Evan Longoria is back.
That’s a good thing, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like one. Longoria’s presence hasn’t been particularly missed, in large part because it wasn’t ever particularly felt. In 268 plate appearances before suffering an injury, Longoria provided 0.3 WAR, per Fangraphs. In 165 plate appearances, everyone else at third base has given the Giants 0.6 WAR.
Despite being a gigantic hot corner whirlpool of misery against left-handed pitchers when Longoria is out, the team hasn’t really felt his absence. But, of course, that speaks more to his lack of impact than any stellar bench play.
So with the team clinging to a meager sliver of postseason hope, it’s worth wondering: what should they do with Longoria, who is healthy and ready to rejoin the club?
There’s no denying that, against left-handed pitchers, Longoria should be starting, and getting every single meaningful at-bat. The question is, what about right-handed pitchers?
On the year, Longoria is slashing .225/.256/.367 against righties, for an OPS of .623. His wRC+ is 69 (nice, but also very not nice). To put those numbers in perspective, Longoria against right-handers is what Austin Jackson was during his Giants tenure.
The surrounding options have been a bit better. Against righties, Alen Hanson is slashing .293/.333/.565, for an OPS of .895, and a wRC+ of 141. And Pablo Sandoval is chugging away at .289/.356/.484, for a .840 OPS and a wRC+ of 128. Both players have been rather dynamic as left-handed batters, and that’s before we mention what Ryder Jones has done in the minors (and one MLB game).
But Hanson is primed for some inevitable hard regression (which appears to have already started), and every day that Sandoval remains a valuable, helpful player feels like playing with house money that the casino may swoop in and take away from you.
And if those two are bound for negative regression, Longoria - who sports a career 117 wRC+ against righties - is equally bound for positive regression.
As dynamic as Hanson and Sandoval have, at times, been, Longoria is the team’s best third baseman, by a healthy margin. If the team is to make their unlikely run at the postseason, they need to not trudge on in the mediocrity that got them this 51-50 record; they need breakouts, outliers, and star play. In all likelihood, Longoria won’t provide that - but he certainly gives them the biggest lottery ticket.
Manny Machado ain’t walking through that door.
Like it or not, Longoria is the Giants third baseman for a while. That much was made clear when the Giants traded one of their top prospects for a player under contract through 2022. While it is certainly possible to trade Longoria, it’s abundantly obvious that he is a part of the Giants long-term plans, and half a season of uninspiring play isn’t going to derail those plans.
Just as the team needs to be giving at-bats to Steven Duggar and Austin Slater, and innings to Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, to see how they can develop and help the team going forward, they need to be giving nearly all their third base at-bats to Longoria, in hopes that he can break out of his mediocrity slump, and provide the team with clues that he’ll be an above-average corner infielder for the next few years.
Making the playoffs will require Bruce Bochy pushing all the right buttons, and that may mean inserting Hanson or Sandoval for certain at-bats. But on the whole, as surprising as those two have been, the hot corner belongs to Longoria.