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Brandon Crawford played in 1,525 games in his major league career. He pitched for 12,872 innings. He came on the balls of his feet with hundreds of thousands of deliveries at the plate, ready to pounce or dive or charge or sprint any kind of ball.

In each of these moments, he has been short-lived.

You won’t become a four-time Gold Glove with athleticism alone. Pre-pitch positioning and intuition can be just as important. The best covers show artistic creativity to make plays. Crawford used many of these gifts to become the greatest shortstop in Giants history.

If one of Crawford’s gifts stands out above all others, it’s his spatial awareness. It’s an innate ability to visualize the movements needed to make a play. It is the coordination of those movements.

It is understanding where his body is in space in relation to other objects or people.

And now one of those people is Carlos Correa.

Less than 15 minutes after news broke Tuesday night that the Giants and Correa had agreed to terms on a 13-year, $350 million contract, Crawford received a phone call from club president Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler. They let Crawford know what he already knew, that Correa would be the Giants’ everyday shortstop. It will be up to Crawford to accept a change of position for the first time in his career.

Prior to that phone call, there had been no discussion between Crawford and anyone in the Giants’ front office or coaching staff about the possibility of playing another position.

Crawford took a few days to process his situation before reaching out The Athletic comment.

“Signing a player as good as Carlos definitely made our team a lot better,” Crawford said via text message. “He’s been one of the best players in the league for years, and it’s obviously exciting to bring a player of his caliber to San Francisco. That being said, he’s a shortstop and I was told the other day after he signed that he’s going to stay, so that puts me in a much different situation than I’ve ever faced in professional baseball.

“So the rest of this offseason, spring training and during the season, I’m going to work as hard as I can to be the best I can be at a different position and help us get back to the postseason.”

It’s a transition Crawford admits he’s reluctant to make. Shortstops always think of themselves as shortstops. Center fielders always see themselves as center fielders. Moving to a less stressful position can be more than an attack on their pride. It can be an affront to their identity.

For Crawford, who debuted in 2011 and has started 11 straight seasons at shortstop on Opening Day, the fact that only five players in major league history have played more defensive games exclusively as shortstop is a matter of great pride. You’ve heard of them: Derek Jeter (2,674), Luis Aparicio (2,581), Ozzy Smith (2,511), Elvis Andrus (1,906), and JJ Hardy (1,544).

Crawford, who will turn 36 in January, had hoped to remain on that roster until the end of his career, which could coincide with his contract expiring after next season. Instead, he’ll settle for a less demanding career that still contains a ridiculous amount of really, really cool stuff. He became the first major leaguer in 41 years to record seven hits in one game. He shares the single-game RBI record (8) with Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Joc Pederson. His first hit in a grand slam was a grand slam. He hit another grand slam to win the National League wild-card game and silence a frenzied pitch in Pittsburgh so quiet you could hear the waters of the Allegheny lapping over bridge piers. He grew up in Pleasanton with dreams of becoming a shortstop for the San Francisco Giants, and for decades he has been just that. And of course he was integral to winning two world championships.

None of that legacy is diminished just because he starts taking grounders at third base or second base or wherever he might end up in the field with Correa. Crawford is still eligible for the Giants’ roster. Crawford declined to elaborate on what his role would be or which position would represent the easiest transition, saying he had been given a rough outline but that talks were still in the early stages. Kapler also declined to comment until Correa’s signing became official at a press conference on Tuesday.

But it’s easy to see the potential. Crawford can fill in for JD Davis, Wilmer Flores or David Villar at third base at lefty. He could do the same in tandem with Tyro Estrada at second base. He could solve what has become a pressing need for a versatile, left-handed hitter, especially now that Tommy LaStella’s defensive limitations will be impossible to hide with the pressure of shifting infield.

And while Correa is expected to play exclusively at shortstop (he’s up to 881 games and 7,666 2/3 innings without hitting any other position, by the way), he needs the occasional off day. For more than a decade, the Giants have never had a perfect backup shortstop behind Crawford. Now they’ve got the most productive backup shortstop in the major leagues.

GO DEEPER

The Giants signed Carlos Correa. You have questions, we have answers.

But nothing is guaranteed. If Crawford approaches 2021, when he posted a 141 OPS+ and finished fourth in NL MVP voting, he’ll be in the lineup every day, likely starting with the opening of Yankee Stadium when his brother showed up. – The law, Gerrit Cole, is expected to be on the hill in New York. However, if Crawford struggles like he did last season, when he regressed to an 85 OPS+ and a nagging knee injury took away from his defensive numbers, the Giants won’t have to give him a satisfying return.

Last season, Crawford’s knee improved in the second half after going on the injured list, and the difference was noticeable on the field. In the Giants’ second road trip to Arizona and Colorado, Crawford put together non-stop diving plays, off-balance throws, flashbacks and rushing catches.

“I mean, I’ve always considered myself a shortstop my whole career,” Crawford said at the time. “So I guess there’s a little bit of pride in that. Being called up my rookie year was because I could come right away and play defense in the big leagues. It’s valuable, even if it’s not always perceived that way.”

Even if Crawford hadn’t regressed last season, it’s possible he’d be in the same situation now. Could have been better suited to play another shortstop position on the free agent market this winter, but Correa provided the Giants’ best game because of his relative youth, offensive attributes and his leadership qualities. When Aaron Judge turned down a $350 million offer from the Giants to return to the Yankees, it was obvious where the organization was headed. They needed a franchise star, and there was only one player left who fit the bill.

Crawford was among the people who courted Judge. He met Dat at the Gotham Club at Oracle Park and did his best to sell the city and the organization to the reigning American League MVP. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Crawford was not included or consulted when the organization turned its attention to Correa. All Crawford had to go on was what Zaidi told reporters at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas last month when asked if he believed Crawford would be the club’s opening day shortstop.

“Yes, absolutely,” Zaidi said on Nov. 10. “Right now: Yes! Clearly, Brandon Crawford is the best shortstop in franchise history. He’s done a really good job for us over the last couple of years and last year, especially in the second half, when he played really well defensively.”

But Zaidi added a qualification. “I don’t think anything is going to limit us going after guys who have traditionally been short.”

Correa’s identity as a shortstop is as strong as Crawford’s. He has accumulated 70 defensive runs in his career. He won the Platinum Glove as the American League Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. He is as confident as any defender in the game. Metrics rank him as the most effective shortstop in the major leagues for recording when he dives for the ball. He’s both a throwback player and the epitome of a modern major leaguer who not only embraces analytics, but happily explains to teammates why should they embrace them too?

But his time will come, as it did for Cal Ripken and Dave Concepcion, and as it is now for Crawford. Correa will be Crawford’s age in eight years. Until then, whoever manages the Giants in 2031 will have to figure out where to play Correa. He will only have five years and $135 million left on his contract.

The Giants view Correa as a cornerstone of the franchise and an impact player whose major contributions will far exceed what he will be paid in his down years. But it would be hard to imagine him finishing his Giants career as the greatest shortstop in franchise history. The bar has been set pretty high.

In the meantime, it will be fun to watch what happens next season when a ground ball comes up in left for the first time and two transcendent defenders slide, shrinking every last inch of the 5.5 hole. Great players always enjoy playing alongside great players, even if they can’t share the exact same space. So Crawford will look to the upside as often as the former shortstop can.

“Maybe,” he said, accompanying his text with a shrug emoji, “I can finally get an inning on the mound.”

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

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