Why Zaidi sees role for Longo on Giants' 2023 roster


SAN FRANCISCO -- The offseason is a time for subterfuge. It's months and months of anonymous sources, cagey answers and leaked meetings meant to benefit one side of negotiations or the other. Except, it seems, in the case of Evan Longoria and the Giants.

On Monday of last week, Longoria sat down in a barstool chair in the visiting clubhouse at Petco Park, and made it very, very clear that he would like to return to the Giants, even if they don't pick up his full $13 million option. At the end of the week, Farhan Zaidi, the man who will ultimately make that decision, showed some of his own cards.

"There's certainly a role for Longo on our team in 2023," Zaidi said during his end-of-season Zoom call. 

Both sides have made it clear they would like a reunion, and most of the traditional hurdles seem to be more minor issues. The Giants can simply pick up the $13 million option and bring Longoria back, but that approach seems unlikely. Longoria himself admitted he wouldn't get that much on the open market, or likely even the $8 million difference between the option and a buyout clause, and he said he would be open to finding a number somewhere in between $5 million -- the buyout figure -- and $13 million that satisfies both sides.

"I think that's a real possibility," he said.

Assuming money doesn't stand in the way, the key for the Giants will be determining how Longoria fits a 2023 roster that needs to be younger and more athletic. Zaidi started his media session by talking about that need, and he was speaking on a day when Longoria celebrated his 37th birthday.

But the Giants see a way to thread the needle at third base for one more season. Zaidi noted that Longoria should fit with the way the Giants like to manage their roster.

"I think one of the questions for us with Longo -- and it's a question for him as well -- is at this point of his career what's the appropriate workload and what's the appropriate role," Zaidi said. "He's got a great relationship with (manager Gabe Kapler) and I think that helped us navigate, particularly in the second half of the season, what he could manage, especially after his hamstring issues. But we know he can still play a great third base, he can give you a good at-bat, and when he's 100 percent or as close to 100 percent as you can be during the grind of the season, he can be a real asset to a team both on the field and off."

Longoria has brought a lot to the table the last few seasons from a leadership perspective, but he also remains the Giants' best option at third base when healthy. He had an OPS+ of 124 with 13 homers in 2021, and this season he was at 114 and 14 homers. That puts him comfortably above league-average as a hitter, and he remains particularly dangerous against left-handed pitching. Among Giants who played for the team both of the last two seasons, Longoria's .915 OPS against lefties easily leads the way. 

Longoria, even this late in his career, also still remains the roster's best defensive option at third base, at least until prospect Casey Schmitt is ready.  

The caveat to all of that production is that it has come in limited time. Longoria's season-ending IL stint for a fractured thumb was his fourth of the year, and he played just 89 games a year after appearing in 81. 

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If the Giants are to bring him back, they probably should not plan for much more, and that's where it sounds like they learned a tough lesson in 2022. Zaidi noted that one of the lessons from this past season was the need to "manage the workloads for those veteran players," which in 2023 could mean keeping a close eye on Longoria and Brandon Crawford, in particular. The Giants were too dependent on those two, plus Brandon Belt, this past season, and it burned them when injuries popped up.

If Longoria is back, the Giants will go into the season hoping for much of what he has given them the last two years: Good defense and solid offensive production, albeit in a somewhat limited role. That still has value, though. 

If Longoria can duplicate the 1.3 Wins Above Replacement he provided in 2022, he would more than make a modest one-year deal worthwhile. If not, the Giants will go into next year knowing they have J.D. Davis, David Villar, Wilmer Flores and, at some point, Schmitt, ready to soak up those innings. 

Schmitt, who had a breakout year in the minors, is likely the long-term solution at the position. If he hits as he did in High-A and Double-A this summer, he could be an All-Star. Even if he doesn't, his glove could make him a Gold Glove candidate. The Giants will, one day soon, have their young and athletic third baseman, but as they wait for Schmitt to finish developing, they sure seem likely to bring Longoria back for a sixth season in orange and black. 

"I don't want to get too much into the impending free agents and what the likelihood is of us bringing him back," Zaidi said, "But as far as he goes, there's certainly a role for him on our team, even if it's not us needing or expecting him to play 140, 150 games at third base."

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