June 21, 2024
Giants shortstops rank last in MLB in a number of categories, the second-worst group in the majors according to Baseball-Reference WAR, mostly weighed down by Brandon Crawford.

PHILADELPHIA — The Giants were involved in trade talks for Paul DeJong before he was dealt elsewhere at the trade deadline, and they were among the first teams DeJong heard from after he was released by the Blue Jays this week.

It should come as no surprise.

In a new reality for a club that hasn’t had to think about shortstop much over the past 13 years, they have gotten among the least production from the position of any team this season.

So, with Brandon Crawford sidelined for a third time, DeJong arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday and was immediately penciled into the starting lineup, just as Johan Camargo — who was designated for assignment in a corresponding move — was shortly after signing as a minor-league free agent.

“We just need a little stability there,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think he has the capability and the talent to provide that.”

As a position group, they rank last in MLB in OPS (.559), wRC+ (54, 44% below league average) and batting average (.198, the only team below the Mendoza line) and second from the bottom in WAR (minus-2.5) — their worst position in relation to the rest of the league — and nobody has weighed them down more than Crawford, who has accumulated negative-1.1 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.

Falling out of playoff position for the first time since June 11 with their loss Tuesday night, Kapler acknowledged the lack of production has impacted the reeling club “a good bit” but added “you want to have good quality play at every position.”

“Now,” he continued, “what you might say is that shortstop is a premium position and it matters a little bit more, and I probably wouldn’t argue with that.”

When DeJong walked into the clubhouse Wednesday morning, Kapler immediately noticed there was something different about him.

“Well first, a different dress style than we have in the clubhouse,” he said. “It’s really interesting. A little more upscale than what we normally have around these parts. He had some really nice boots on. A gold chain. Like, OK, this is a little different.”

Perhaps a premium position calls for a little panache.

DeJong’s production hasn’t exactly lived up to his style. He was in the midst of his best offensive season since 2019 before being traded to the Blue Jays, but that was still below league average, according to his 95 wRC+, and his brief run in Toronto ended with three hits — all singles — in 44 at-bats (an .068 average).

“With Paul in Toronto, it wasn’t a good look. It wasn’t a good sample. But it was also very small,” Kapler said. “It’s another change of scenery opportunity. We’ve seen it work in the past where a guy gets back to their peak form because they have a new environment around them.”

After spending his first six and half years in the big leagues in one organization, DeJong joined his second new team in less than a month. At least this time, it was by his choosing. While complimenting Kapler’s managerial style, DeJong said he and his agent “jumped on the opportunity” when the Giants reached out.

“I’m just excited to be here. I’m excited for a fresh start,” he said. “Just the history of this organization, the winning tradition I think is super important. I drew a lot of similarities to my time in St. Louis watching these guys over the years, just seeing all the great players, the homegrown talent, going deep into the playoffs, just the fanbase. Everything about it.”

After being traded for the first time in his career, DeJong didn’t draw a walk and struck out 18 times in Toronto.

“It’s been interesting,” he said of the past month. “I feel like I gained some experience about moving around and joining a new team, so I think that’ll help me join this group. … Things can happen even if I was in St. Louis. It’s one of those things where you have to get back to the basics. For me that’s pitch selection. I think that’s going to be my biggest focus moving forward, being able to take a pitch and be hunting and be selective on my zone and allow my natural ability to take over from there.”

At 36 years old, Crawford has dealt with one physical ailment after the other this year. An MRI revealed a mild strain in his left forearm as the latest issue, but Crawford told the San Francisco Chronicle he is confident he’ll be ready to return when eligible, this Tuesday. He played catch on the field before Wednesday’s game.

DeJong said he has long been an admirer of the four-time Gold Glove winner and franchise icon.

“Crawford has always been one of the guys I’ve loved watching,” he said. “Just the way he makes plays, very fundamental. Steady. His demeanor, I’ve always appreciated and always been a big fan.”

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Kapler singled out a three-week stretch after he returned from his first stint on the IL in May as evidence of “what a rested, healthy Brandon Crawford can do.” Crawford took a .596 OPS into that stretch and raised it to a high-water mark of .688, but even in that season-best stretch, Crawford’s .288/.365/.379 batting line was fueled by a .422 batting average on balls in play. He was stuck in a 1-for-28 slump when he landed on the IL for the latest time, lowering his batting average to .194.

“In a world where he comes back off the IL and feels great,” Kapler said, “I think he can play a good quality shortstop for us and be a good offensive contributor as well.”

But, with only a month of the season left, how realistic is it that Crawford returns feeling great?

“It’s really unlikely that anybody at this stage of the season comes back 100-100%. But I think there’s a big difference between 75% and able to play and able to go out there and do the job – and when I say do the job, I mean get through nine innings and come back and do it again tomorrow – and kind of that 90-95%, which is where healthy players generally are,” Kapler said. “And yes, I think the answer is there’s enough time.”