The San Francisco Giants signed an array of veteran infielders to minor league contracts to compete for a utility bench spot this spring. The Giants insistence on signing washed up veteran infielders despite already having Kelby Tomlinson and playoff hero Casey Gillaspie in house to serve this role was very questionable. Overloading on veteran infielders handicapped the Giants ability to address a more pertinent need — a backup centerfielder.
While the Giants did sign former playoff hero Michael Morse and journeyman Justin Ruggiano to compete for outfield spots, neither of these guys profile as center field replacements in the event that Span comes down with an injury. With Gregor Blanco signing with the Diamondbacks and Angel Pagan still on the free agent market, the only feasible replacement for Span is the 29 year old Gorkys Hernandez, who despite putting up a 105 wRC+ last season, has been a below average offensive player throughout the course of his career.
The Giants also do not have a ton of qualified in-house options in their farm system. Perhaps the best candidate to be called up as a replacement for Span is former Clemson standout Steven Duggar. Duggar showed he was perfectly capable of hitting top-tier pitching in his first spring training by hitting .333 with a .917 OPS, but seeing how Duggar has never played above AA, it would be surprise if the Giants decided to call him up in the near future. Instead of signing Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Hill, Gordon Beckham, and Orlando Calixte to complete for one utility infield spot, the Giants would have been better served signing one or two of these guys and then extended spring training invitations to viable center field options.
Centerfielders who signed minor league contracts with other teams this offseason include Austin Jackson, Desmond Jennings, Craig Gentry, and Franklin Gutierrez, among others. To be clear, none of these guys are standouts. After all, that is why they all had to settle for minor league deals. However, each of these guys would be serviceable defensive options to replace Span in the expansive AT&T outfield, while offering more offensive upside than Gorkys Hernandez. All of these players also have much more MLB experience than Hernandez as regular starting center fielders and each have experience starting for playoff contenders.
At the end of the day, there is a reason that Gorkys has been a career minor leaguer. Even if the improvements he has shown in recent years are for real and he proves to be a viable 4th outfielder this year for the Giants, the Giants still should have extended minor league contracts to one of these aforementioned outfield replacements.The Giants have battled with a lack of organizational depth in recent years and signing a multitude of reserve infielders when they have arguably the most productive and stable infield in the league could hurt them if Span gets injured or falters down the stretch.
Span is entering the twilight of his career and although he served as a serviceable centerfield / leadoff option in 2016, his peripheral stats indicate that his defensive value has declined over the past three seasons according to UZR and DRS. He also has experienced a steady decline in both wOBA and wRC+ during this same span (no pun intended). It is not just the possibility of a Span injury that might reveal the Giants lack of outfield depth, but also the possibility that his regression continues to the point where he is unplayable.