Giants 2014: Second Base

Back to the Giants 2014 series, let’s take a look at second base. To be honest, there seem to be more questions here than answers going into next season… and that really has become a pattern for the position recently (aside from 2012). Can Marco Scutaro stay healthy? Is he too much of a defensive liability to play every day? Will Sabean find him a platoon partner? Another issue to consider here is the logjam of middle-infielders on the 40-man… how will the Giants sort that out?

Lots of questions; we’ll see how many we can answer.

Where it’s been: The story of 2nd base for the Giants in recent years is one that features a mixture of trades, aging vets, organizational fillers, injuries, and (most importantly) big-time performances in the postseason.  It’s been a mixed bag to say the least, and one that’s led to a pair of rings. But the organization has been searching for a long-term answer at the position for quite some time, and will likely continue to do so as it moves toward 2014.

The last player that I’d consider a mainstay at 2nd base in San Francisco was Ray Durham, who played his last year with the club in 2008. Durham was a Giant for roughly five and a half years, and he held his own pretty damn well for the majority of that time. The dude hit 26 home runs in 2006… 26! He was a consistent hitter, and did a pretty good job filling the hole left by Jeff Kent in the mid-2000’s. The Giants tried to replace Durham with homegrown cats Kevin Frandsen, Manny Burriss and Eugenio Velez. We all know how that turned out. Frandsen is really the only one who has had any kind of a decent career, but even he never turned into a true everyday player.

In 2009, Good Panda Pablo Sandoval and his buddies came out of the woodworks under Bruce Bochy, and Sabean set out to find a 2B (among other positions) at the trade deadline. I remember thinking at the time that Frandsen deserved a shot at the full-time gig… that he could hold the position down as well as anybody on the trade market. In my mind, I played Frandsen out to be a Dustin Pedroia grinder type who just needed an opportunity to shine. Now, I wonder what the hell I was thinking back then. Luckily, Sabean did not give the job to Frandsen, instead trading Tim Alderson to Pittsburgh for Freddy Sanchez. That’s right about the time that I was beginning my days as a prospect hound, and nobody excited me more in the organization than Bumgarner and Alderson. I didn’t know exactly how to feel about the deal at first, but it only took a couple Sanchez AB’s with runners on for me to shake any previous doubt. Honestly, I haven’t had a second thought about that trade since. The fact that Alderson never really did anything with the Pirates made it that much easier… but it’s astounding to me that there are people in this world who still question that deal. You’re kidding me, right?

As we’d find out, Freddy was a walking injury waiting to happen. But he (like Edgar Renteria) was healthy long enough in 2010 to help bring home a title, and that’s really all that mattered in the end. It was the injuries after the 2010 World Series that really hurt for Sanchez. Regardless, I’ll always remember him as a good Giant, and part of the band of misfits who shocked the world. Tim Alderson? I can’t say the same.

Freddy’s career as a Giant was effectively over after 58 games in 2011, and the rest of the season was spent trying out a number of different, mostly ineffective options to replace him. Mike Fontenot, Jeff Keppinger, more Burriss, even a Bill Hall sighting… again, 2011 turned into a trash can year in the final month and a half.

The 2012 season saw another vet enter the mix in Ryan Theriot, who played 91 games at 2B, providing somewhat of an improvement over Burriss (whose days with the club were becoming numbered). By the trade deadline, Theriot actually had a pretty good hold on the everyday job. That’s why, if you remember correctly, Scutaro was actually acquired to add depth to the infield, not necessarily to take the 2B job from Theriot. It was a bit of a head-scratcher move at the time, but Scooter sure put a quick stop to any doubt. A .387 average in 45 games…Hardest hitter in the league to strikeout… NLCS MVP… One day, you’re being traded for a minor league middle-infielder with a good-looking wife and almost no professional experience, the next you’re driving in the winning run in the World Series. In 3 months, Scutaro went from being infield depth to postseason hero in San Francisco. The Giants’ marketing team even created a “rain-globe” of him to commemorate Game 7 of the NLCS. Funny game, that baseball…

Where it’s headed: Despite his age, the Giants gave Scutaro a 3-year deal worth $20 million last offseason. But 2013 became a lost season very quickly, and Scutaro battled injuries seemingly all year. With all the talk of the WBC and health issues, I’d have to throw Scutaro into the mix of guys whose seasons were screwed up by the early competition. Throw in the fact that the Giants had a very short offseason, and Scooter really didn’t appear to be in the healthiest condition this spring. He fought problems with his back all summer, and I’d be willing to bet that had a direct impact on his poor defense. Throw in the mallet finger case, and you’re talking about a very rough season. But Marco’s a gamer, and he did his best to play through it all. Despite the injuries, he was still one of the most consistent hitters on the team, flirting with .300 all year. Maybe he doesn’t show much pop anymore, but he still gives you a very solid AB every time out.

So, year one on the Scutaro contract didn’t go all that well. The Giants were short on middle-infield depth for most of the year as well. Tony Abreu was supposed to be the guy that provided that depth, but he spent a good portion of the season on the shelf with injuries. Nick Noonan got a shot out of spring training, and while I thought he was impressive at the plate early on, it became pretty obvious that he wasn’t the right fit. Joaquin Arias played a handful of games at 2nd too, but to me he’s needed more on the left side of the infield (although I’m sure he’d be happy to play anywhere at this point).

All of this leaves quite a few questions surrounding the position going into the offseason. Scutaro still has two years left on his deal, and we know he’s a capable hitter. But he missed 35 games last year, and really doesn’t have the range to play adequate defense on a nightly basis anymore. Even if he is fully healthy, at age 38 I can’t see him being a guy who plays more than 125 games next season. To me, it’s more important to keep him fresh (hopefully for another postseason run) than it is to run him out there every day with nagging injuries. The latter had a bigger impact on the Giants’ struggles this season than most people think. Ryan Theriot gave Bochy a nice infield option off the bench last fall, and I think his absence was felt this year.

It would be very wise of Sabean to find a reliable player this winter who can share time with Scutaro next season. Really, we’re talking about another Theriot-type guy here – someone who understands he’s probably not going to play every day, but who Bochy can trust to run out there if Scutaro struggles or goes down. Ideally, I see a 60-40 split, with Scooter playing roughly 100 games if he’s healthy… Depending on whether Sabes looks outside the organization for help, maybe Scutaro actually comes off the bench. I’m talking about trading for a guy like Brandon Phillips, who’s reportedly on the block in Cincinnati. Phillips would be an obvious upgrade, both offensively and defensively. It’s not out of the question that Scutaro could be unseated at this point, and he’d provide a solid late-game bat off the bench if so. Another trade candidate the Giants could take a look at is Daniel Murphy of the Mets, who would likely play a secondary role if he were acquired. I think Murphy would be a good fit, and Shankbone of “You Gotta Like These Kids” has a nice take on Murphy as a target over on his site (linked to the right).

On the free agent front, there’s really only one player I feel would be worthy of offering a contract to; Omar Infante. Infante’s game profiles pretty similarly to Scutaro’s, but he’s a few years younger, and likely would give you a little better defense. Infante can hit, and he’s got quite a bit of playoff experience. If the Giants were to make him a 2-year offer for $5-7 million a year, I wouldn’t be upset a bit. One other name to keep an eye on is Mark Ellis, who the Dodgers parted ways with recently. He’s another guy who seems to fit the Sabean mold of grinder-type middle infielders… and he’d probably come pretty cheap on a one year deal.

The other piece to consider here is that the Giants have a logjam of middle-infielders on the 40-man roster at the moment. Between Arias, Abreu, Noonan and Ehire Adrianza, you’ve got four guys who could all be vying for one utility infield spot next year. Add in Brett Pill as another potential bench option, and the front office has some personnel decisions to make. Who gets a contract, who doesn’t? Right now, that’s anybody’s guess. Personally, I’d give one of the positions to Arias… he’s been a very valuable player the past couple seasons, and he can play all over the infield. He is due for a slight salary bump though, as is Abreu… Neither one of them is set to make all that much money through arbitration, but the Giants might choose to go cheaper with Adrianza, who’s been a top prospect in the system for quite a while, and is out of minor league options. I’ll take my best guess and say the Giants give one of the backup spots to Arias, package Adrianza with a pitching prospect in a trade (possibly for a guy like Murphy, but maybe a LF as well), and fill the other infield spot with a free agent. Whatever they do, Sabean has made it pretty clear he will be looking for more depth this winter, so I’d definitely expect to see a new face platooning at 2B next season with Scutaro.

Finally, I wanted to touch briefly on the position long-term. The Giants have tried and missed on a handful of players in the organization recently, most notably Frandsen, Velez and Burriss. Not all that long ago, Noonan was drafted very high as an 18 year-old, but his progression really hit a wall in AA. But he kept grinding, and eventually made it to San Francisco. As a guy who the organization once had very lofty expectations for, I’m sure he’ll get a few more chances before it’s all said and done, but I don’t see much of an upside from him anymore.

Another former 2B prospect the Giants had hopes for was Charlie Culberson, who gave the Giants the gift of an NLCS MVP when he was shipped to Colorado for Scutaro last summer.

A bit more recently, the Giants have taken middle infielders as their first round pick in two of the past three drafts. Both were drafted as shortstops, but known more for their bats than their gloves. Joe Panik was moved to 2B full-time this season in Richmond, and is no longer considered the future everyday stalwart that he was even a year ago by many in the scouting world. Personally, I think it’s much too early to write the guy off. No, his numbers in Richmond weren’t spectacular. But many hitters with lofty expectations have been absolutely defeated by the Eastern League. I wouldn’t put Panik among that group. To me, he did enough to earn a promotion to Fresno next year. He’s only 23, and I’d like to see the Giants put him on the 40-man eventually so he has a chance to learn from Scutaro at the highest level. Is Panik an elite prospect? No. He likely won’t ever hit for much power either. But he still showed above average plate discipline last season, and if he can have a bounce back season in Fresno, he could be looking at a potential call-up late next year.

The last player I want to note is Christian Arroyo. Arroyo was drafted as a SS, but like Panik, I’m sure he’ll eventually move to 2B. If he can stay at short, great, but that’s not what most of the scouting world tells us is going to happen. Again, Arroyo was drafted for the bat, not the glove. His pick was also mocked up and down by the baseball world, much like Panik’s. I think it’s safe to say the mocking has subsided for now, as a #2 ranking in the AZL Top 20 by Baseball America this fall has put Arroyo on the map, and likely near the top of most Giants’ prospect rankings. It’s going to take some time, for sure, but the Giants (and all of us) hope that Arroyo’s bat will help him get to the shores of McCovey Cove someday, putting an end to the exhaustive search for a long-term answer at second base.

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