Over the offseason, I openly remarked that I thought the San Francisco Giants might trade Wilmer Flores or Donovan Solano. The similarities between the two were almost comical: right-handed hitters, good-not-great offensive players, primarily second basemen but capable of playing elsewhere on the infield, with a bit of a poor relationship with their gloves.
Why would the Giants want two of essentially the same player?
It turns out that the answer is because having two of the same player, when that player is good, is not actually a bad thing. Who knew.
The Giants have made it clear with their offseason moves that they don’t mind redundancies, so long as the talent is there. Having two good players who are similar is better than having two bad players who are different. Laid out that plainly, it’s fairly obvious, but it’s a little more nuanced when actually building a team. I obviously didn’t think the organization would trade a good player so they could purposely replace him with a bad one, but I did think they’d seek to remove redundancies where possible. Instead, they seem to not care. They have good, cheap players, and the rest will sort itself out.
But that doesn’t mean things will be simple, and it’s still unclear where and when Solano and Flores will play. The team seems to prefer Tommy La Stella for sharing third base reps with Evan Longoria, and Mauricio Dubón for backing up Brandon Crawford at shortstop. If healthy, Brandon Belt should be a near-everyday player at first base. The Giants only have a handful of games with a designated hitter. La Stella should also see plenty of time on the right side of the infield.
That doesn’t leave many openings.
As a result, we’re likely still going to see a battle between Solano and Flores for what playing time remains. It’s not the offseason battle some anticipated, of the organization deciding whom to stick with. It’s not the Spring Training battle others anticipated, with the two battling for one roster spot, while the other gets traded. Instead, it’s simply a battle for playing time.
Who will emerge as the player the Giants need to get in the lineup nearly everyday? Who will have a steady spot at second base, and who will bounce around as opportunities arise?
Iron sharpens iron, as a former coach of a different Bay Area sports team used to repeat on a near daily basis, and competition for playing time is a good problem to have. And as a new season gets ready to begin, I find myself more and more drawn to this roster battle that will play out over the year. Every at bat will feel meaningful; every placement in the lineup card will be worth paying attention to.
Over the last few years, most of the Giants positional battles have been the kind where you wonder if anyone can prove to be an MLB-caliber player. It’s nice to have one where the floor is pretty high.