Another FanFest is in the books for the San Francisco Giants and a noticeable change in tone has overtaken many of the team’s aging core.
The San Francisco Giants have plenty of under-performing veterans signed to long-term deals, and it seems those players are beginning to realize they will need to perform if they want to stay on the field.
The 2019 season was truly a lost one for both players.
Crawford hit .228/.304/.350 for a 75 OPS+ across 560 plate appearances while questions about his declining defense also bubbled to the surface.
Belt similarly struggled at the plate with a .234/.339/.403 line and 98 OPS+ while hitting only 17 home runs in 616 plate appearances.
Declining production in the batter’s box has now spanned multiple seasons for both players.
With that in mind, team president Farhan Zaidi has brought in a number of players to challenge both Crawford and Belt for playing time in 2020.
Last season, Mauricio Dubon was acquired in a deadline trade that sent Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black to the Milwaukee Brewers.
In a small sample, Dubon provided a competent bat with a .754 OPS across 109 plate appearances in September. He seems like the heir apparent to the Giants shortstop throne, but he will likely be utilized in a super-utility role in 2020 that could include some time in the outfield:
The Giants have added middle infield depth, but that should impact Dubon’s playing time. Instead, it will allow the team to better utilize his versatility.
Donovan Solano is also returning and he could see time at shortstop as well. The right-handed hitter was a surprise contributor last season with a .330 average across 228 plate appearances.
Beyond those incumbents, the Giants have also brought in a pair of versatile veterans in Yolmer Sanchez and Wilmer Flores.
The 27-year-old Sanchez was the AL Gold Glove winner at second base in 2019 and he also has experience at shortstop and third base. He’s a glove-first infielder, and the White Sox decided to part ways with him after he posted a dismal .638 OPS across 555 plate appearances.
Flores is the polar opposite as a bat-first utility player. He has experience at all four infield positions, but has posted negative DRS marks at each position throughout his career. That will likely limit Flores to primarily first base and second base.
With those additions, the infield mix is becoming crowded. If Sanchez earns a roster spot, he will join Flores, Dubon, and Solano as part of an increasingly versatile roster, and the Giants will have plenty of infield alignment options they could employ.
That could eventually push Belt and Crawford into lesser roles in 2020.
Their 2019 struggles were compounded by the fact that each player demonstrated more extreme platoon splits.
Belt posted a meager .664 OPS across 159 plate appearances against left-hand pitchers, while Crawford struggled to the tune .598 OPS in 148 plate appearances against southpaws.
The additions of Flores and Sanchez, as well as the presence of Dubon and Solano, will force the Giants to consider how to optimize both Crawford and Belt’s performance going forward. Part of that could include limiting their exposure to left-handed hurlers.
The 28-year-old Flores, in particular, lines up to be a great platoon mate to Belt. He posted a .982 OPS against left-handed pitching in 2019. Granted, much of that damage came against the Giants, but it is still noteworthy.
As for Crawford, he has more depth behind him than he has at any other point during his Giants career. Dubon, Solano, and Sanchez could all see time at shortstop.
Dubon and Solano do not have a long track record of success at the major league level, but both performed well in 2019. Sanchez has never been known for his bat, but he is a switch-hitter. With that being said, Crawford will have plenty of competition working closely behind him if his struggles continue.
That does not mean that either Belt or Crawford will lose playing time immediately, but they will need to produce to stay in the lineup.
This year’s Giants team will look much different from recent seasons. Many of the faces remain the same, but the way in which they are utilized may change significantly. Both Crawford and Belt will start the season as starters, but their hold on that role will be tenuous as soon as the first pitch of the season is thrown.