There’s been an interesting question hanging over the San Francisco Giants head since the start of the offseason: a question that hadn’t been asked in about a decade. Who would be the team’s shortstop in 2023?
Brandon Crawford had been the incumbent since 2012, and in that time had established himself as the greatest shortstop in franchise history — and one of the greatest players in Giants history, period. But the Giants needed to make a splash in free agency, and there was a funny trend: four of the top five position player free agents were shortstops.
The Giants weren’t looking to upgrade from Crawford. They were simply trying to ugrade their overall talent. Had they signed Aaron Judge, as they tried so hard to do, they would have comfortably and confidently entered 2023 with Crawford as the starting shortstop.
But they did not sign Judge, and had to pivot elsewhere.
When the offseason began, everyone was quick to wonder what would happen in this scenario. Had the Giants signed Trea Turner, the assumption was that Crawford would stay at shortstop to ride out his contract. Turner is a good, not great defensive shortstop, and had already spent time playing second base to accommodate Corey Seager when the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for him.
Had the Giants signed Dansby Swanson or Xander Bogaerts, it was unknown what would happen.
But if the Giants were to sign Carlos Correa, the reports had already made it clear: he would be the starting shortstop, and Crawford would learn a new position.
The Giants did, indeed, sign Correa. And Crawford is, indeed, learning a new position.
Crawford spoke with The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly via text message, and took a company line, saying, “Our team definitely got much better. He’s been one of the better players in the league for years, and it’s obviously exciting to get a player of his caliber to San Francisco.” He then revealed that the plan is to play a new position, though it’s not clear whether that is second or third base. Said the three-time All-Star, “I’ve been told [shortstop is] where he’ll stay, so that puts me in a much different situation than I’ve ever been faced with in professional baseball. So, the rest of this off-season, spring training, and during the season, I will be working my hardest to be the best I can be at a different position and help us get back to the postseason.”
Baggarly noted that Crawford is, understandably, reluctant by his own admission to move off of the only position he’s ever played ... and a position where’s he’s won four Gold Gloves which, it’s worth noting, is three more than Correa has.
But he’s nearly eight years older than the Giants shiny new toy, so the Giants decision was obvious. Both players are a part of the present, but one represents the future and one the past. One was a Gold Glove winner in 2021; the other was a Platinum Glove winner.
Baggarly reported that Crawford was not briefed on any of this before the Giants signed Correa, but that Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler called him within minutes of the news breaking to let him know what the future held for him.
A transition to a new position will certainly be a challenge for Crawford, but he certainly has the glove, footwork, and IQ necessary to be an elite second baseman or third baseman ... and the arm strength necessary to excel at the latter. With Tommy La Stella the only other left-handed hitting infielder on the 40-man roster — excluding LaMonte Wade Jr., who can play first base — the Giants will surely rely heavily on Crawford wherever he plays.
He’ll be penciled in to start somewhere every time the Giants face a right-handed pitcher and, depending on the defensive transition and the ability for his bat to rebound — his wRC+ in 2021 was nearly identical to Correa’s in 2022 — he could still be an every day player. He’s still one of the team’s best position players, even if he’ll be playing a position he hasn’t played since his youth.
It’s also a near sure thing that Crawford will see plenty of time at shortstop in 2023. The Giants, more than almost any team in baseball, like to rest players to keep them fresh, so Correa will surely get some days off, or at least some days at designated hitter. And since breaking camp as the Houston Astros starting shortstop in 2015, Correa has only played in 888 out of a possible 1,194 games ... meaning he’s taken the field just 74.4% of the time.
Crawford is the greatest shortstop in Giants history, and it’s overwhelmingly likely that he’ll be the greatest shortstop in Giants history in 2035, when Correa’s contract expires. But this year he’ll get to try his hand at something else.
That will be an adjustment for him. And it will be an adjustment for all of us.