Giants have tough task devising roster without knowing 2021 DH plans

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Alex Pavlovic
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Can Giants devise roster without knowing 2021 DH plans? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Farhan Zaidi has given out just one multi-year contract to a free agent in his time as president of baseball operations, and it proved to be a savvy move. The Giants signed Wilmer Flores to a two-year, $6.25 million deal last February and Flores was instrumental in helping the lineup take several steps forward in 2020. 

But as Giants executives and coaches plan for a 2021 season that in theory will start in four months, they aren't quite sure how they'll use Flores in the second year of his deal. Flores can handle both spots on the right side of the infield, but his best spot right now is designated hitter, in part because of his own defensive limitations and in part because first baseman Brandon Belt and second baseman Donovan Solano are also coming off big offensive years. Nobody knows, though, if the DH will return in 2021. 

The DH was made universal in the shortened season and the expectation around the game is that will be the case starting with the next CBA, which will be negotiated after this upcoming season.

But right now it's a bargaining chip between owners and players who haven't seen eye to eye in years, and especially during this pandemic, so there's still some question about whether the DH will become the standard in 2021 or if players will have to wait another season. That adds a slight twist to the offseason for the executives tasked with putting together a 26-man roster. 

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"I think we just have to sort of hedge our bets, which we have to do in a lot of different areas," Zaidi said last week. "It's not clear when that decision might be made, so we're just going to have to maintain roster flexibility. We're going to have 13 position players on our roster one way or another, but it may make it more important to have enough defensive versatility and defensive ability on our position player group. That may be something that influences some of these decisions. "

The Giants will be impacted less than some other NL teams. They don't figure to be a spot for Marcell Ozuna, who would be a much more popular free agent if the DH became universal. In their own division, the Dodgers could find it easier to again commit to Justin Turner if the DH is still around. Still, it would be helpful for the Giants to have clarity. 

Darin Ruf, who is arbitration-eligible, becomes slightly more attractive if there's a DH. Daniel Robertson, a utility man who is also arb-eligible, fits more on the roster flexibility side. The Giants have to decide by Dec. 2 if they want to tender contracts to those two and others. 

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Zaidi has already said he's seeking more complementary pieces to round out the lineup, which was surprisingly productive in 2020 and returns all its key pieces, along with the addition of Buster Posey. He's one of several key Giants who could benefit from a universal DH. 

Flores and Austin Slater primarily played DH down the stretch, but over 162 games the Giants could use the spot to get others off their legs. Belt, coming off foot surgery, seems a good bet to get some DH duty if the rule change returns, along with Alex Dickerson, who was able to handle a consistent outfield role in a shortened season but has always had injury concerns.

The Giants have options for the DH spot without having to turn to free agency. Like the rest of us, they're waiting to see if they'll be able to use them.