and 14 other National League front offices will do so under a new set of guidelines. 

There has long been little doubt that the designated hitter is becoming universal in 2022, and commissioner Rob Manfred made it all but official last week, saying owners have agreed on the permanent rule change, which should be part of the new CBA. It feels like a completely new ballgame for a lot of NL lineups, but when trying to figure out how a team like the Giants might live life with a DH, you actually don't have to do too much thinking. 

They already had one two years ago, in Gabe Kapler's first season in charge. 

The 60-game season was played with a universal DH, giving us an idea of how Kapler might handle it. There are a couple of caveats here: Buster Posey's opt-out shook up the roster, and because the season was such a sprint, there was no need to get guys like Brandon Crawford or Brandon Belt off their feet. 

But in general, Kapler handled it how you might expect from the man who fully embraces platoon life and just set an MLB record for pinch-hitters

 

Eight different Giants started a game as the DH over 60 games, including three who got double-digit starts: Wilmer Flores (who again figures to be in the DH picture), Austin Slater (who fits the mold of using the spot for one more platoon advantage) and Pablo Sandoval (a more traditional DH). In 10 games with a DH last year, Kapler split the starts among five different players, with Flores, Alex Dickerson and Darin Ruf getting multiple starts. 

For Kapler, the DH has allowed him to double down on two beliefs. He has used it to get the platoon advantage with players who are not everyday starters and not the strongest defenders, but he also has shied away from using the slot to give a veteran starter an "easier" day. 

This staff believes very strongly in rest, and a DH day isn't anywhere close to a day to actually reset. Posey, Crawford, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria have combined to start just one of 70 games with a DH the last two seasons. When they're off, they're really off.

If the Giants continue this type of usage, there are some likely in-house choices. Ruf, in particular, stands out. The 35-year-old isn't a strong defender but has a 143 OPS+ in two seasons in San Francisco. The Giants could pretty comfortably pencil him in for every DH start against a lefty -- he had an OPS over 1.000 against them last year -- and know they're in good shape. 

Slater's DH experience came because of an elbow strain early in the shortened season, so he doesn't figure to see too much time there moving forward, especially because he has become playable in center field. Flores should again be an option and Tommy La Stella -- coming off Achilles surgery -- could be a good fit against righties, too. 

There is another path, though, one that is particularly intriguing given how much payroll room the Giants should have once the lockout lifts. The Giants need a right-handed bat with Posey and Kris Bryant (likely) gone from last year's lineup, but they need that player regardless of the DH rules. The new additional spot for a hitter could allow them to also pursue a big left-handed bat. 

Kyle Schwarber stands out as the most obvious name, and he's coming off a season in which he posted a .374 OBP and hit 32 homers in just 113 games. Schwarber doesn't turn 29 until March, so he's young enough that the Giants shouldn't balk at a longer-term deal. He has spent most of his career in Chicago, where general manager Scott Harris was once one of the team's top execs.

While Harris knows Schwarber well, Farhan Zaidi has connections to another powerful option. He often chats with Bay Area native -- and longtime Dodger -- Joc Pederson during BP when he's in town, and the 29-year-old has consistently crushed right-handed pitching.

With Mike Yastrzemski, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Steven Duggar already on the roster, neither Schwarber nor Pederson is a seamless fit in a traditional lineup, but the DH opens up possibilities. 

 
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The Giants have spread the at-bats around so far, but with time to actually prepare their roster, they could also go a more traditional route. Nick Castellanos isn't a good fit in right field at Oracle Park, but he's one of the most dangerous right-handed bats in the game and should benefit from the DH opening up his market. Nelson Cruz is still a massive threat and is purely a DH, and he should come on just a one-year deal. If the Giants strike out on Seiya Suzuki and don't bring Bryant back, there are ways to add right-handed pop via the DH spot. 

The designated hitter takes away a lot of tradition for NL teams, but it also presents them with a whole new set of options. Few executives do better in that type of situation than Zaidi and Harris, and they've had more than two months now to spend some extra time thinking about how they might try and find an edge. 

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