The Giants spent most of the past decade with remarkable stability around their infield, but the hot corner wasn't part of that equation.
Once Pablo Sandoval departed for Boston, they tried Casey McGehee before stumbling upon Matt Duffy. He was sent out a year later, and guys like Eduardo Nuñez, Conor Gillaspie, Christian Arroyo, Ryder Jones and Jae-Gyun Hwang got a chance to be the solution before the organization dealt for Evan Longoria.
All of a sudden, there's not much for Gabe Kapler to think about it when it comes to that infield spot. Longoria is set to make his 11th consecutive Opening Day start, the longest streak among MLB third basemen, and the Giants re-signed Pablo Sandoval this week, again pairing the two veterans who made 153 starts at third last season even as both dealt with injuries.
Earlier this week, we looked at the catchers, the first basemen and the second basemen. Today it's third base, where there's nothing to be decided when position players report to Scottsdale in a couple of weeks ...
The first year was a disappointment for all parties, but Longoria looked much more like his old self in 2019. In 129 games, Longoria slashed .254/.325/.437, good for an OPS+ of 102 that was his highest since 2016. Longoria joined Mike Yastrzemski and Kevin Pillar in the 20-homer club and did most of that damage during a torrid stretch as the Giants briefly snuck back into the Wild Card race.
From July 1 to Aug. 31, Longoria batted .359 with 10 homers in 31 games. That was also the roughest stretch of Longoria's season in a way; he missed 19 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Longoria struggled a bit with the glove when he first got to San Francisco, but last season he finished fifth among qualified third basemen with seven Defensive Runs Saved. Mix that in with the uptick at the plate and you have a player worth 2.4 WAR, which the Giants will happily take.
Longoria turned 34 in October and he at times has been discussed in salary-swap deals, but for now, he's locked in through 2022 and there's nobody in the farm system that looks capable of pushing him for starts anytime soon.
Stop us if you've heard this one before: The Giants are going to play the splits. Longoria crushed lefties last year but hit just .240/.303/.419 against right-handers. The Giants needed some left-handed help at third and they're turning to a familiar face.
This is the third phase of Sandoval's Giants career, and it's perhaps the most surprising. He was one of Bruce Bochy's favorite players and everyone involved thought Bochy was allowing Sandoval to say goodbye when he got an emotional at-bat Sept. 1, after nearly a month off and with the knowledge that he'd be having Tommy John surgery. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to life as a DH.
The Giants quietly kept tabs on Sandoval all winter, and when Gabe Kapler visited Miami after the holidays to meet some of his younger players, he spent time with Sandoval, too. Kapler came away feeling the same way about Sandoval that the previous staff did, and he'll lean on the Panda to provide the kind of energy and "I'll do anything for the team" approach that Kapler and his young coaches want.
The intangibles are nice, but the Giants aren't bringing Sandoval back just to please season ticket holders. He slugged .507 last year, hit 14 homers and stood as perhaps the most dangerous pinch-hitter in the National League. The Giants are counting on a healthy Sandoval to be a contributor, whether that's on Opening Day, late April or closer to the middle of the summer. Sandoval expects to be back on the field months ahead of schedule.
The Rest of the Field
Zach Green was mentioned in the first base preview as someone who had a pretty clear path to playing time if a corner infielder got hurt. That's changed since then, as Sandoval likely will be the primary backup at first and third. But third base is Green's main position, and he should be there quite often in Sacramento.
Donovan Solano and Cristhian Adames played some third last year and Drew Robinson -- the third non-roster infielder along with Adames and Green -- has played there in the past.
The player to watch though is another one added this week. Yolmer Sanchez has 187 big league starts at third base and was the starter for the 2018 White Sox, making 141 appearances at the hot corner. Sanchez was worth five DRS at third in 2018 and eight in limited time the year before. That could be a big part of his role with the Giants.