The addition of Donovan Solano on a minor league contract last offseason paid major dividends for the Giants. Could Lonnie Chisenhall be this year’s diamond in the rough?
Donovan Solano quickly endeared himself to the San Francisco Giants fan base in 2019 with his scrappy play and clutch hits. It helped that he produced a .330/.360/.456 line and 1.6 WAR across 228 plate appearances.
So as the Giants continue to scour the free-agent market in search of the next Donovan Solano, Lonnie Chisenhall looks like one potential under-the-radar target.
Unlike Solano, who is a glove-first utility player, Chisenhall is capable of playing all over the field and providing modest value with his bat:
It’s also worth noting that the Giants are still in the market for a left-handed hitting infielder, as John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote:
"“Zaidi also is pursuing a lefty-hitting infielder who could spell third baseman Evan Longoria and second baseman Mauricio Dubon, both of whom bat right-handed.”"
Chisenhall fits that description, and similar to Solano last off-season, he could be reeled in on a minor league pact.
The 31-year-old signed a one-year, $2.7 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates last offseason, but failed to make an appearance in a Pirates uniform as he battled a calf injury. He did, however, collect five hits in 24 at-bats for the team’s Triple-A affiliate during an early season rehab stint.
Now, the University of South Carolina product is a free agent yet again. Given that he missed all of last season, it is unlikely that Chisenhall will receive a major league contract.
Giants team president Farhan Zaidi has proven that he is willing to take a flier on a player with a recent injury history. Stephen Vogt, Drew Pomeranz, and Tyson Ross are just a few examples that come to mind.
Similarly, in his brief tenure, Zaidi has proven adept at shopping the bargain section of free agency. Chisenhall is available in that section, and could be a nice fit for the Giants in 2020.
The left-handed hitter has major league experience at first base, third base, and all three outfield positions. Plus, he spent some time at shortstop early in his minor league career.
The hot corner is where Chisenhall has spent a majority of his time. Given that and the fact that he bats from the left side, Chisenhall could be a natural platoon complement to incumbent third baseman Evan Longoria.
However, the 31-year-old does not have experience at second base. That said, third basemen can often handle second base without much adjustment, so it stands to reason that he could capably fill in at second base to give the right-handed hitting Mauricio Dubon a day off.
Chisenhall has extensive experience in the outfield as well. His days of being a center fielder may be behind him, but he can fill in capably at either corner outfield spot.
The Giants current outfield alignment consists of a couple of left-handed hitters in Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson, so there may not be many at-bats in the outfield grass for Chisenhall. Still, he gives the team that added versatility.
In addition to his glove, Chisenhall offers some value in the batter’s box as well. He has generated a .268/.320/.427 line for a 102 OPS+ across 2,360 plate appearances.
Anyone who has watched the Giants in recent seasons knows that the Giants just do not have enough players who can produce at that level.
Plus, a dive below the surface shows that while his platoon splits are not extreme, the left-handed hitter has produced a .757 OPS against right-handed pitching, so he could add value in a platoon role.
Lastly, he has posted healthy peripheral numbers as evidenced by his 6.4 percent walk rate and 18.5 percent strike out rate. Similar to Solano, Chisenhall has a contact-heavy approach.
As a team, the Giants posted a 23.3 percent strikeout rate in 2019, and adding a player like Chisenhall would help in improving that mark.
The Giants will likely make more additions to their roster in preparation of spring training. They still have several holes to fill, and have been in the market for a left-handed hitting utility infielder.
Despite missing the entire 2019 season, Chisenhall fits the description of a versatile infielder and outfielder who hits from the left side. Zaidi likes players with that type of positional flexibility because it gives the team options.
Signing Lonnie Chisenhall could be a shrewd, under-the-radar move for the San Francisco this offseason, similar to last year’s addition of Donovan Solano.