By Chris Haft
Special to The Examiner
Giants fans are truly enjoying watching Kris Bryant demonstrate his tremendous range of baseball skills, evidenced by his debut home run last weekend and his late-inning heroics against the Diamondbacks Thursday night.
But will they get to enjoy him some more next season? That’s the big-money question.
At least for the next couple of months, the Giants can avoid dwelling upon the weighty issue of dealing with Bryant, their top Trade Deadline acquisition, as a free agent. Instead, they can revel in his many ways of helping the team remain atop the National League West standings with the Major Leagues’ best record.
Though Bryant’s versatility has been well-documented — he can play the infield corners as well as all three outfield spots. It’s so rare that it’s difficult to grasp.
“It’s pretty unique that you can take a guy who’s playing third base and he’ll have no problem playing center field,” Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley, a former Giants reliever, told The Examiner. “Usually you say, ‘If a guy can play shortstop then he can probably play center field.’”
Height is typically regarded as a liability for every infielder except first basemen. Not so for the 6-foot-5 Bryant, who’s as nimble as he is tall.
“I remember when he first came up and people said that he’d never be able to reach the hot smashes and line drives by his feet,” said Cubs play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes. “That did not turn out to be the case, at all.”
Advancing from first to third base or from second to home is widely considered a yardstick of effective baserunning for most players. Bryant is so fast that he’s judged on his ability to race from home to third and from first to home.
“His baserunning is some of the best you’ll see from anybody in the league,” Hughes said.
A four-time All-Star, Bryant is capable of simply outclassing pitchers.
“He was getting beat on the high fastball the last couple of years. But in the off-season he worked with his dad on being more direct to the ball,” MLB Network analyst Sean Casey said.
Bryant possesses the aptitude to make similar adjustments, pitch-to-pitch, when necessary.
“The only thing I’ve ever seen him have trouble with is the change-up,” Brantley said. “And if you throw it to him back-to-back, a fan in the bleachers is going to get the second one.”
Due to Bryant’s versatility, no individual Giant is all that likely to miss a disproportionate amount of playing time to make room for the team’s new star. But some tweaks might make more sense than others.
Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski is more likely to sit against a challenging left-handed opposing starter. The same goes for first baseman Brandon Belt.
So Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Austin Slater might get called upon a little less frequently. Yet given manager Gabe Kapler’s liberal use of his entire roster, none of the Giants will go into the deep freeze.
Surely, the Giants will want Bryant to stay into 2022 and beyond. But the $60 million they’ll shave from this year’s payroll (assuming they don’t pick up Buster Posey’s $22 million option) won’t go far if they try to bring back Bryant and Crawford and Posey, as many fans will want management to do.
No part of this process will be easy, particularly with the ever-formidable agent Scott Boras representing Bryant.