SAN FRANCISCO -- Carlos Beltran has left the Giants, but he didn't leave them without options.
Beltran, whose long-expected departure from San Francisco became official Thursday when he agreed to a two-year, $26 million deal with St. Louis, was a virtual fixture in the No. 3 spot in the batting order during his brief Giants stint. He filled that role in 40 of his 43 starts -- excepting three appearances at cleanup -- after the Giants acquired him from the Mets on July 28.
With Beltran gone, returning Pablo Sandoval to the third position is the simplest batting-order move the Giants can make. Sandoval is accustomed to hitting third, having performed that duty in 220 of his 438 career starts. He has hit .304 from that spot, only slightly lower than his overall career average of .307. His .850 lifetime OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) as a No. 3 hitter mirrors his .857 figure in all games.
But unless Aubrey Huff regains his 2010 form or slugging accompanies Buster Posey's healing or Brandon Belt blossoms, Sandoval will remain San Francisco's only legitimate power threat. That could prompt manager Bruce Bochy to bat Sandoval fourth -- particularly against right-handers, since the switch-hitting third baseman drives pitches more proficiently left-handed.
Whether Posey resumes batting fourth -- his usual habitat since he became San Francisco's starting catcher in July 2010 -- obviously depends on his recovery from his extensive left leg injuries. If Posey struggles at all physically or in his readjustment to Major League pitching, Bochy probably won't want to burden him further with cleanup responsibilities.
Then again, if Posey hits for a high average, he could bat third in front of Sandoval.
Freddy Sanchez, who hopes to recover from his dislocated right shoulder by Opening Day, has extensive experience hitting third, though Bochy would prefer to bat him second. If moving to the third spot in the order somehow becomes necessary for Sanchez, offseason acquisition Melky Cabrera likely would hit second, where he spent most of last season while hitting .305 with Kansas City.
Expect Bochy to try numerous combinations during Spring Training. The adjustments probably will continue into the regular season; injuries and ineffectiveness have forced Bochy to use an average of 131 lineups per season in his five-year Giants tenure.
"We're pleased with the depth and potential flexibility, not only on the roster but maybe in the lineup," general manager Brian Sabean said. "It'll sort itself out with time and more so in Spring Training."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.