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I’ve seen the secret blueprints for middle infield, and they’re not good

Why is that, Giants?

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Farhan Zaidi and Bob Melvin sitting at a press conference table. Photo by Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images

It’s been 99 days since the San Francisco Giants last took the field, saw the Los Angeles Dodgers standing opposite them, made the type of stank face usually reserved for wearing at late night Bay Area establishments when Mac Dre comes on, and quietly walked out the door to hibernate for the winter. And their roster needs now are exactly the same as they were then.

To get better, wherever possible.

The Giants have made two notable additions for Opening Day, adding everyday center fielder Jung Hoo Lee and high-quality backup catcher Tom Murphy. They’ve arguably added a third and a fourth by means of good ol’ addition by subtraction, when they swapped Mitch Haniger and Anthony DeSclafani for Robbie Ray. And they’ve added a late-season boost in Ray, expected to return from Tommy John surgery sometime around August.

Which puts their needs at, again, getting better. Wherever they can. However they can.

President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi has been honest since day one that the bulk of those needs come up the middle. To be fair, the Giants limited action thus far has addressed exactly that: center field is, as you might guess, in the center, and the center is, by definition, in the middle. Catcher offers fewer opportunities for tautology and literary folly, but it, too, is up the middle.

Which leaves us with shortstop and second base.

The Giants starting middle infield arrangement is a healthy blend of proven quality and exciting potential. At second base is Thairo Estrada who is, at the very worst, an average hitter, which is a good thing for the position, and he’s arguably the best defensive second baseman in the Majors. At shortstop is the wholly unproven Marco Luciano, the best hitting prospect in the system, whose brief debut in 2023 featured surprisingly smooth defense and approximately two swings-and-misses for every pitch seen.

I’m good with that arrangement. Estrada is one of the better second baseman alive. Luciano will have bumps and bruises, but it’s time to let him take off the arm floats and hop in the pool.

But a backup is necessary, and preferably a good one. Estrada missed a chunk of time last year due to injury. And more importantly, we have no idea if Luciano is good. And even if he is, he hasn’t been healthy for a full season since the Reagan administration (note to self: fact check this before publishing).

A backup middle infielder is necessary for, at best, the basic job duties of the position, and for, at worst, taking over full time for an extended stretch. So while backup infielders are not, to use a term that absolutely irks the living bejeezus out of my mother (and me, if we’re being honest), the sexiest signings, I’ve been curious to see what route the Giants would take.

Oh, it ain’t pretty folks.

Zaidi was recently on The TK Show with Tim Kawakami, which I highly recommend listening to. He addressed the team’s plans at middle infield, saying this:

We’re really excited about Luciano and hope he takes that job and runs with it. But bringing in somebody else, maybe with some multi-positional flexibility, maybe somebody who has options where we can have those guys in competition and one of them could just continue to get at-bats in Triple A, that’s something we’re looking at.

Gulp.

I grimaced when I heard this quote, then dismissed it as front office speak for “yeah, not gonna tip my hand Tim, nice try!”

Good one, Brady. Way to assume the best, you nincompoop. That’ll learn you.

Monday morning came, and with it a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Here’s what he wrote:

The Giants are seeking to add a shortstop, in part because they lack a safety net if Luciano stumbles.

The additional shortstop, according to a source briefed on the Giants’ thinking, could be a flexible, multi-positional type, another young middle infielder to compete with Luciano or, perhaps least likely, a front-line player who would force the Giants either to demote Luciano or play him at second or third. The only option not under consideration is a veteran such as Amed Rosario or Tim Anderson who might be only marginally better than Luciano.

Oh. Gee. Huh. You sure about that, guys?

If we fuse these two sentiments together like a cocky chef mixing two cuisines that were doing just fine on their own thank you very much, we end up with this: the Giants are looking for a young middle infielder who still has options, and is bad enough that the Giants could actually use those options. Is that a cynical reading of the situation? You bet your butt it is. Is it an unfair reading of the situation? It absolutely the hell is not.

You might remember this golden plan from such hits as “Last Offseason.” It’s why they put Isan Díaz on the 40-man roster all offseason. It’s why they traded for Brett Wisely on the same day as Rule 5 protections, and promptly added him to the roster.

Díaz went 1-19 for the Giants and was designated for assignment. Wisely hit .175/.231/.267. The Giants were so uninspired by each that they went in-house just six weeks into the season and promoted Casey Schmitt, who wasn’t exactly tearing up AAA.

He hit .206/.255/.324.

This is not a shot at those players. Wisely and Schmitt remain employed by the Giants, and it wouldn’t be remotely surprising if either player emerged as a quality contributer on the roster this year. You can add Tyler Fitzgerald to that basket while we’re in the vicinity.

Zaidi let something slip when he openly said they’d look at players with options. There are only two types of players with options: players good enough that their options are irrelevant, and players bad or unproven enough that their options are useful. Jung Hoo Lee has options. So do Patrick Bailey and Ryan Walker. Does that mean anything for the Giants roster construction? No. But Heliot Ramos and Wade Meckler and Sean Hjelle — and yes, Wisely, Schmitt, and Fitzgerald — have options. And that does mean something.

It means you might have to use those options, which occurs when a player is not playing well enough to merit time on the actual roster.

That’s not who the Giants should be targeting to back up a 6’2 walking question mark with a cranky back and a gorgeous swing.

I’ve had an article in my drafts the entire offseason that the Giants should sign Tim Anderson, mentioned by name in Rosenthal’s article as a player the team wouldn’t sign. Here’s what ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel wrote earlier this offseason, when listing Anderson as a free agent worth investing in:

He’s still fine defensively at short and should still be a strong multipositional option with real defensive and baserunning value ... For a team that excels at hitter development (I’m thinking the Los Angeles Dodgers or Baltimore Orioles, though why not the Chicago Cubs?), Anderson makes a ton of sense for a one-year deal — with a club option for a $10 million to $12 million guarantee — as a super utility player who could go back to being what he was for the previous five seasons, but would still give a solid return if he was just a good role player.

I probably wouldn’t put the Giants in the “team that excels at hitter development” bucket, but you get the idea. Anderson was quite literally the worst offensive player in the Majors last year, yet he was valuable enough defensively and on the bases that he was nearly replacement value. Given that he was well above average offensively in each of the four prior seasons, and will be very cheap, you can understand the appeal.

With a Wisely or Díaz type, you risk an unplayably bad infielder, with the reward of a little surplus value. With an Anderson type, you risk a high-quality defender who makes you pull your eyelid hairs out during his at-bats, with the reward of bouncing right back to his All-Star performances in 2022 and 2021, and his Silver Slugger performance in 2020.

And if it doesn’t work? Well heck, you cut costs on, again, a very cheap contract, and then turn back to Wisely, Schmitt, or Fitzgerald — they ain’t going anywhere. They were the backup plan last year. They can be the backup to the backup plan this year. The assistant to the backup plan, if you will.

It could, of course, be that Zaidi’s comments were simply him being non-committal, and Rosenthal’s report is inaccurate; we’re all still waiting for Shohei Ohtani’s plane to land in Toronto, after all. But it sure feels like we’re heading towards a plan of starting an unproven prospect, and backing him up with an unproven lesser prospect. And that just doesn’t seem like it needs to happen.