2016 Giants: What’s the [Infield] Plan?

Hi everybody. Gosh, it’s been over a month since I started this series with a look at the 40-man catchers. I’m sorry for the hiatus. The sad truth is it’s just tough to find the time these days. Believe me though, my passion for this organization hasn’t ‘waned a bit. That was evident to me tonight when I scrolled down the official roster and saw this:

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Six infielders, all under 30, all homegrown success stories. Not one of these guys was acquired through trade, rule 5, or other. They were all drafted (Adrianza was signed IFA) and developed as Giants from the very start.

They now form one of the elite infield groups in the bigs, yet not a single one was hyped on draft day. Even Panik, highest drafted among them, was viewed as a first round reach. For someone who has followed this farm system so closely over the years, the success of this group is so rewarding. Let’s take a closer look at them.

As a quick side note, Nick Noonan and Kevin Frandsen have been removed from the 40-man since season’s end. That’s two more former promising Giants draftees, though neither had much of an impact on the club.

Brandon Crawford | Age 28: There’s no doubt B-Craw was a valuable player before 2015, but I think it’s also fair to say he was somewhat of a frustrating player as well. He’d make a highlight play, then turn around and botch a routine grounder. He’d make hard contact for a month straight, then go into a brutal offensive slump for 6 weeks. It always seemed like he was capable of more, and this year he became a star. If not for his September injury, Crawford had a legitimate shot at 25 HR. He’s absolutely deserving of a Gold Glove, as well as a long-term contract. I don’t think he gets the latter, however, and I don’t blame the Giants for waiting a year to see what he does. MLB Trade Rumors (who I defer to with this kind of information) projects him at $5.7M in arbitration this winter, and if he puts up anything close to this season’s 5.6 WAR in 2016, it’ll take some serious dough to get him locked up before his contract year.

Brandon Belt | Age 27: Belt came back from his injury-filled 2014 and settled in for a solid 2015 summer. He was an 18 HR, 3.9 WAR player in only 137 games, but his lingering concussion symptoms from the end of the season have some folks concerned heading into the winter. The guy really can’t seem to catch a break health-wise, so you just hope he can come back completely healthy from all this.

Belt still divides a lot of Gigantes fanatics, and I won’t say he’s my favorite player on the team… but this much I know: the Giants are a much better team with him than without him. If he’s healthy, it’s hard not to envision him topping the 20 HR threshold for the first time. He’s headed into what should be the prime years of his career, but I truly don’t know what his future holds at the moment. He’s got two years of team control left, and although it’s hard to see the organization letting him walk (or trading him!), there’s a few things standing in the way of him getting a long term extension at this point. The obvious elephant in the room is Posey’s potential move to first down the road (not a given in the next 4-5 years for me), but the more subtle barrier is the organization’s drafting of Chris Shaw, arguably the strongest power hitter in the 2015 draft class. Shaw led the short-season NWL in homers this summer and got a lot of positive reviews for his swing in fall instructs. It’s way too early to anoint him the incumbent at 1B, but the situation is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Joe Panik | Age 25: Panik’s sophomore slump took a vacation to the tune of a .312 average, 8 HR, nearly 1:1 BB/K ratio, Gold Glove defense, and a spot in the All-Star game. His lower back had something to say about it though, keeping him out of all but 15 second half games. Whether it’ll be an ongoing issue for him remains to be seen at this point, but at 25 you’d like to think to he’ll make a full recovery. Kelby T. was able to take a bit of the sting out of Panik’s absence, but there’s no doubt Joe’s got impact potential when he’s on the field. He’s been on an absolute offensive tear since the beginning of 2014 in AAA, but it’s easy to forget he was a sub-.260 hitter for Richmond in 2013. A lot of folks slapped a utility label on him that summer, an obvious oversight looking back. The Giants, they kept the faith, and they’re now seeing the player they hoped for when they “reached” in the first round four years ago.

Matt Duffy | Age 24: A 4.9 WAR player in his rookie year, the guy who made us forget about Pablo, and my favorite player in the organization? That’s a big hell yes, to all of the above. Everyone knows the story by now. Light-hitting infielder for Long Beach State, 18th round pick in 2012. He zooms through the minors; gets the call in 2014; helps win a ring; busts his butt in spring training; makes the club; eventually forces Casey McGehee out of a job. In the meantime, he took on a position at which he had no professional experience, learned it at the highest level, and gave tremendous at bats night…after night…after night. Oh, and he won the Willy Mac Award. All in a year’s work for the DuffMan. Now, the question becomes, can he do it again? The league is harsh, and it will adjust. Mark my words… so will Duffy.

Kelby Tomlinson | Age 25: Kelby was a 2011 draftee out of Texas Tech with little fanfare. He was a guy who could hold his own at shortstop and fly around the bases. But he wasn’t supposed to hit, and after posting a .357 average in the AZL that summer, he didn’t. His 2014 season in Richmond was an improvement, but .268 and 1 HR still wasn’t anything to put him on the prospect radar. A tweak in his swing last offseason changed all that, and he took the Eastern League by storm in 2015. Panik’s injury turned out to be an opportunity for Tomlinson to show what he could do. A month later, he’s got two nicknames and a big league gig. Word at the end of the season was he’d be tried out in CF in instructs, and apparently it didn’t go tremendously. I really have no idea whether he’ll see the position at all next year, but I do think his approach and speed will continue to force the organization’s hand. They’d be crazy not to at least give him regular reps in LF next spring, otherwise he’ll lose a ton of playing time as Panik’s backup at 2B.

Ehire Adrianza | Age 26: It’s crazy to think Adrianza’s been with the Giants for 10 years, and he’s only played just over 100 games at the MLB level. He was once considered a top 10 prospect in the system, dubbed a defensive wizard whose bat would always be in question. Personally, I think his defensive abilities have been a bit overplayed, while I don’t think he’s nearly as bad at the plate as he’s been made out to be. He’s one of the few players on the roster who can hold down SS on Crawford’s days off, and that to me gives him a guaranteed spot. The Giants have shown faith in Adrianza, and I believe he’ll reward them for it someday.

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Game 1 of 162: Fireworks on Opening Night

Holy smokes!

If last night was any indication, we could be in for one heck of a ride this week in Arizona. If you missed the game (I’m sure you didn’t), it was a doozy of an opener. Fortunately, the Giants have Buster Posey, who looks ready to have another monster season at the plate. Buster’s 2-run shot with two outs in the 9th capped a big comeback from the Giants, who squeaked out a 9-8 dogfight.

Is it me or was last night’s game eerily similar to the games the Giants played in April and May of 2013? Less than stellar starting pitching and sloppy defense, bailed out by late-game offensive heroics. I’ll take an exciting win like that on Opening Day, but make no mistake, last night was not a formula for long-term success.

Positives from Game 1: The “big-picture” positives for me last night were the bats of Posey and Brandon Belt. If there’s one knock on Posey at all, it’s that it usually takes his bat a while to heat up this time of year… especially when it comes to extra base power. The same can be said for Belt, who obviously hasn’t seen the same success in his short career as Posey. But for two usually somewhat slow starters to hit absolute moonshots like that on day one, that’s a very good sign. I’m still in awe of Posey’s homer!

Another positive: I think we saw last night just how flexible Bruce Bochy can be with this roster. While some people outside (and maybe even inside) the organization will scoff at the Giants bench, I see a group that can do a lot of different things. In fact, after the abysmal defense we saw early on, I was very excited when Bochy brought Ehire Adrianza and Juan Perez into the game late. Between those two, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Hicks and Hector Sanchez, the Giants have some weapons they can employ off the bench.

Honorable mentions: Jean Machi… holy splitter! The dude takes a lot of heat from fans on the Internet, but he was nails last night. Good thing those fans don’t set the 25-man roster, or Machi wouldn’t have been able to shut the door last night!

Adrianza: Pinch-hit double and a rally starter. Watch out Joaquin Arias.

Angel Pagan: If Pagan can set the table like he did last night, the Giants will have some good times on offense this year.

Negatives: Infield defense. Wow. When Mike Krukow is putting you down, you screwed up. Grounders through the legs, errant throws all over the diamond, misplayed rundowns. Those are plays I would have been upset with my 7th grade Little League team for making. Tighten that stuff up, fellas!

Madison Bumgarner: Victim of some bad defense, but not the shutdown start we were hoping for from MadBum on Opening Day. It’s a long season though, and the kid will bounce back just fine. I’d be surprised if that’s his last Opening Day start… and he’s only 24!

Cainer takes the hill for game 2 of 162 tonight. More fireworks to come? I’d be just fine with a 3-1 win and some good fundamentals, to be honest!

Cactus League Opener Sights and Sounds

I’m not sure who recorded these videos, but I found them on MLB.com this morning. The game was only offered as audio yesterday, so I’m glad we’re able to get a look at a few of the highlights. I have to give credit to Rainball for posting the link to Ehire Adrianza’s home run in the comments section at “When the Giants Come to Town.” Keep that power stroke going, Ehire!

Reddick’s robberies of Morse were the plays of the day, obviously, but Adam Duvall’s moonshot is a sight to see as well. That guy looks like he’s ready to turn some heads this spring. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a look.

Spring Battles: Infield

Cactus League play begins for our Gigantes in three days, and there are five roster spots open by my estimation… 3 bullpen, 1 infield and 1 outfield. You already know all about the Belt’s, Pagan’s and Lincecum’s of the world. Those guys are locks, you just cross your fingers for their health this spring. We’ve also profiled most of the kids like Crick in camp; most of those guys aren’t competing for a spot this year anyway.

I wanted to take a look at the other guys in camp, the 40-man and non-roster invites hanging around the complex this year. These are the players competing for the last spots on the roster, and one or two of them always seem to come out of nowhere to turn heads. In 2011 it was Ryan Vogelsong. Two years ago it was Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias. Last year it was Nick Noonan. Who will it be this year?

We’ll start by looking the battle for the reserve infield spot, and we’ll work our way through the rest of the positions this week.

Tony Abreu | Age 29

MLB: 611 PA, .661 OPS, 6 HR, 2 SB/4 CS

MiLB: 3386 PA, .806 OPS, 53 HR, 81 SB/45 CS

Outlook: Abreu seems to have a heck of a time staying healthy, but he does have the ability to hold his own offensively when he is on the field. He doesn’t have Adrianza’s defensive upside or youth, but I think his bat gives him a slight leg up in this battle. He’s out of options, so he likely won’t be with the organization if he’s passed over for the roster spot. His injury history makes him a risky pick out of camp, but I do think the Giants prefer his offense to the rest of these guys.

Odds of Making Opening Day Roster : 60%

Ehire Adrianza | Age 24

MLB: 20 PA, .708 OPS, 1 HR,

MiLB: 2899 PA, .679 OPS, 17 HR, 107 SB/40 CS

Outlook: You’ve got to love the kid’s defense and athleticism. By all accounts, he’s one of the best defensive players in the organization. But the Giants are really in a tough spot with Adrianza. Ideally, you’d like one more year to see what he can do offensively, but he’s out of options as well. If he has to go through waivers this spring, he’d likely have a long line of suitors waiting to put in a claim. He showed a lot of poise in his September cup of coffee last year, but that was just such a  small sample size. A sub-.700 career OPS in the minors doesn’t give me a ton of confidence in his offensive abilities, but I just have a hunch that he’ll be a contributor on a major league roster at some point. For the Giants? I really don’t know…

Odds: 50%

Nick Noonan | Age 24

MLB: 111 PA, .499 OPS, 0 HR

MiLB: 2896 PA, .700 OPS, 36 HR, 75 SB/24 CS

Outlook: Noonan was last year’s spring training surprise, but he’s got to beat out Abreu and Adrianza this season to get back on the 25-man. I thought he looked good filling in for Scutaro in April, but the league seemed to figure him out pretty quickly. I’d say his odds of breaking camp with the big club this spring are pretty slim.

Odds: 25%

Brandon Hicks | Age 28

MLB: 98 PA, .493 OPS, 3 HR, 1 SB/0 CS

MiLB: 2668 PA, .770 OPS, 91 HR, 69 HR/24 CS

Outlook: He doesn’t have much for an MLB resume, but he’s shown pop and the ability to play all over the infield in his minor league career. The Giants could really use some power off the bench, so I think he’ll get his share of looks this spring. Ultimately though, he’s probably a safe bet to start the year as a utility player in Fresno, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he sees some action in San Francisco at some point during the year.

Odds: 20%

Mark Minicozzi | Age 31

MLB: None

MiLB: 3140 PA, .784 OPS, 65 HR, 16 SB/16 CS

Outlook: 2005 draft pick and a career minor leaguer. He was in indy ball for a handful of years before he essentially had a walk-on tryout with Richmond in 2012 according to Baggs in an article last month. He’s no spring chicken, but he seems like he can handle the bat. It’d be a pretty cool story if he made it to the bigs some day, but he needs to get his foot on the ground in AAA first. He’s a very interesting guy to keep an eye on this spring though.

Odds: 10%

Giants 2014: Shortstop

Class is in session… Who’s teaching? The Professor.

Brandon Crawford, or “McDreamy” as my mother refers to him, has held down the Giants’ everyday shortstop job for the past two years, and will likely call it his again next season. Crawford is 26, with two full seasons under his belt, and under team control for another 5 years. He’s a homegrown talent, a Bay Area kid who grew up a Giants fan (giving the puppy-dog eyes for the Chronicle photographer in his backwards Giants hat as a young kid), a new dad, and overall just seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s also made some unbelievable plays in the field during his short career, and has legitimate Gold Glove potential. He was an integral part of the 2012 World Series run, coming up with clutch hits in the postseason last fall.

Many things to like about Crawford, his wavy locks and 5 o’ clock shadow not least among them. But has he earned the right to be the everyday shortstop going forward? Can the Giants do a better job of maximizing the position? We’ll talk more about it later in the post…

Where it’s been: When the Giants drafted Crawford out of UCLA in 2008 (4th round), the position he began grooming for was held by Omar Vizquel, who at 41 years old could still pick it, but couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Manny Burriss, Ivan Ochoa and Brian Bocock all played at least 25 games at short for the Giants that season, the last losing campaign by the orange and black until this year (Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?). That was Vizquel’s final year with the Giants, so Brian Sabean brought in another veteran to fill the position: Edgar Renteria.

Renteria didn’t have much of an impact in the regular season during his two years with the club, but everyone remembers where they were when he took Cliff Lee deep to left-center in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series. The damn guy hit 10 HR in two years with the Giants – 5 in 2009, 3 in the 2010 regular season, and 2 in the World Series. Incredible. If you’re feeling a little blue watching these Boston-St. Louis games (as I certainly had been), just give this link a click, for old time’s sake.

Enough memory lane stuff for a while, back to the topic at hand. Renteria didn’t return in 2011. Enter Miguel Tejada, 37 years old. We all know what happened to that team. Tejada couldn’t hack it anymore, but stuck around for way, way too long. About this time we started seeing videos like this of a kid with slick shades and silver necklaces doing all sorts of crazy things with his arm and glove for the new Flyin’ Squirrels. Crawford made his MLB debut in Milwaukee in late May and promptly jacked a grand slam. Personally, I think the granny did him a bit of a disservice, as it set some pretty high expectations among the fanbase for a kid who’s bat probably wasn’t quite ready for the show. But he stuck around for a couple months, scuffling at the plate but providing something not seen by a Giants shortstop in quite some time: defense. That disappeared pretty quickly, however, when Sabean replaced him with Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline. Cabrera couldn’t field… but it was ok, because he didn’t really hit all that well either (that last line’s for you Tex, if you’re reading).

The Giants completely tanked the month of August that season, ending any chance at defending their 2010 title in the postseason. By September, Crawford was back in the big leagues as the everyday shortstop, while Tejada and Cabrera were has-been’s. Crawford would hit his 3rd HR that month, and slap two hits on the final day of the regular season to push his average over the Mendoza Line.

Where it’s headed: After years of employing aging vets and kids who couldn’t hack it, there’s been almost no drama at shortstop for the Giants since September 2011. The same can’t be said about 1B, where another young homegrown Giant who made his debut in 2010, Mr. Brandon Belt, has been the center of heated debate among fans almost since the day he was called up. If you compare how those two guys have been handled during the last two years and factor each one’s production, it really does make the Belt situation all that much more incredible. The dude is truly an enigma.

In his two seasons as the everyday starter, Crawford has been pretty consistent at the plate. He’s hit exactly .248 both years, and his OBP (.304 in 2012; .311 in 2013), extra base hits (33; 36), and BB/K (33/95; 42/96) totals have been nearly identical. He’s even been consistent in the field, making 18 errors in 2012 (.970 F%) and 18 this year (.974). Ok… what a minute now. Crawford made how many errors? Raise your hand if you knew he’s made 33 errors between the last two seasons. I knew he’d made his share, especially in the first couple months of 2012, but I had no idea he’d made that many! For a guy with his reputation and talent, that’s way too many.

Here’s the deal. Crawford’s an athletic guy, and one the best fielding shortstops the Giants have employed since Vizquel. He’s also got a cannon out there, which doesn’t hurt. The dude has swag; he’s got the confidence that he can make any difficult play, and he can. But I think he has such a flare for the highlight-reel plays that he often loses his focus on the routine jobs. That, to me, is the mark of a young player. Remember, Crawford has only been in professional baseball since 2008. He was moved to the show quickly, and it’s where he’s done most of his learning. I think he’ll grow out of those mental miscues, as early as next year you’d like to think.

This is getting a little long-winded, so I’ll try to tie it all together with a couple more paragraphs. When Crawford came up, we heard that he was an all-glove, no-bat type player. If you’re like me, you didn’t believe that for a second. Dude hits a grand slam in his first game, he can hack it. He’s got a good swing with some pop to boot, and he hits righties fairly well. But he’s streaky at the plate, and he’s doesn’t really hit lefties. He played a good chunk of the second half with some finger problems, which surely didn’t help the cause. Through May, he had 5 HR and 25 RBI, with an average above .280. He hit 4 HR and drove in 18 the rest of the way. At times, his bat was a total non-factor in the lineup. You’d like to see him have a few less of those prolonged slumps as he progresses.

Last year, Crawford was a .272 hitter against righties, and he’s .250 for his career. Against lefties, he was .199 last season with a .214 career mark. The way I see it, the Giants should take a look at finding Crawford a platoon partner if they really want to maximize their production at shortstop. Even if they start by playing Joaquin Arias against lefties, they’re really not losing that much on the defensive end, and they’re upgrading to a career .297 hitter. It’s a move I’d make, but I don’t know if management will…. And what about the other defensive wizard in the system, Ehire Adrianza? The guy was a highly-regarded prospect in the organization for some time, and he looked impressive in his brief debut last month. Will they give him a roster spot? If not, he’ll have to be traded or placed on waivers, and I’d imagine there are some teams who’d be happy to have his services.

Although Crawford still seems to be the starter going forward, Sabean still has some decisions to make on the shortstop position going forward. If the Giants are content to run Crawford out there no matter who they’re facing on the bump, they’re going to sacrifice some offense over the course of the season. In that case, Crawford’s numbers will likely end up near where they’ve been the past couple years, which isn’t awful at all. I do think he’s got more in the bat, and could be a 15 HR guy for a couple years if everything comes together. For now, though, he’s a young, controllable, homegrown talent who makes game-changing plays in the field and can hold his own at the dish. Oh, and the ladies love those chops. The Professor’s (likely) not going anywhere right now, and most Giants fans are just fine with that.

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Giants 2014: Hot Corner

It’s been a while, but back to the state of the franchise series. Part 4 is dedicated to the hot corner, AKA the home of one Pablo Sandoval, hit machine. At this point, I can’t really call it a full-time home, as the Panda’s missed a significant amount of time to injuries, lack of conditioning, weight gains, etc. in the past few years. Pablo has all the talent in the world, and is one of the best pure hitters in the game. Don’t believe me? Ask Justin Verlander. Sandoval is also a fan favorite, and his career (and body type) has resulted in one of the longest-standing modern day Giants marketing schemes: the panda hat. But is he trustworthy anymore as the starting 3B? Will he even be on the team come next April? I’m not so sure, and neither are the Giants these days it seems.

Where it’s been: Admittedly, this post will mostly focus on the trials and tribulations of Sandoval, but there are a handful of others who’ve manned the corner in his absence – or benching, in the case of 2010 – over the past few years. The Giants signed Pablo, a 16 year-old catcher out of Venezuela in 2003. He debuted the next summer in Arizona, and had a breakout season at the plate as an 18 year-old in Salem-Keizer in his second season. By 2008, though, he entered his 5th year as a pro as mostly an afterthought to prospect watchers. But that summer saw one of the greatest offensive surges ever by a Giants farmhand (only Brandon Belt has put together a better campaign since), a .350 average and 20 HR between San Jose and Richmond. By September, Sandoval was a full-fledged major-leaguer, with his own nickname to boot. Few actually remember him by his original handle of Little Money (catcher Benji Molina was known as Big Money), but that’s the name that caught on early. Pablo hit everything in sight over the season’s final 40 games, and an unexpected star was born.

After nearly claiming the National League batting title and leading the team with 25 HR in 2009, the Giants 23 year-old switch-hitter (who’d moved to 3B full-time) was becoming an icon. Kung Fu Panda was born, and he would lead the young, upstart Giants into a new era of NL West contention. But neither ownership nor the fan base could predict the letdown that would ensue for Sandoval in 2010. While the Giants were surging for the postseason, their former offensive leader was playing himself out of a job and into a bigger pant size. This was the first time any of us really saw the “Bad Panda” side of Pablo, who watched Juan Uribe take over as the starting 3B down the stretch. Sandoval rode the pine through October while teammates forever changed the city of San Francisco and the franchise.

Since then, it’s been quite the mixture of Good Panda and Bad Panda. His 2011 season could’ve been even better than 2009, but the first installment of the hamate bone saga sent him to the DL for weeks. In 2012, he’d play in only 108 games (a career low), thanks in large part to hamate bone, part two. This time, though, he’d come back with a resurgent final month of the season. He’d follow that up with a postseason performance for the ages. Three moon balls in a World Series game… the stuff of legends. Again, ask Verlander about it. After watching from the dugout during the 2010 go-around, there’s no way Pablo was missing the fun in 2012. That run, and the Game 1 heroics, were a nice reminder to the entire organization that the Panda could still be one of the top hitters in the game. I’ll be honest; I bought into it whole-heartedly, as many others probably did too. After the hamate bone saga and the Bad Panda episodes, Sandoval (26 years young) and Buster Posey were ready to tag-team the rest of National League on their way to a third title in four years. The Panda was back, and the Giants were primed for a long run of greatness.

Well…not exactly.

Where it’s headed: Bad Panda showed up early and often this year, and aside from a 6-week stretch in the early part of the season, he stuck around well into the summer. Yes, Pablo stabilized both in the field and at the plate a bit late in the year after coming back from his mid-season foot injury, but the damage was done, and the organization seemed fed up. A ridiculous thought as recent as a year ago, the Giants are now rumored to be listening to offers on their 3B, who is still only 27 years old. But will they trade him? And how do they replace him if they do?

The biggest factor to remember with any Sandoval trade talks is that he’s entering the final year of his contract. And he’ll do so at the age of 28, which is pretty rare in baseball these days. Most guys don’t hit the open market until at least age 30. With Pablo’s track record of success, he’s got every opportunity in the world to earn a massive payday next offseason. From the Giants? Right now, that seems unlikely, but if he can prove healthy and productive next season, there’s no reason Sabean won’t look at extending him a little longer. If he breaks out – say .300 with 25 HR (which we all know he is capable of) – he’ll certainly be in line to get a shiny new deal from a team who believes his conditioning issues are behind him. Either way, I really think this isn’t the time for the Giants to trade him. If they stand to acquire a top prospect or an upgrade in the starting rotation, then it might make sense. Otherwise, it makes more sense to hold onto him and see if he’s motivated in his contract year.

If the Giants don’t trade Pablo, they still would be wise to enter 2014 with a backup plan in place. The Panda has had at least one significant DL trip in three straight seasons… so there’s a definite pattern here. For the past couple years, Joaquin Arias has done a pretty nice job filling in, both as a temporary starter and late-game defensive replacement. Sabean found Arias and Gregor Blanco on the bargain shelf in 2012, and they’ve both been very valuable role players in their time with the club. But Arias is arbitration-eligible this year, and while he doesn’t stand to get a tremendous raise, the Giants will need to decide if they want to bring him back. They’ve got a logjam of reserve-infield types in the organization right now with guys like Tony Abreu, Nick Noonan and Ehire Adrianza, so there’s some sorting out that’ll need to take place this winter. Personally, I’d make sure there’s a spot for Arias, although that may mean Adrianza and his slick glove are headed for another organization.

But what if the Giants do bite on a trade offer for Sandoval this winter? What if the Yankees are willing to part ways with one of their outfield prospects and a starting pitcher? It wouldn’t be the first time the Evil Empire sold some kids to bolster their offense, and there’s a definite corner infield need in New York at the moment. Hey, stranger things have happened. In the event the Giants do find a trade partner for Sandoval, they’ll have an immediate hole at the hot corner. How will they get consistent production? If they aren’t confident that Arias can handle the starting job, they could look to free agency. How about a 2-3 year deal for Omar Infante? Infante is a professional hitter whose bat profiles very similarly to his fellow Venezuelan vet Marco Scutaro. Infante doesn’t strike out much, he’s a career .279 hitter, and he’s played all over the infield in the past. He won’t be too expensive, and he should be able to handle 3B. If you’d rather play him at 2B, you can move Scutaro to the left side. That way, you can lift Scooter late for Arias, much like Bochy has done with Pablo the last couple years. Personally, I’d make Infante an offer even if Pablo doesn’t get traded. Sabean said he needs more depth. Infante helps give you that in the infield.

What about Buster Posey? Would the Giants consider moving him to 3B in the future? It’s been talked about by the media quite a bit in the past year, and it makes sense. If Pablo plays 2014 in San Francisco and decides to walk for greener pastures next winter, it may be more reasonable to replace him with Posey, a proven hitter, than hoping you can find some production in free agency. 3B isn’t a deep position; the Evan Longoria’s and David Wright’s of the world are in short supply. Getting Buster out from behind the dish is something the Giants need to look at heavily, but that’s a topic we’ll cover later. With Belt holding down the 1B job these days, moving Posey to 3rd by 2015 could really bolster that offense. I’m not saying he’d be a Gold Glove infielder, but he did play some shortstop at Florida State (as a freshman), so it’s not like he’d be incompetent without his catcher’s gear. It’s definitely an intriguing idea, and one that the Giants would be wise to start talking about this winter.

There are a couple other in-house 3B who could play their way into some kind of role in the near future: the Louisville hackers, Chris Dominguez and Adam Duvall. Dominguez could be in line for a call-up if Sandoval is traded or misses significant time next season. He’s got as much power as anyone in the organization, but it seems like he sacrificed it a bit to make more contact this year in Fresno. Hey, whatever it takes to get to the dance, right? It worked in AAA, but will it work in the show? Dominguez is also pretty good defensively, and has a cannon for an arm. The defense gives him an edge over Duvall, in my book.

Everything I’ve read about Duvall says he’s pretty rough in the field, but he’s another guy with insane power. Again, he doesn’t make a lot of contact, which might be a red flag, but he actually held his own at the dish in the tough Eastern League this year. Had he stayed healthy all season, I think his offensive numbers would’ve been even better. I like Duvall as a nice sleeper in the org, but he’s not a fresh-faced baby anymore. Neither of these guys are the long-term answer (Sabean is hoping Ryder Jones can be that guy someday), but both might get an opportunity to provide some infield depth sooner than later.

Honestly, I don’t think Pablo is going anywhere this winter. Like Lincecum, Cain, and Posey, Sandoval played a major role in bringing the Giants back from the dark days of the late 2000’s. He’s a fan favorite, and he puts money in the organization’s pocket. Those players generally don’t get shipped off easily. If he can put together a solid season in his walk-year, maybe Sabean gives him the shiny new contract. At this point, who knows? But I’d like to see Good Panda get one more shot. He should have all the motivation in the world to perform. If he doesn’t, so long panda hats. If he does, however, the Giants could have a strong offense in the mediocre NL West. When healthy and in shape, Pablo’s a fun player to watch. He’s upbeat, goofy, and one of the best damn natural hitters in baseball. See-ball, hit-ball, Pablo. Giants Nation is counting on you… don’t let us down.

Expectations

The Giants snuck out of New York with a close victory yesterday, spoiling Mariano Rivera’s farewell ceremony with a 2-1 win. It was the Giants’ only win of the weekend in Yankee Stadium, and Yusmeiro Petit outpitched Andy Pettitte in Pettitte’s final regular season start in New York. Ehire Adrianza homered off Pettitte for the Giants’ first run, and Tony Abreu drove in the go-ahead run late. Juan Perez singled off Rivera in the 9th, and also plucked another runner at home. So, I guess you could say the kids stole the show in this one.

The Giants didn’t play as well as we would have liked this weekend, but they weren’t that far off either. On Friday night, Timmy held his own against CC Sabathia, and George Kontos’ hanger to A-Rod in the 7th was the difference in a 5-1 loss. Saturday’s game was the outlier, with Ryan Vogelsong getting it handed to him on national TV. If you had to choose between $6.5 million of Vogey, or a cheap Petit for next season, it’s beginning to look like a pretty easy decision. Petit is averaging better than a strikeout per inning with the Giants in 44.1 IP, and if you combine his MLB and MiLB numbers, he’s got a 3.88 ERA with 144 K and 27 BB in 137 IP… and to think he was DFA’d earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Vogelsong can’t strike anybody out, or make it past the 5th inning these days. He’s a good dude with determination, but that $6 million option isn’t looking any better than his fastball is anymore.

Anyway, the Giants may not have put up much offense against the Yankees, but they finished a 10-game road trip at 6-4, their first multi-city winning road trip all year. Yeah, all year.

A final thought here. I watched the Rivera farewell ceremony yesterday. Pretty cool stuff. I learned a few things in the process too. I didn’t know Dave Righetti was the Yankees’ all time saves leader before Rivera, and I also didn’t know Rivera made his debut at 25. 25! That’s old for a prospect, right? Just goes to show that you can’t ever write a player off. Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte and Posada all debuted in 1995. Wow.

Yes, the Giants have their rings, and none of us will ever forget it. But I sure as hell hope 2010 and 2012 are the norms, not 2013. This season has definitely been a struggle, but it’s hard to be angry at a franchise that has given its fans so many positives over the past four years. Watching those games against the Yankees, as well as the Rivera events, it’s hard not to respect and appreciate what they’ve done. That franchise has set the gold standard, and even when they aren’t winning titles, they’re in the hunt every year.

With the talent the Giants have, they cannot have another season like this. Not with players like Posey, Bumgarner and Cain anchoring the team. Yes, last year was fun. But this year was inexcusable, and Brian Sabean has a ton of work to do this winter. You can’t get comfortable in this business, and this is a fan base that now expects to be in contention every year, just like the fans that sit in Yankee Stadium.

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