The Giants’ backup plan for Marco Luciano at shortstop

For a dozen seasons, the Giants didn’t have a question about the shortstop position. They’d point to Brandon Crawford and say, “That guy’s gonna do it.” When it came to backup plans, they weren’t very exciting, but they didn’t have to be. From 2011-21, Crawford was on the IL twice: once in 2017 with a groin strain, and once in 2021 with an oblique tweak. He missed a total of 25 days during those IL stints. The last two seasons were more injury-riddled because the human body is a jerk, but for a decade, the Giants had the most reliable shortstop arrangement in the sport.

The Giants’ current plan at shortstop is to let rookie Marco Luciano sink or swim. If it sounds reckless, don’t forget that it was reckless to hand the job to Crawford before the 2012 season, after he’d hit .234/.291/.327 in Triple A and .204/.288/.296 in the majors in 2011. He was two years older in 2012 than Luciano is now, but the Giants believed in his ceiling and long-term viability. They were right.


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But … what if Luciano isn’t an acceptable defensive shortstop this season? What if he gets hurt? What if he struggles to make contact? What if he needs more seasoning all around, which isn’t out of the question, considering that he’s roughly the age of a college senior (22)?


OK, OK, sheesh. There are a few of Plan Bs. Some of them are better and/or more obvious than others.

The most obvious backup plan. Estrada has played 80 games at shortstop for the Giants over the past three seasons, and he’ll do it again if they ask. Think of a shortstop-turned-second baseman as a guitar player in a band who switches to bass for logistical reasons. The entire time the guitarist is noodling, the once-guitarist is thinking, “I can do that.” Second basemen are never ex-shortstops. They’re just shortstops who need another opportunity.

Except if Estrada gets that chance — and it’s worth noting that his defensive stats are much more enticing at second — this just makes the question, “What’s the backup plan for Thairo Estrada?” The Giants probably liked Estrada’s defense at second a great deal — he was the second-best defender in baseball, if you believe Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average metric — and there’s a huge benefit that comes with defensive continuity. Luciano’s backup doesn’t have to be the current starting second baseman.

I feel like a jerk continually pointing out how bad Schmitt was at the plate last season, but he was even worse by adjusted OPS than Brandon Crawford was in his rookie season, and the Giants felt the need to trade for Orlando Cabrera that year because they just couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe Schmitt will win a Silver Slugger award in four years, which is the unexpected path that Crawford took, but the only way to carry that kind of bat is if he’s a Gold Glove-type at short.

And at the risk of being a jerk and a grump … I’m not sure that’s the case yet? Most of the advanced stats liked Luciano’s glove at short better than Schmitt’s, which is kinda funny but also not that sustainable. But it’s an amusing reminder that excellent defenders at a specific position don’t immediately become excellent defenders at a different position. We went through this with Estrada in 2022, who was fine at short that season, but who was absolutely abysmal at second base if you believe some of the nerd stats. Estrada didn’t become unathletic or wear his glove on the wrong hand at second base; it just took some extra time with the new position. He was learning new movements, spins and bounces off the bat. It takes experience, even if you’re already a solid defender at a more difficult position. He obviously improved with time at second.

So maybe Schmitt will become a Gold Glove-worthy shortstop if he isn’t playing a lot of third base. Not sure there’s enough certainty there, however, to make him the best option at shortstop in 2024, especially when you consider the offensive work he has to do.

What would I tweet if he hit a single to the opposite field? We might never know. But Lopez isn’t just a guy you’re getting used to. He’s not just a fringe candidate. He might be the odds-on favorite.

Lopez isn’t just young enough to be a prospect. He was a prospect until recently. Two years ago, he was the Blue Jays’ 10th-ranked prospect, according to The Athletic’s Keith Law. Last year, he was their 19th-ranked prospect. That kind of progression is how you end up being designated for assignment and traded to the Giants for cash considerations, but still. Law’s blurb on him last year is a good place to start:

Lopez is a perfect utility man; he can play short and center on a temporary basis, and obviously most of the other positions as well, and he puts the ball in play a lot. He lacks the power or even the impact to be a regular, but that positional versatility combined with a high contact rate makes him a perfect fifth infielder/fourth outfielder, someone who might end up playing 100+ games a year but never be a regular.

Lopez wouldn’t be the long-term solution at short if Luciano had serious developmental or health-related hiccups, in other words, but he would be a guy who could allow the Giants to give Luciano a little more time to see if hiccups are season-scotching flaws or vice versa. Lopez is on the 40-man roster, and he has an option left. A middle infielder who can also play the outfield? What a glorious luxury that would be as the last man on a roster.

Ah, but Lopez wouldn’t be the only player who could fill those dual roles. Fitzgerald was drafted and developed as a middle infielder, but someone noticed his speed and wondered if he could be a center fielder with a little practice. It’s early, but that guess looks pretty smart from here. While he doesn’t have any extra-super-duper-special highlights on tape from his time in center, I’ve looked and looked and looked for any evidence of him taking a bad jump, read or break, and I can’t find any. What you mostly find is this:

He doesn’t seem overwhelmed in center. And, oh, he can also play the infield pretty well, which is what we’re talking about here. Third base, second, short, whatever. It’s how Fitzgerald has been developed since the Giants drafted him in 2019. He’s never not had a season with at least 50 innings at second, short and third. The bulk of his Sacramento innings last season came at shortstop, though, which is where you want him to be if he’s in consideration for a Luciano contingency plan.

Did we mention that he’s fast? Not just fast, mind you. One of the fastest players in baseball. Which explains why he looks so comfortable in center, although it’s harder to teach reads and first steps.

Fitzgerald isn’t an afterthought in this race. He might be the lead horse. He had a tremendous whiff problem for most of his professional career, but it got much, much better last season, which makes you hope that his .287/.358/.499 line could indicate the emergence of a versatile, glove-first speedster who can also hit a little.

Also, this research made me discover that Fitzgerald’s dad was drafted by the Giants in the first round over Ellis Burks, but didn’t sign. And yet it’s Burks who had a very enjoyable Giants career. Baseball, you goofy bastard, when do you stop it with the fun tidbits?

A lot of the promise of Fitzgerald is present with Wisely, too. There’s legitimate potential for Wisely to help defensively at two different positions, although his raw speed can’t compare. There’s also the matter of size, which is where you realize that Wisely is a scrapper and Fitzgerald is built like a modern-day wide receiver. Here’s Fitzgerald scaring the pants off of Mitch Haniger, who didn’t want to collide with him:

Screenshot 2024 02 19 at 7.22.05%E2%80%AFPM

Players built like Fitzgerald will always get the benefit of the doubt over players like Wisely, although the latter has shown more plate discipline and bat control in the minors. Don’t be surprised if either takes the gig and runs with it.

A free agent

Tim Anderson is interesting with the bat, with a history of high-contact, high-average seasons. But his defense consistently gets poor marks, and he’s coming off an absolutely dreadful season offensively. He should probably start somewhere that can take the risk, like with the A’s or Expos or something. If he’s much better than he showed last season, it’s not like being the understudy to Marco Luciano would advance his career.

Elvis Andrus would help keep the 2010 vibes alive, and he’s very well-suited to be a backup. I like this option a lot. It’s a cheese sandwich kind of solution. There are better sandwiches. But you’re not going to get weird about a cheese sandwich.

Amed Rosario has struggled with the bat, and he’s definitely struggled with the glove. He’s like Anderson, where a scuffling team should give him a long look, but he’s an imperfect fit for a team looking for a dedicated backup.

But, yeah, it’s not a great market for this stuff.

A trade

Tommy Edman is the slated starting center fielder for the Cardinals, which seems like a waste, so I’ve seen suggestions that the Giants should trade for him. Except he’d be overqualified as a backup, and the whole point of this endeavor is to clear some space for Luciano. Edman is being moved from shortstop so the Cardinals can play their ultra-young prospect (Masyn Winn) there and start a new era.

You get the idea, though. A trade would be a way to get Luciano out of the starting lineup, like with a trade for Willy Adames, an idea that’s both implausible and exciting (dingers). It’s not a way to get a backup shortstop. After scouring the rosters of other teams, it’s hard to see a player who is so much better than the internal options or Andrus that it’s worth giving up a prospect, semi-prospect or Amazon gift card.

Just making sure you’re still paying attention.

Brandon Crawford

If his name is Dex Glovesworth, and he played the last 13 seasons with the Mariners, he’s easily the top choice. He’d allow Luciano to sit against the tougher right-handers. His defense is still strong. He can get to the ballpark without Google Maps. But he’s mostly out of consideration because of his history with the Giants. It’s not fair to Luciano to have a three-time champion and bobbleheaded honoree behind him, just in case. It wouldn’t be an issue with Andrus, Edman, Anderson or Lopez, but Crawford is a different story. There’s too much gravitas and nostalgia there. There are a lot more ways it could go wrong than ways it could go right.

I’m Team Fitz, if only because he’d bring speed and versatility, but I can also be talked into a lot of these options by the end of spring training. The real answer is probably signing Matt Chapman to reduce the defensive pressure on Luciano, with any of the above as the backup shortstop.

It’s not the most important question facing the Giants going into spring training, but it’s definitely worth considering. For the first time in a decade, the shortstop position is unsettled. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Giants settle it.

(Top photo of Luciano: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

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