Ok, so all is obviously not right in the world. The Giants were bound to come back to Earth a bit, and they have this week against the Nationals. Hey, those things happen over the span of 162 games. After losing the first 3 against Washington, you just hope that Hudson and the crew can snatch a victory this afternoon and carry some momentum into the weekend series against Colorado. The Rockies are reeling big time right now, and even with the best record in baseball, the Giants still can’t afford to get sloppy on this homestand.
Anyway, the hot topic of the week in Gigantes Land seems to be second base. Everyone wants to know what’s going on at the Keystone, and now that the boys have lost a few and looked a little listless, these people are pissed off. Brandon Hicks isn’t doing his job over there, and the team is suffering because of it… or something to that effect. Wanna know what I say? Give me a break! The hottest team in baseball loses a few games to a very good team (who apparently is even hotter at the moment), and the finger-pointing begins. Such is life in a “what have you done for me lately?” society. Still, I think the Giants second base situation is definitely worth taking a closer look into at this point. So let’s get to it.
First, let’s review what we’ve learned about the Giants and 2B in the first 2+ months of the season.
1) We probably shouldn’t expect to see Marco Scutaro on the field this year. Honestly, that’s a total bummer, and Scutaro’s situation is looking way too familiar at this point. Seriously, 2B has been an all-or-nothing position for the Giants in the past 5 years. Either these guys are leading World Series runs or they’re rehabbing injuries. There really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.
2) Ehire Adrianza isn’t ready for a full-time gig. Truly, he may never have the bat to be an every day starter. The defense is great, but Ehire seems very expendable on this team right now. Obviously, the Giants still value him (as they should), but at some point they’ll have to make a decision on where he stands with the organization.
3) Brandon Hicks is the epitome of a “3 true outcomes” hitter. What does that mean? It means the majority of the dude’s plate appearances end in either a walk, a strikeout, or a home run. At the moment, he’s tied for third on the team with 8 HR, and he leads all Giants hitters in both strikeouts (65) and walks (28). He holds his own defensively at 2B (as most former SS usually do), but his batting average is becoming an eyesore. It’s down to .183, and has drug his slugging % down to .361. Most people would argue that those aren’t MLB-caliber numbers. Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla would tell you to keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.
So, that’s what the season has taught us about 2B to this point. What about the rest of the year? Well, knowing what I do about the Giants, here are a few things I think are very likely going forward in 2014.
1) You should not expect to see Joe Panik called up from Fresno anytime soon.
“Average Joe,” as Shankbone often calls him, is having himself a nice season in the PCL. And I can guarantee you, the majority of the fanbase has one of two opinions. Either they think he’s ready to play and should be the starting 2B in San Francisco now, or that his AAA numbers are a complete mirage and he’ll be destroyed by MLB pitching. That always seems to be how the party lines are drawn with this fanbase, and I don’t see it any different with Panik.
Personally, I think I fall somewhere in the middle of this argument. Do I think Panik still has the potential to be a starting 2B in the bigs someday? Yes, I do, and unlike quite a few scouts and internet writers out there, I’ve felt that way all along. Joe’s bounceback season in Fresno has been quite impressive so far, and I think he’s a guy whose average will range somewhere between .270 and .300 in his prime as a major leaguer. For now, though, I think he needs to stay exactly where he’s at. He’s young for AAA, and he’s shown he can be a streaky hitter in the past. His .320+ average will certainly even out a bit as the summer wears on, and I think Fresno is a fine spot for him right now. On the technical side of things, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and Adrianza (the player Panik would likely replace on the roster) is out of options. The Giants are a 1st place club without any major weaknesses at the moment… why would they throw Adrianza away and bring Panik up to replace Hicks? My guess is they wouldn’t, unless an injury forced their hand. Panik should have every opportunity to win a 25-man spot next year. For now, though, he needs to keep hitting in Fresno.
2) Brian Sabean will be more than happy to swing a deal if something presents itself.
Let’s be honest: Hicks has provided the Giants with so much more offensive production this season than they ever could have dreamed of from Adrianza or Joaquin Arias. If you think otherwise, you’re dreaming. That being said, Hicks wasn’t even expected to make this team out of camp. He was a minor league signee who has come almost out of nowhere and provided a nice spark. But the league is starting to figure him out, and his numbers are starting to show it. If his average continues to fall as it has recently, I definitely think the Giants need to give someone else a shot. Hicks shouldn’t go anywhere, however. Ideally, his bat could be a real weapon off the bench, and I don’t think the organization has any plans of demoting him.
Back to the point at hand. If Hicks doesn’t see a major upswing in his production from now until the trade deadline, you’d have to think Sabean will look outside the organization for some help. And we all know there’s plenty of options out there. You’ve already heard a lot of names tossed around: Chase Utley, Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist, Gordon Beckham, maybe even Brandon Phillips. A lot of people are calling for Utley, but I really just don’t see a match there. The guy is injury prone, on the wrong side of 35, and the Phils owe him $25 MILLION next season. Yeah, that might be a little much to take on. What about Murphy? I know Shankbone likes him, and really he’d be the perfect fit. But the early word is Sandy Alderson is going to be a real headache come July 31, and we already know how that guy feels about the Giants. Take a hike Sandy!
Personally, I’d look to make a hard push for Ben Zobrist. The Rays are a tremendous disappointment this year, and they’ve never been one to turn away a trade offer. Zobrist is veteran, versatile, and very productive. He’s got the 3 V’s that the Giants tend to look for in a mid-season trade. Not to mention he’s got a $7.5 M team option for 2015. That’s a little pricey for a franchise that can’t fill its stadium to 40% capacity, but not for a large market club looking to win another ring. Who would the Rays ask for? I’m sure we can think of a few names. To me, nobody is off limits this season. That’s the way it goes when you’re looking to make a run, and the Giants look like they covered themselves nicely with Tyler Beede and Aramis Garcia in the draft. If they wanted build a package around Andrew Susac (and even Mr. Panik for that matter), I think they’d be able to get in the room for Zobrist. Add in a Clayton Blackburn and you might have yourself a deal. Am I lowballing a bit? I’m not sure, but I think the Rays would happily take Susac if he can get back on the field this month.
We’re almost to 1,500 words here, and I think I’ve exhausted myself. Hopefully I made the main points clear though. Scutaro is a long-shot, Hicks has been a dream, the Giants aren’t going to rock the boat until they absolutely have to, and Sabean should and likely will be surveying the market for an upgrade. If the Giants are able to get Brandon Belt back, keep the rest of the group intact, AND land a player like Zobrist at the deadline, I’ll think they’ll be sitting pretty for another nice pennant run. In the meantime, I hope the anxious fans out there will turn the panic meter down just a notch or two. This is a very good Giants team, and I don’t see them just flipping a switch over night and free-falling. They’re off to a tremendous start, and I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to as we march toward the season’s second half.
Enjoy your afternoons, friends, and hopefully Huddy gets us back in the win column by dinner time.