The sky hangs low over our heads. Winter worries descend. As 3rd graders argue over offsides and pass-interference penalties in their pick-up football game, precious recess minutes ticking off the clock, my thoughts wander from work to yes, Aaron Judge’s meeting in San Francisco, Los Angeles plotting their next move, the shortstop market, the Carlos Rodon sized hole at the top of the rotation, the qualifying offer to Joc Pederson—but the state of the Giants’ infield has continued to nag me above all else.
The anxiety has been simmering since September when Brandon Belt announced he would have season ending surgery possibly ending his decade long tenure as the San Francisco Giants answer to Who’s on first?
As of today, Gabe Kapler has a trio of right-handed utility infielders to cover the position, a bat-first left-handed outfielder in LaMonte Wade Jr. or, an injury-plagued Tommy La Stella that no one really wants to talk about. Even after two seasons with the Giants, this is still the first thing I think of when someone mentions his name.
For some of you, reading that the Giants have five in-house options at first base makes this a non-issue. On the off-season shopping list, a first baseman is towards the bottom, a splurge item like a box of Lucky Charms Just Magical Marshmallows.
Some mornings I wake up and agree with you. San Francisco had a great September shuffling through J.D. Davis, David Villar, Wilmer Flores and Wade Jr. at first.
David Villar unloaded on southpaws, Davis stayed even-keeled against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers, Wade seemed sapped of power but proved serviceable as a lead-off man and Flores…well, Flores struggled in September. All in all, the plan for riding out Belt’s injury and the end of the season worked.
But a month isn’t a season. Villar still only has 181 plate appearances in the Majors and we’ve seen his bat as cold as it was hot in 2022. Davis’s numbers are maybe a little more predictable. Glossing over the shortened 2020 and a 2021 plagued by a hand injury, his offensive numbers with the Giants are similar to his best breakout year in 2019, though he was striking out more than a third of the time. Flores had one of his worst offensive seasons last year, and it certainly didn’t help that he made 140 different appearances across the infield over 151 games. If the Giants are going to be at their best, Flores needs to spend more time with a bat in his hands.
Now with Evan Longoria out of the picture at third base, Villar, Davis and company are expected to ping-pong back and forth across the diamond. Then if we consider the worst case scenario of shortstop Brandon Crawford regressing into more of a platoon play, or a significant injury to Thairo Estrada and the infield is spread even thinner.
There are plenty of reinforcements in the minors. Recently acquired Brett Wisely and Isan Diaz are both lefty bats who can fill in where needed. MiLB Gold Glover Casey Schmitt is expected to surface in the Majors in ‘23 too. All of these options could help ease the developing situation, or they could just complicate things further—players draped in more question marks than Jim Carrey’s Riddler.
A lot of these worries can be assuaged by signing one of the “Big Four” free agent shortstops. A Carlos Correa covers a multitude of roster sins. But a Correa, who can go wherever he wants to, isn’t necessarily inclined to come to San Francisco, nor do I really think that the Giants are going to sign both Aaron Judge and a marquee shortstop.
The sun sets early. Night descends as thick as stone—looking out my apartment’s windows all I see is my reflection. Another season of The Great British Baking Show is over. My pessimism is as set as bavarois. I have visions of Judge in Dodger Blue, while from the Giants dugout, a glassy-eyed Cody Bellinger considers a seagull floating above the Cove.
Each morning, I try to re-fuel with hope. Judge has already met with the Giants, he wants to be closer to family, Yankee fans actually booed him in the ALCS. Yes, Judge and a shortstop feels out of reach—but what about Judge and signing someone more “down ballot” to help balance out the infield?
There has been nothing to chew on when it comes to gossip connecting Josh Bell to the Giants, so these points might be moot upon arrival, but boy, do I like the cut of this guy’s jib.
First, he’s a switch hitter, which is just uber convenient when you are trying to balance a lineup focused on match-ups as well as everyday, platoon-busting players.
Second, he’s a large person. Though his defensive numbers aren’t amazing (but who’s are when it comes to first baseman), I imagine it’s pretty comforting for an infielder to throw to someone who’s 6’ 4’’. It’s like having a 50 pound bag of CalRose rice in your pantry—around mealtime, you just feel like someone has your back.
Now imagine being an opposing pitcher who has to face Judge and Bell back-to-back.
Bell was snubbed as an All-Star in 2022 (though he won the Silver Slugger for DH so it all balances out). He’s three seasons removed from hitting 37 home runs for Pittsburgh and hasn’t dealt with any injuries. His K rate has dropped in each of his last three seasons, while his BB rate has stayed level and on-base numbers have climbed back towards his monster 2019 season. He still hits the ball hard, and though Oracle is not a great home run park, it is an excellent place to hit if you’re driving balls into the outfield.
Bell seems surprisingly affordable based on Spotrac’s market value figures for someone with such a high upside. He’s not going to fetch anywhere near a six-figure contract and it probably won’t extend more than 4 years. His value may have decreased after a pretty bad showing post-trade to San Diego but that could be due to extraneous circumstances. A mid-season trade can be unsettling, the move from D.C. to S.D. equally jarring on the psyche (how is it possible that a paradise like this exists?) The Padres also used Bell primarily as a designated hitter, it’s possible that he’s the type of player who stays more focused at the plate when he’s spent time on the field. Highly speculative, yes, but I’m going with it…
There are other solutions at first base via free agency (Brandon Belt!) that could help pacify a potentially volatile infield state, but Josh Bell is probably the most exciting one. The front office might find him more attainable than one of the mega-deal shortstops on the market.