Yesterday, there were rumblings that the Giants had interest in utility infielder Yangervis Solarte. The Giants have been interested in lots of utility players this offseason, so I didn’t think much of it and thought it better to wait until something happen. Here we are less than 24 hours later and the Giants have signed Solarte to a minor league deal.
Per Jon Heyman, his base salary would be $1.75 million were he to make the big league club, with another $250,000 in incentives. MLB Trade Rumors had a really detailed examination of his performance, to the point that it seems unnecessary and foolhardy for me to try to replicate it in any way. The 31-year old infielder provides depth at second, short, and third and he doesn’t strike out very much. But as MLB Trade Rumors noted:
Pop-ups have been an issue at times for Solarte in his career, but never more so than last year, when he held the dubious distinction of tying Mike Moustakas for the Major League lead in infield-fly rate (19.2 percent).
Still, he has 5 years of major league experience (642 games) — four as a Padre and last year with the Blue Jays — and he doesn’t strike out very much. His 14.2% strikeout rate last year was 24th best in MLB, two spots ahead of Manny Machado and just behind D.J. LeMahieu.
Does that mean the Giants just got a D.J. LeMahieu equivalent on a minor league deal? Noooooo! Solarte has a career OBP of .317 and a career xSLG — that is, Statcast’s expected value based on the quality of his contact — is .376. Those are both below league average. He’s not a good hitter, and last year, he appeared to take a step back defensively (-11 Defensive Runs Saved between all four infield positions), but he’s another experience major league player who can hold his own a little bit against major league pitching.
He’s depth, and that’s all the Giants are looking for this offseason.
You’ll recall that the team began last September at 68-68 and then proceeded to have the worst month in the history of the franchise. That 5-21 mark wasn’t just because the main pieces of the Giants lineup were injured, it’s because the pieces that replaced them were well below major league average. They weren’t just rookies, they were rookies who didn’t project to be much beyond major league average, and that ceiling wasn’t going to be reached in just a couple of weeks in September.
So, Yangervis Solarte answers not the question, “What are the Giants doing?” but “What happens if Pablo Sandoval is ineffective or injured?” He answers the question, “What happens if Alen Hanson is ineffective or injured?” or “What if Joe Panik is ineffective, injured, or traded?”
Consider last September an A/B testing of every position in the lineup. Farhan Zaidi didn’t need to be President of Baseball Operations then to know now that the positions weren’t designed to withstand much stress-testing as this offseason began. Everything he’s done has been in service of making the gap between the starter and the backup smaller, which is both a mild indictment of the starting lineup and frank criticism of the backups.
Yangervis Solarte is an upgrade over Chase d’Arnaud. Gerardo Parra and the rest of the outfield band that’s been assembled should be better than Alen Hanson having to play left field. Yes, Bryce Harper would be better than all those outfield options, but that’s not going to happen, and Manny Machado won’t happen for the same reason — and it’s much harder for the Giants to trade any of their current starting infielders than to add to their thin outfield. I think it’s fair to criticize the team not landing a big fish, but there’s nothing wrong with Farhan Zaidi’s main approach this offseason.
The Giants have waited out the market to the point that a lot of possibly major league average players are still available and now more willing to sign minor league deals with low-value major league deals should it all work out. Previous regimes tended to dive right in to free agency early on, grab a couple of mid-tier names, and then stop. We can argue about the validity of all 30 teams coincidentally using the same market practices, but for the moment, the Giants have added a lot of extra guys who are, on average, better than the scant extra guys they’ve added in any of the previous 20 years.
2/22/2019 update — here’s the full deal:
Solarte; $1,750,000 in Majors. Plus: $50,000 each for 350pa; 400pa— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 23, 2019
$75,000 each for 450pa; 500pa. If not on 40-man roster on 3/21, Player will be released if requested or will be added to roster within 48 hours. Major League invitation to Spring Training. #SFGiants