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Where there’s a Wil, there’s a way

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Wilmer Flores flexibility in the infield helped Kapler and the Giants weather infield injury woes all season.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game One Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

2021 stats: 139 G, .262 / .335 / .447, 18 HR, OPS + 111

I’m going to say it: Wilmer Flores was the most important player on the San Francisco Giants roster in 2021.

Just kidding—but that doesn’t mean I don’t mean what I mean...you know (what I mean)?

When a team offense is designed around leverage match-ups, having a player like Flores on your bench is a blessing. In 139 game appearances, Flores made 34 appearances at first, 30 at second, 58 at third, pinch hit 39 times and DH’d four times. He started 96 games in total, more than any other infielder not named Brandon Crawford. He filled in at third after Evan Longoria injured and was slow to recover, he filled in at second with Tommy La Stella out, and was the right-hand tandem to cover for Brandon Belt at first when he went on the IL. It would’ve been nice if all three of those players were healthy and able to start 145 games, but they weren’t and the infield of the 107-win Giants didn’t fall apart thanks to players like Wilmer.

Flores started games, he finished games, he’d come in the 5th for two innings, he’d pinch hit in the 8th and get his first defensive reps in high leverage situations in the 9th—there was rarely a routine for Wilmer Flores and that’s not easy—baseball players like routines.

For Flores to take on that role, to be flexible and ready with three different gloves broken in and game ready is special. That’s not saying he was a Gold Glove caliber player in any of those positions—that’s not what I’m saying at all—but he’s been around a Major League infield long enough where he can hold his own and when you see his name hovering over a bag in the corner infield as Mike Krukow goes over the defense you don’t shake your head, you probably don’t even blink an eye.

A team needs an everyday player who doesn’t play everyday for those fill-in situations, those moments when you need a polyester putty product that cures fast and shapes in minutes, moments like when your third baseman gets his shoulder unhinged by your shortstop and is out for a month.

Wilmer Flores was that player for the Giants. He was Kapler’s Bondo. When starting infielders went down he provided the replacement-plus play needed until they could return. No rush. No sweat.

I’m proud of myself for getting roughly 350 words into a Wilmer Flores write-up without really talking about his hitting...but you’re right, in 2021, Wilmer Flores didn’t quite match the bat he exhibited for the Giants in 2020.

Yeah, it would’ve been nice to see his OPS get into the .800 range, have him notch a couple more doubles and round trippers to get that slugging up, but what you saw from Flores this year coupled with the stellar-but-abbreviated last is probably on par with what we’ll see next year.

We should be pleased with that. Dare I say, stoked for that.

And who cares about numbers when you do this in a game?

The San Francisco Giants front office just exercised their club option and are ostensibly keeping him around for another season. (Jay Jackson was just traded to Atlanta for cash considerations so I guess a trade in which Flores is a prominent chip isn’t out of the picture). With Belt back and hopefully healthier years from Longoria and La Stella, Flores will see less time in the field. That’s probably for the best. If the Designated Hitter comes to the National League next season, I’m sure he’ll get a lot of reps in that position, sharing it with Darin Ruf and some TBD left-handed hitter.

He will be a bat off the bench mostly, but if a gap in the infield needs to be filled, Flores will be ready.

Bondo!

Post-script

I originally wrote this player review with a casual mention of Flores’s “(Check) Swing” that ended the Giants season, but it quickly got out of hand, ballooning into a melancholic and philosophical diatribe that didn’t have much to do with Wilmer Flores anyway, so I highlighted the block of text and deleted the sucker. Just like that—it was gone. Incredibly therapeutic. I recommend it.