Yangervis Solarte

Giants embracing platoon with Joe Panik, Yangervis Solarte at second base

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AP

Giants embracing platoon with Joe Panik, Yangervis Solarte at second base

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants were not shy about platoon talk this past offseason, and it appears at least one has already formed on the field. 

Joe Panik was out of the lineup for a third straight day as the Giants faced a left-handed starter for the third straight day. Manager Bruce Bochy said that may be pretty normal moving forward, and he certainly will do all he can to keep Tyler Austin in there against lefties. Austin was not supposed to play the outfield until next week but is in left field Wednesday, with Buster Posey at first and Erik Kratz behind the plate. 

"I like the lineup we can throw out there now against left-handers," Bochy said. "I just think it's a better presentation."

The Giants have just two lefties -- Steven Duggar and Brandon Crawford -- facing Nick Margevicius. Yangervis Solarte is at second for a third straight day. Solarte is 4-for-16 against lefties this season and Panik is 3-for-10.

Panik, the Opening Day starter, should have a more active weekend. The Giants are facing three right-handers during a four-game series with the Rockies. 

[RELATED: After two weeks of quiet bats, Giants break through]

If Austin, acquired Monday, plays this weekend it likely will be in left. The Giants accelerated their timeframe in terms of moving him from first to the outfield, so Austin -- who did not take any fly balls this spring and started at first in his first two appearances with the Giants -- did some pre-game work in left. Bochy said he's not worried about defensive mistakes. 

"If it does happen, I take the blame for it," he said.

Giants position battles: Examining key races before MLB Opening Day

Giants position battles: Examining key races before MLB Opening Day

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nearly six weeks ago, at the start of camp, I took a look at position battles and included this line when discussing the open outfield spots: "Bryce Harper certainly could take one of them ..."

Oh, how things could have been different. 

Instead, it was a stream of veterans on identical deals -- usually $1.75 million if they make the team -- with the idea that a trade could be made at any point. 

The Giants still have not swung that deal, and in a week they'll board a short flight to San Diego with 25 players. The Opening Day roster could look different by the end of that first series, but for now, let's take a look back at those spring battles and make some predictions ... 

Outfield

Barring a rehab setback, center field was Steven Duggar's job. It's been smooth sailing, and he'll start there on Opening Day and possibly lead off.

Mac Williamson and Gerardo Parra are currently in line to start in the other corners, with Cameron Maybin the favorite to be the fourth guy. The Giants were excited to get a long look at Drew Ferguson, but the Rule 5 pick has hit just .111 with no extra-base hits. It appears he'll be headed back to the Astros. 

Backup catcher

Signed the day before FanFest, René Rivera has emerged as the frontrunner to back up Buster Posey. There is still some gap power in the 35-year-old's bat and he quickly built a rapport with the pitching staff.

The Giants could go with a third catcher, Aramis Garcia, as Posey eases into the season, but with a 1:10 p.m. opener followed by two night games, that doesn't seem a necessity. 

Fifth starter

It turns out there was never much of a battle here. Jeff Samardzija is healthy and earned his spot. Dereck Rodriguez had the upper hand on Andrew Suarez from the start, and he'll be in the rotation.

Suarez seems destined to start in Triple-A, although there could be plenty of movement here. Rodriguez, Suarez and the resurgent Tyler Beede all have options and could be shuttled back and forth a bit as needed. 

Last spots in the bullpen

I went deep on this group yesterday and came up with this bullpen if the Giants go with eight relievers: Smith, Watson, Dyson, Moronta, Melancon, Bergen, Gott, Stratton. This is the one place, though, where Farhan Zaidi may get the most creative to store inventory.

Will someone be traded, or discover a sore muscle 48 hours before the opener? 

The infield

The original article did not touch on the infielders, because Pablo Sandoval and Alen Hanson seemed set. But then the Giants signed Yangervis Solarte, and he has passed both on the depth chart.

Would Zaidi really start his first season by releasing Sandoval, a fan favorite as well as one of Bruce Bochy's all-time favorites? Hanson brings value, too, but he is out of options and it's hard to see him getting through waivers.

[RELATED: Giants' new role players must step up for team to have successful 2019]

 The Giants could carry three backup infielders and use Solarte and Hanson as their fifth outfielder, but that would require going a man short in the bullpen. 

Giants' new role players must step up for team to have successful 2019

Giants' new role players must step up for team to have successful 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before you start reading this, knock on wood a couple dozen times. 

The Giants have stayed healthy this spring, and that's the first step towards being better than they were the last two years. 

But that could change at any moment. After all, Madison Bumgarner got hurt in his final start last spring. Whether it's next week or next month, the Giants will need to start dipping into their depth, and while this has been a remarkably quiet offseason, they have done a decent job of upgrading the back ends of the active and 40-man rosters. 

The 2018 Giants were bad, but the 2018 Sacramento River Cats were also bad, which gave the big league club little hope of finding adequate replacements when injuries popped up, or regulars became ineffective. 

That's one area where this year's team should be better, and if you're looking for a way Farhan Zaidi can automatically pick up a few wins in Year 1, look no further than last year's roster. This is some of what he has had to replace:

Gorkys Hernandez: Despite the homers, he had a .656 OPS in 451 plate appearances
Hunter Pence: He is beloved, but posted a .226/.258/.332 line in 248 plate appearances
Gregor Blanco: Also a #ForeverGiant, but he hit .217/.262/.317 in 203 plate appearances 
Austin Jackson: Had a .604 OPS in 59 games before he was salary-dumped
Kelby Tomlinson: Great dude, fan favorite ... slugged .264 in 152 plate appearances
Chase d'Arnaud: Great dude, great with fans ... had a .618 OPS in 100 plate appearances

The pitching staff was better, but the Giants still had a lot of appearances Zaidi believes can be more effectively replaced. Notably, Hunter Strickland, who was non-tendered, had a 3.97 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 49 appearances and Pierce Johnson had a 5.56 ERA in 37 appearances. This year's bullpen is deeper and the rotation is deep enough that Andrew Suarez won't be in it to start the year. 

Of all the players listed above, Hernandez (0.5) was the only one with a positive WAR. The rest combined for negative four Wins Above Replacement.  

[RELATED: How will Giants narrow bullpen options before Opening Day?]

Will Yangervis Solarte make better use of those spare infield at-bats? Will Travis Bergen or Trevor Gott be better than the relievers who were let go? Will Mac Williamson, Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin greatly outperform Hernandez, Pence and Blanco? 

We'll see, but the standard set in 2018 was not at all a high one, and improvement from the complementary pieces on this year's roster would help the Giants inch a bit closer to meaningful September baseball.