When it comes to season-long success, I remain convinced that depth is an underrated asset – every team is going to struggle with injuries or unexpected poor performance, and those that have reliable alternatives in house can limit the damage and keep from being caught off guard. In that sense, I think we have to give the San Francisco Giants quite a bit of credit – they might be the deepest team in baseball.
Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Mark DeRosa, and Nate Schierholtz give the team five useful outfielders, and that’s before we consider that Brandon Belt’s arrival could push Aubrey Huff into the outfield as well. Belt also serves as insurance at first base, should Huff get injured or fail to hit. Barry Zito is their fifth starter. They have enough power arms to live without Brian Wilson for a few weeks if he’s not ready to go by opening day.
At most positions, the Giants have some insurance, and should be able to plug leaks that spring up during the season. But there’s one spot on the field that they’ve left themselves vulnerable at, and it happens to be a pretty important one.
It’s relatively shocking to me that a team with aspirations of defending their World Championship is planning on going into the season with Miguel Tejada as their starting shortstop and Mike Fontenot as the only guy on the roster capable of filling in for him. Tejada turns 37 in May, and was already moved off of shortstop once due to a lack of range. Now, he’s being asked to shoulder the load at a position that he probably shouldn’t be playing to begin with, and the Giants have opted to give him a go without any kind of safety net.
Fontenot, a second baseman by trade, is good enough defensively to handle the keystone position, but he’s simply not a shortstop. He’s ill-suited for the role of primary reserve for the position, especially when the starter is aging and in decline, as is the case with Tejada. The Giants have essentially handed shortstop over to a third baseman who is being backed up by a second baseman.
I get that this wasn’t their first choice. I know that they tried to get Jason Bartlett over the winter, but he ended up in San Diego and Tejada was the best guy left on the market. There is some justification for hoping to get one last decent offensive season out of the guy, but if you’re going to take that gamble, you have to at least give yourself a viable alternative in case it doesn’t work.
Fontenot does not qualify as a viable alternative at shortstop for a team trying to win. While shortstops are scarce at the moment, the Giants need to be kicking down every door they can, looking for a guy who can handle the position with some regularity if need be. At the least, they need a guy who can give Tejada a day off when Madison Bumgarner takes his sinker to the mound – it’s simply unfair to ask him to get many groundball outs with Tejada and Pablo Sandoval composing the left side of the infield.
With Brandon Belt creating a squeeze for playing time, the Giants have some guys they can spare. It’d be well worth their while to start shopping around and seeing whether they can convert some of the depth they have at other positions into a real Major League shortstop. Call me crazy, but I think a team trying to win the NL West should have at least one on the roster.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.