228 PAs, .330/.360/.456, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 116 wRC+, 1.6 rWAR
Donovan Solano was not supposed to be a name we remembered this time of year. He was one of Farhan Zaidi’s earliest moves, signed to a minor league contract (like so, so many others) the day after his 31st birthday.
14 years after signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as an international free agent, Solano had provided all of 0.9 Wins Above Replacement in his career, per Baseball-Reference. He was supposed to be the minor leaguer that provides a little emergency depth in Sacramento, before being waived prior to ever seeing what Oracle Park looks like.
Well that didn’t happen. Solano was called up in May, and stuck with the team the rest of the year, platooning with Joe Panik, and then playing a utility role. He was the Giants best infielder, which is both a testament to magically flipping some switches and the rest of the Giants infield dramatically disappointing.
But he was good. Good at a time when he had no right to be. Good at a time when few others were.
Role on the 2019 team
Despite being the Giants best infielder, Solano’s role was as a pinch-hitter and backup middle infielder. This is understandable. He’s on the older side (in baseball years), with an invisible track record, and a nearly invisible contract.
It made more sense at second base to see if there was anything left in the Panik tank, and then to give Mauricio Dubon reps, than it did to play a guy with a limited long-term role.
It made more sense at shortstop and third base to play the expensive, long-term contracts of Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, respectively, than to find cheaper production elsewhere, when there’s no easy path to shedding the expensive production.
His role was backup infielder extraordinaire, something the Giants haven’t seen much of in recent years.
Solano finished third among Giants position players in rWAR. When your backup infielder who receives fewer than 230 plate appearances finishes third in WAR, then something has either gone terribly wrong or terribly ri.......no, wait, just terribly wrong.
Role on the 2020 team
Solano’s role on the 2020 team will likely be exactly what it was in 2019: Backup middle infielder.
Barring a shocking trade, Brandon Crawford isn’t going anywhere. And the Giants will play him, though if his cold bat continues, it seems quite possible that Crawford will be platooned. Dubon will likely be the everyday second baseman (unless he’s the part-time second baseman and part-time shortstop), meaning there’s no permanent place for Solano, but lots of part-time space for him.
If he replicates his 2019 performance, the Giants will have no choice but to find a way to get his bat into an otherwise dreary lineup.
Expect him to see more than 228 plate appearances next year, though not a ton more. Unless, of course, he’s traded. Or unless, of course, he was a flash in the pan who doesn’t actually break camp with the team.
All of these options are distinctly possible.
How Farhan is Solano?
I’m going for three Farhans, assuming Solano is the player we saw in 2019. That probably shouldn’t be the assumption, but for the sake of this article, I’m pretending it is.
Last year Solano was very valuable, could play at least three positions, and made the league minimum. He was a good clubhouse guy, and happy to start one day, rest two days, and repeat.
Versatility and flexibility is the name of the game with Zaidi. Solano isn’t four Farhans worth of either of those things, but when he’s hitting 20% better than league average, he’s three Farhans worth.
[Editor’s note: Solano is also one of the candidates for Batter of the Year. If you think he’s the best the Giants brought to the plate in 2019, vote for him our poll.]