What Should the San Francisco Giants Do in Left Field?


The San Francisco Giants are mostly set at every position around the diamond. The homegrown infield, consisting of All-Stars Buster Posey, Joe Panik, and Brandon Crawford, plus Matt Duffy and Brandon Belt, should be together in 2016, and for years to come after that. Hunter Pence‘s home is in right field, and as long as he’s healthy, he should be out there day in and day out. Center field is a little iffy, but a healthy Angel Pagan is solid, and Gregor Blanco provides a more-than-serviceable secondary option.

Left field is the biggest question mark for the Giants entering this offseason (besides the pitching staff, but that’s a completely different can of worms). Since the end of the Barry Bonds‘ era in San Francisco, left field has been a revolving door for the Giants. Over the past eight years, the Giants have had a different opening day left fielder every year, and seven different leaders in games played in left field. Only Fred Lewis, in 2008 and 2009, has repeated as games played leader in left field for the Giants.

The Giants do have options for what to do with left field in 2016, and the most obvious is the person who was supposed to be the everyday left fielder in 2015, Nori Aoki. Aoki was an outstanding leadoff hitter for the Giants in the first half of the season after being signed in January. Before two separate injuries, both of which ocurred via hit-by -pitches, derailed his season, Aoki was slashing .317/.383/.385, had walked (23) more often than he struck out (17), and led the Giants with 12 stolen bases.

Aoki even played mostly solid defense in left field, despite coming to the Giants with a reputation as a subpar and inconsistent defender. But when Aoki had his leg fractured on June 20th by Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Carlos Frias, his season went downhill quickly. Aoki played just 26 games over the rest of the season, and hit just .204 while playing really shaky defense. His season was cut short by a concussion, which came from a fastball to the head by Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Jake Arrieta.

The Giants still hold Aoki’s fate in their hands, as they have a team option worth $5.5 million for Aoki in 2016. If Aoki is healthy, the Giants picking up that option would seem like a bargain after the tremendous first half he, and the team, enjoyed. They have less than two weeks to make a decision on Aoki’s option.

Another potential option for the Giants would be another player who spent time by the Bay in 2015, Marlon Byrd. After being acquired in a waiver trade in August, Byrd became the thumper in the middle of the order the Giants were missing with Hunter Pence on the shelf. Byrd made his Giants’ debut on August 21st, and through the end of the season, no Giant drove in more runs (31), or collected more extra-base hits (18) than Byrd. Even at age 38 (he’ll turn 39 late in 2016), Byrd has shown he can still hit, and play a little bit of defense.

Byrd fell just short of having his $8 million option become guaranteed, but the Giants have expressed some interest in bringing him back again in 2016. It would seem likely that, if the Giants do bring back Byrd, it would almost assuredly be for less than the $8 million his option would entail.

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Maybe Blanco finally gets an everyday spot that he has definitely earned since joining the Giants in 2012. While he has been seen mostly as a fourth outfielder, Blanco seems to find a way into a larger role every season, normally because of various injuries, but also because of Melky Cabrera‘s suspension in 2012. Over the past four seasons, no one has played in left field more than Blanco, who has played 227 games in left, and he will certainly be given a look this offseason.

There’s two rookies who could take the spot, possibly as a platoon, if the Giants aren’t keen on looking at outside options. Jarrett Parker was a great power threat over the last month of 2015, capped off with his three home run, seven RBI performance against the Oakland Athletics. Mac Williamson earned his first call-up late in 2015, and though he didn’t overwhelm, he did show a solid approach at the plate. The Giants have had success with giving big roles to rookies in the recent past, and could be tempted do the same in the coming year.

Another, more out of the box option could be another player the Giants acquired in an August waiver trade, Alejandro De Aza. After being brought over from the Red Sox, De Aza was serviceable in a semi-limited role as left fielder. De Aza plays a good outfield and can cover a lot of ground, and his speed is an asset that would benefit the Giants. De Aza earned $5 million in 2015, and entering free agency this offseason, it’s conceivable he earns a similar sum.

San Francisco has a lot of money to spend entering the offseason, but with their number-one priority being rebuilding their starting rotation, it doesn’t seem like they would want to spend a lot of money on a left fielder. Big time left fielders like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes figure to get large paydays through free agency, and if there Giants truly are serious about fixing the rotation, the cheaper options would be more in their wheelhouse.

The Giants have a lot of options to fill the void in left field. A couple of them could be long-term solutions, but they are likely not ready to take the reigns yet. Aoki seems to be the most likely candidate to return, but the variables of free agency are impossible to predict. Either way, the revolving door that is left field for the Giants continues to spin.

Next: Are the Cubs This Year's Giants?