Wilmer Flores

How Giants' offseason moves impact Flores' role after career year

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On the day that Jorge Soler showed up at Giants camp to take over as the designated hitter, Wilmer Flores gave an interview about his hand in recruiting Soler to San Francisco. After a couple of minutes, Flores was asked about what his 2024 role would look like. He shrugged and said he wasn't sure. 

"You know how it is every year …" he said, smiling. 

For the veteran infielder, every year in orange and black seems to start the same way. Flores never has a position to truly call his own, but by some point of the summer, he always seems to work his way back into the heart of the lineup as one of the Giants' most important hitters. Last year was perhaps the best example yet. 

After signing an extension late in 2022, Flores started on Opening Day but then was in the lineup just one more time through the first eight games. He saw consistent time at first base the rest of April, but in late May the staff again went in a different direction, with Flores going over a week without making a start. The lack of playing time during that stretch was so glaring that then-manager Gabe Kapler called Flores in for a meeting just to check in.

At the time, the Giants wanted to keep Casey Schmitt in the lineup after he hit the ground running and take a long look at Brett Wisely. But by the end of the year, it was clear the staff hadn't leaned on Flores enough. He was the team's best hitter, posting career numbers and seemingly positioning himself to take over once the Giants let DH Joc Pederson depart. 

The Soler addition cuts off that avenue to playing time, but the plan still is to lean heavily on Flores. 

"He was our best hitter and if you just went into the year with him as our DH and planned to give him 500-600 at-bats, you'd be in pretty good shape just because of what he can bring in that spot," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "But we've just learned that the way he can cover at first, third, he certainly obviously can DH, he just winds up accumulating at-bats in those spots. One of the things that's so valuable about him is he can go from being a part-time guy or just playing against lefties to suddenly playing every day for two or three weeks and he knows how to manage those situations."

It's a role Flores has thrived in, but it isn't easy. Hitters rely on finding the right rhythm, and the Giants always have asked Flores to stay sharp without letting him accumulate too many consecutive starts. On a lot of nights, he spends several innings getting ready for one big pinch-hit at-bat.

"A lot of people ask me (about) that and I say coming off the bench, people are not good at it," Flores said on Friday's Giants Talk podcast. "They gave me a chance, they gave me a lot of at-bats and I got my rhythm, but it's not like I'm good at coming off the bench or playing every three days. Nobody is going to be good at that, but I think with the Giants I've gotten a chance to play a lot. Last year there was a week where I didn't play for like seven days. There's no way you can be good at that. But I've gotten a lot of chances and I'm happy about that."

Ultimately, Flores always seems to find his way to the plate, one way or another. He got 213 plate appearances during the shortened 2020 MLB season and then 436 the next year. Flores made a career-high 602 plate appearances in 2022 and last year he finished with 454 despite those dry periods early on and a stint on the IL with a foot contusion.

Manager Bob Melvin has Flores in the lineup Saturday as his first baseman and he's expected to split the position with LaMonte Wade Jr. once the season starts. When asked about playing time, Melvin often points out that injuries will alter the mix. Soler has a long history of having trouble staying healthy, and in addition to first base and DH, Flores also will see time at third. 

Melvin saw from the other side how impactful Flores can be and the Giants are hopeful he's able to build on last year's career-high 23 homers and a wRC+ of 136 that was his best in the big leagues by 16 points. Flores said the production was due to better pitch selection and health.

"I think my lower body was healthy and I was able to use it a little more (in my swing)," he said. "I was just trying to get good pitches and drive them, but I think the main part was my lower body was working really well."

The Giants are counting on Flores to not just help lead the lineup, but also the clubhouse. He's not vocal on a day-to-day basis, but he speaks up when he sees things he doesn't like, and he was an easy choice to join Thairo Estrada on the Zoom call to recruit Soler. 

Flores was happy to do it, noting that Soler makes the team better and that's all that matters. The man leading the recruitment was happy to have Flores on the call, too, even if the push took some versatility away from the lineup and filled the spot that could have belonged to Flores.

"He's going to win up playing a lot," Zaidi said. "It's not a locked-in spot in the lineup or locked-in spot in the field, but his ability to play some different spots and be a first line of defense in a few places, that's going to add up."

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