After second baseman Joe Panik got called up in 2014, there was so much stability in the middle of the infield for the Giants that the organization started regularly using a nickname -- Crawnik -- as a marketing gimmick.
But Panik is gone, first to New York and now to Toronto. And the Giants' shortstop position, which was as set-it-and-forget-it as any in the National League, all of a sudden carries some intrigue.
There's no doubt that Brandon Crawford is the starter, but Giants officials have talked often in the last six months of the need to get more production out of the middle infield, and it's not hard to read through the "we'd like to keep guys fresh" lines that get thrown out every once in a while when core players are asked about.
The Giants will be at their best if Crawford shakes off a down 2019 season, but they're no longer going to wait around at any position. This week, we've looked at catchers, first basemen, second basemen and third basemen. Here's a preview of the spring coming up for the shortstops ...
Crawford already holds the Giants' team record with seven consecutive Opening Day starts at shortstop, and he'll stretch it to eight as he begins his 10th big league season. Crawford hit some milestones last year and had a memorable eight-RBI game at Coors Field, but overall, the numbers took a dip.
Crawford's .228 average was his lowest since his rookie season and his .654 OPS was his lowest since 2012. He hit 11 homers and drove in 59 runs in 500 at-bats. The bigger problem for the Giants might be that the defensive numbers have slipped.
Crawford's Defensive Runs Saved the last four seasons have shown a steep decline: 20, 9, 6, 0. The SABR defensive index had him ninth among NL shortstops and Statcast's Outs Above Average had him in the bottom half of the league. The eye test tells a slightly different story. Crawford remains remarkably trustworthy on all the routine plays, and he still mixes in the occasional game-saving stop.
Brandon Crawford with the save. pic.twitter.com/te7bU2Rimb— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) May 19, 2019
The Giants are in an interesting spot with Crawford, who just turned 33. He's still their best shortstop and he's not even two full years removed from an All-Star appearance. But for the first time since he grabbed hold of the job, Crawford has some serious competition.
If he has a .598 OPS against lefties again, Gabe Kapler is going to give a lot of those starts to others and turn to Crawford for late-inning defense.
The man who was supposed to start at second base provided a spring training preview on Friday night:
Little preview 😛 2020 gonna be fun! pic.twitter.com/T0swhahvEd— Mauricio Dubon (@Mauriciodubon10) February 1, 2020
The beat writers have been saying all winter that the Giants want Dubon in a super-utility role and the video above provides some actual visual evidence. But that role doesn't just mean getting comfortable on the grass.
Dubon is a natural shortstop who spent the majority of his time there in Triple-A last season. The Giants will mix him in against lefties, and it's possible that Dubon at short and Donovan Solano or the switch-hitting Yolmer Sanchez at second becomes the default combination when a southpaw is on the mound.
Dubon is a Crawford fan and is eager to learn his tricks. To Crawford's credit, he has been a very willing teacher, and the two seem to have formed a bond.
The Rest of the Field
On the 40-man roster, Crawford, Dubon and Solano are joined by Abiatal Avelino, who has fallen down the depth chart. Solano actually made 14 starts at shortstop last season and did just fine, but Dubon is the better defender and the more likely everyday option if Crawford gets hurt.
There is one possibility, however, where Solano might make a lot of sense; the Giants are lefty-heavy in the outfield and may need Dubon in center against some starting pitchers.
Sanchez can handle short in a pinch but he has just 20 innings there the last three seasons. Something went seriously wrong if he's getting any starts as a shortstop. Cristhian Adames signed a minor league deal early in the offseason and also can play short.