For all the signings that PBO Farhan Zaidi and GM Scott Harris made in the offseason, Sunday’s transactions began to highlight a weakness in the Giants roster building ahead of the 2021 season: finding depth at every position.
The trade for Thairo Estrada highlighted something that had been talked about by many Giants observers as Spring Training moved along: depth at shortstop. For many seasons, the Giants seemed to have a new middle infield prospect coming up or nearly up that would provide depth, but that didn’t happen this year.
In the Rule-5 draft, the Giants lost Jalen Miller, a 3rd round pick who had promise, if not production, and played at Double-A. Ryan Howard, who paired with Miller in Richmond’s middle infield, was not a part of spring training in 2021, though he was in the (March) spring training of 2020. Combined with no primarily shortstop players signed among the many minor league free agents, and by mid-spring, it was clear that the Giants had Brandon Crawford backed by Mauricio Dubón and maybe Arismendy Alcántara (6 games at shortstop in the minors in 2019 of 119 played).
25-year old Thairo Estrada can certainly play at the position, though he’s more of a utility player in the form that people have come to expect from Farhan Zaidi. He’s had a rough time of it, notably having been shot in 2018 in an attempted robbery in his hometown. He’s had struggles in his time in the Majors, including batting .167 in 26 games in 2020 without the minors as an option. He hit .266/.313/.452 in his last season at the minor, when he played only 60 games at Triple-A (he also played 35 in the Majors, batting .250).
Estrada fits a few profiles that Zaidi likes, between versatility and looking for a bounce-back candidate, but it still begs the question, why did the team wait so long to get that depth?
However, Sunday also highlighted another depth problem that was less talked about: right-handed relief.
The Giants came into camp with a ridiculous 39 pitchers between the 40-man roster and non-roster invites, so this seems odd, right? 8 of those were lower level prospects who were all but guaranteed to go back to the minors, but there was plenty of right-handers otherwise. What happened?
With Reyes Moronta down, the Giants have two right-handed relievers on the roster: Tyler Rogers, and Matt Wisler. Everyone else (José Álvarez, Caleb Baragar, Jarlin Garcia, Jake McGee, and Wandy Peralta) are lefties. Remember when the team used to have worries because they only had two left-handed options? The real problem is that the only other right-handers on the 40-man roster are injured or low-level prospects added to be protected on the 40-man roster (Kervin Castro, Gregory Santos, and Camilo Doval, who has the most advanced experience because he pitched all the way down in High-A in 2019).
The Giants do have several options in the alternate site in Sacramento, but they all will require a 40-man roster move to make happen, meaning someone’s going to likely get DFA’d. The main options for the Giants seem to be between Zack Littell and Jimmie Sherfy, who both have MLB experience, and perhaps Dominic Leone, who showed flashes of dominance in Spring Training.
Regardless, this still begs the question of why there wasn’t more balance on the 40-man roster to weather this sort of thing. The Giants were hit a bit hard by injuries, notably Rule 5 pick Dedniel Núñez’s Tommy John surgery, and gave 40-man roster spots to a lot of young players to protect them, but for a team that has notably loved playing matchups, not having depth in the bullpen to play those matchups with is notable.
Neither of these deficiencies are what many people would call major problems. Baseball always has a ton of players ready to get signed up. And maybe this is nitpicking. But I think it’s a fair question about the team’s roster building and thoughts on flexibility, painting themselves into a roster corner having to cut someone and risk losing them just to be able to weather injuries.