SAN FRANCISCO — As the Cubs clubbed ball after ball at the warm body standing between second and third base in the ninth inning Saturday night, threatening to rally for an unlikely comeback, the Giants’ circumstances at shortstop escalated from inconvenient to problematic.
The Giants stopped the Cubs one run short, pulling out their second victory in their past 10 games, but it was clear Jason Vosler was more of break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option. Vosler, who hadn’t played short since a minor-league game in 2015, was only in there because Thairo Estrada was hit by a pitch in the head and Brandon Crawford (left knee) was already sidelined.
So, afterward, manager Gabe Kapler and the Giants’ braintrust — president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris — huddled in his office and went over their options. They landed on Dixon Machado, a 30-year-old glove-first shortstop, and pulled off a trade with the Cubs to get him to San Francisco in time for Sunday’s game.
The price: minor-league arm Raynel Espinal, who had a 5.29 ERA this season at Triple-A Sacramento.
“It was pretty impressive,” Kapler said, reflecting on Sunday morning on the late-night wheeling and dealing. “It’s good to have a good file of the best players that are out there and available for a situation like this.”
By 11:20 Sunday morning, Machado had arrived in San Francisco from St. Paul, where he was playing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. A few hours later, he was starting at shortstop in his first major-league game since 2018.
“It’s tough,” Kapler said. “We lose Estrada, and he’s been such a core piece of our team. You see we’ve lost several of those. Today’s lineup is not what you would’ve expected on a day like today.”
Although Estrada was feeling better Sunday, according to Kapler, he was placed on the seven-day concussion list (where he joined teammate Joc Pederson), leaving Machado as the Giants’ lone primary shortstop and Vosler as his backup.
Sunday wasn’t Machado’s first time wearing a Giants uniform: since his last major-league appearance, the 30-year-old infielder played two seasons with the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization, where he was teammates with the Cubs starter he would be facing Sunday, Adrian Sampson.
Machado knew players on both sides of the field Sunday: Sampson and a number of young Cubs whom he played with at their Triple-A affiliate in Iowa, as well as Matthew Boyd, Wilmer Flores and catching coach Craig Albarnez in the Giants’ clubhouse.
“It is weird, you happen to be with the Cubs and you get traded and called up to another team that’s playing the Cubs,” Machado said, adding he’d been receiving texts from his former Iowa Cubs teammates in the other clubhouse. “It’s just awkward. … It’s been crazy. I’m just really excited to be here.”
While Machado spoke with reporters at his locker, Flores came up and dapped him. He wasn’t only welcoming his new double-play partner but reacquainting with a guy he faced off with for years in the minor leagues.
Boyd logged more innings with Machado behind him than anyone in the Giants clubhouse — as teammates in the Detroit Tigers system — and gave a ringing endorsement of his glove, which will surely be under the microscope more than any other facet of his game.
“He can pick it,” Boyd said, calling Machado a “good friend” and an “awesome person.”
“He’s real good,” Boyd said. “I loved having him back there. He’s always making plays.”
Machado has logged 423 games at shortstop between his time in Korea and at Triple-A over the past four seasons, and he can also play second and third base.
In 505 MLB plate appearances, Machado has a batting line of .227/.285/.295 (a .579 OPS) but was batting .312/.402/.394 (a .796 OPS) in 391 plate appearances this season with Triple-A Iowa.
- The good news is that the Giants shouldn’t be short-handed at shortstop too much longer. Brandon Crawford is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Tuesday with Triple-A Sacramento. He’ll play five innings and could be activated either Thursday for their finale against the Dodgers or Saturday for the beginning of their two-game set with the A’s.
- There were a couple reasons the Giants turned to an external option to backfill their hole at shortstop. Isan Diaz, who has 20 home runs and a .965 OPS at Triple-A Sacramento this season, can play short but is primarily a second baseman. Anticipating the possibility of four straight left-handers against the Dodgers, the Giants didn’t see this week as the right opportunity for Diaz, a left-handed hitter, whom they acquired from Miami earlier this season.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism