What is the SF Giants plan at shortstop with Brandon Crawford returning?

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The SF Giants activated Brandon Crawford on Sunday and inserted him into the starting lineup at shortstop. His return marks a bit of a crossroads at a key position. Crawford has been a stalwart at shortstop for years. However, Giants fans got a glimpse of the future with Casey Schmitt holding down the position for the past couple of games.

What is the SF Giants plan at shortstop with Brandon Crawford returning?

Crawford has gotten off to a slow start in 2023. The left-handed bat is slashing just .169/.244/.352 (62 OPS+) with four home runs, 10 RBI, and six runs in 78 plate appearances. Unfortunately, this trend is a continuation of a decline in offensive performance that began last season.

Since the start of 2022, Crawford has tallied just a .644 OPS in a large sample of 536 plate appearances. That type of production is usually reserved for a glove-first player. The 36-year-old has the reputation and hardware of a stellar defensive shortstop. He has won four Gold Glove awards at the position with his most recent one coming in 2021.

That said, it is tough to ignore that his defense at shortstop has been unusually poor this season. He has been worth -7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), -1.0 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and -1 Outs Above Average (OAA). Regardless of the metric, Crawford is grading out as a below-average fielder.

The 13-year veteran is in the final year of a two-year, $32 million extension he signed back in 2021. That extension was coming on the heels of a late-career resurgence that few expected.

The Giants are likely at the point where they do not expect Crawford to turn it around. This is the player he is at this point in his career. He can still help the team and will still get plenty of playing time. However, the way in which he can help the team is, perhaps, more in a mentorship role.

Shortstop is a position where the Giants have gotten inconsistent production. Thairo Estrada has provided good offensive output, which is partly why the Giants have registered a .solid 745 OPS at shortstop this season. Though, he defense has been subpar.

As a whole, Giants shortstops have combined to be worth -11 DRS, -1.1 UZR, and -5 OAA. Depending on the metric, the Giants are either at bottom or near the bottom.

Given that they are a groundball-heavy team, they just cannot have poor defense at a key position like shortstop. This brings us to Casey Schmitt. The 24-year-old prospect has provided a lot of excitement in the early going, recording 11 hits in 20 at-bats.

He has been doing this while playing shortstop, which is the same position as Crawford. How does Crawford's return impact Schmitt's playing time? To be honest, it probably has little impact at this point.

Shortstop may not be the long-term position for Schmitt, but the Giants have been motivated in seeing how he can handle the position. Third base where he has the most experience and he has been seeing time at second base as well.

If he performs, he is going to play. It is that simple. Whether it is at third base, shortstop, or second base, his name will be in the lineup more often than not. Of the three positions, shortstop is probably the biggest area of need, so he will see plenty of playing time there, especially against left-handed pitching.

His playing time may cut into Crawford's playing. And, the Giants will want to handle this delicately as Crawford has meant so much to the organization. They are at a crossroads at a key position and Schmitt has lived up to the hype up until this point. It would behoove them to see how he can handle the position while finding ways for Crawford to impact the team whether that is in the field or in a role that helps set them up for the future.