Bob Melvin

How Giants envision Soler leading a more stable lineup

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The trade with the Seattle Mariners in early January was mostly about adding a starter -- Robbie Ray -- the Giants envision pairing with Logan Webb for years to come. But as they started to look at their roster in the aftermath of their move, they saw a new opportunity.

Mitch Haniger's departure helped solidify the outfield picture and open up at-bats at designated hitter, and that led to a tenacious pursuit of Jorge Soler, one of the game's most feared right-handed hitters. On Sunday, the contract finally became official.

Soler signed for three years and $42 million, and the Giants aren't even really pretending that he'll start that deal in an outfield corner. Manager Bob Melvin plans to use Soler as his primary DH and cleanup hitter, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is happy with giving up a bit of roster flexibility, even in a spot where teams often now prefer to rotate a group of hitters to keep them fresh

"We obviously put a premium on that flexibility, but again, it's kind of hard to argue the other side when you're talking about somebody who is going to hit cleanup for you every day," Zaidi said. "When we did a Zoom call with Jorge a couple of weeks back, Bob said something about hitting cleanup and Jorge said, 'I like hitting leadoff, too,' which he did a good amount of.

"It's a different look so I don't want to pin him to the cleanup spot, but you're talking about a guy who is going to play every day and be in one of the top four spots in the lineup, it's hard to argue that flexibility and some of these other things outweigh that.

"It is going to be a reality of managing things. Maybe it's a little harder to get guys off their feet and get them a day when you've got a guy like Jorge you're going to want in there every day, but again, I just think the benefits and the impact outweigh some of the loss of flexibility."

The Giants used 18 different players in the DH spot last year, with just two -- Joc Pederson and Wilmer Flores -- clearing 100 at-bats. Soler did make 31 starts in right field for the Miami Marlins last season and said he's fully open to getting some time in the outfield, but Melvin isn't keen on that happening much in the spring. 

"We kind of want to bubble-wrap him and get him to the season," Melvin said. "But there will be times you will see him [in the outfield] in spring training, and we'll make sure it's on days he's [feeling] good. It probably won't be early on. He's done a lot of DH-ing here recently. Some of that has had to do with the turf in Miami, as well."

Both Melvin and Zaidi mentioned the transition back to grass being something that will help keep Soler, who will turn 32 next Sunday, healthy. That will be a key for a lineup that desperately needs the power Soler can bring. If all goes according to plan, his presence also will settle a lineup that has been anything but consistent in recent years. 

The plan at the moment is for Jung Hoo Lee to hit leadoff against both lefties and righties, with Soler doing the same in the four-hole. While the Giants will mix and match around them, there will be more continuity defensively. 

Zaidi said he views Michael Conforto as his everyday left fielder, with Lee in center and Mike Yastrzemski in right. If Lee can hit the ground running, that alignment should be a big improvement defensively, particularly in right, where Yastrzemski has played Gold Glove-caliber defense in the past. 

The Giants know there will be injuries and slumps that change things, but at the moment, they appear to have their most stability in years. Zaidi has pushed flexibility above just about all else since taking over, but the opportunity to add Soler was too enticing. 

"It does," cost you flexibility, Melvin said. "But it's worth it to get a guy like that."

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