I’m not sure if Kelby Tomlinson will ever be a starter in the majors, but he’s 106 games into his major league career, and the signs are positive. He’s a career .299 hitter, with a .362 on-base percentage. His defense has markedly improved after a rough beginning. Last season, he boosted his walk rate and reduced his strikeout rate by five percent. At the very least, I could see him starting for a rebuilding team that’s trying to figure the next three years out. Maybe a contending team with a stacked lineup.
For the Giants, though? He’s a utility player. That’s perfectly fine, too. It’s probably what he should be. If he proves to be a little overqualified, that’s not the worst problem for a roster to have. While I don’t know if Tomlinson can escape the gravity of Planet Utility, I’m pretty sure he can build a nice little moon base there.
He might not make the Opening Day roster, though. The Giants are accumulating middle-infield options for some reason, and the battle to be Brandon Crawford’s backup could be one of the most intense battles in spring training. I call this plan the Reverse Bocock, and it’s always prudent to build depth. Considering Tomlinson’s qualifications, I’m just not sure why the Giants are building depth so aggressively.
Start with Ehire Adrianza, who’s perennially out of options and in danger of being lost on waivers. The Giants gave him a guaranteed contract instead of dealing him or non-tendering him. That means that they’re pretty sure he’ll be a part of the team’s plans, or they’ll gamble $600,000 on it, at least.
Move to Jimmy Rollins, who would have made more sense in the pre-Kelby world, but it’s not like he’ll hurt, either. Depth is depth/depth is good/let’s all appreciate/depth like we should. We’re two years removed from the last good Rollins season, and it’s not like there’s any logical reason to expect a 38-year-old player to bounce back from two lousy seasons, but every middle infield signing for me is looked at through the Prism of Bocock. Don’t get caught with someone who would struggle in Double-A.
It’s more than just Rollins and the incumbents, though. Orlando Calixte came over on a minor-league deal, and he was surprisingly added to the 40-man roster almost immediately. Now we’re up to four utility infielders with modest but generally legitimate qualifications.
This winter, the Giants also signed Juniel Querecuto, formerly of the Rays, who’s played 144 games in the infield in the upper minors. The 24-year-old has a career .253/.311/.319 line in the minors, so don’t get too excited about the move, but he was clearly a player the Giants targeted because they felt the organization lacked utility-infielder depth.
Just to top it all off, Ramiro Peña is back. After 91 plate appearances of mostly solid work in the majors last year (.299/.330/.425, with roughly similar numbers in Triple-A), the 31-year-old will head back to Sacramento. He knows that he’s an injury gremlin or two away from returning to the majors.
That’s six middle-infield options projected to be in Triple-A or above. The Giants will probably need just one in the majors. And, again, they happen to already have a very good option in Tomlinson. Of all the Giants rosters to accumulate upper-level middle infielders frantically, this is one of the more surprising rosters to do it. It looked like they were already set.
So I’ll just leave this here:
What are the Giants building in there? Is this depth for depth’s sake, or is this hinting at a future move that’s been in the works for a while? Or do they trust Tomlinson a heckuva lot less than the opening paragraph suggests they should? Why are there utility infielders stacked upon utility infielders, with a former MVP and All-Star brought in for good measure? The Giants don’t seem like a franchise that would waste Rollins’ time, so I’m sure he’ll get an honest shot to make the roster. His competition will be a guy with a guaranteed contract and no options, unless it’s the player with speed and a career .362 OBP. Behind them are three other guys, all with extensive experience at Triple-A or in the majors.
What are the Giants building in there? They’ve been active this offseason, just in a very unexpected way, hoping for depth in an area where most of us figured they were already covered.
This is roughly how I felt after the Eduardo Nuñez trade, wondering if there was another cleat about to drop. And, well, there sure was. I’m not even going to mention the logical analog to that scenario, so you’ll just have to figure it out on your own.
It just might be depth for depth’s sake. Be prepared, that’s my motto. And for whatever reason, the Giants have gone around the offseason with a can of Bocock-B-Gone and sprayed every last corner. It’s curious, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.