Say it Ain’t So, Marco

Word on the street is Marco Scutaro is “50-50” for starting the season on the DL, and the Giants are going to make that decision by the end of this weekend. I can’t even begin to tell you how shocked I am by this news… just kidding. The only way this was a surprise to you is if you take everything the coaching staff says at face value. Most of us around these parts don’t, and I think we were all prepared for the possibility of Scooter breaking camp on the DL. My question is, are the Giants prepared to replace Marco for the first (who knows how long) part of the season?

If Scutaro can’t go by Opening Day – and I’m guessing he won’t – it’s looking very likely that 2B will be a carousel of sorts. Who gets the first shot? Two weeks ago, I would have told you that guy was Ehire Adrianza, hands down. But Adrianza has cooled off pretty significantly with the bat since opening up camp on a tear. My money is on Joaquin Arias at moment, with Adrianza and Brandon Hicks or Tony Abreu seeing some time as well.

To me, it makes perfect sense to give Arias the first look at second if Scutaro is out. The dude isn’t going to light the world on fire, but I think he holds his own out there. Obviously, his greatest value in the past has been subbing in for Pablo Sandoval in late innings, but Pablo really hasn’t shown me any reason to believe he’ll need to be subbed out this year. It’s one thing if the Panda gets hurt, but as long as he’s healthy, he’s a 9-inning guy at the moment.

So, what does the Opening Day lineup look like, sans Scutaro? Here’s my guess:

Pagan CF

Belt 1B

Sandoval 3B

Posey C

Pence RF

Morse LF

Arias 2B

Crawford SS

That’s a lineup I’m perfectly fine with. Bochy has hit Belt #2 in almost every one of the games he (Belt) has played in this spring, and I’m almost certain that’s where he’ll be in Scooter’s absence. That should be a nice spot for Belt, but if he can’t hack it, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Crawford get another shot there as well. He’s looked pretty good in past stints in the 2-hole. Heck, maybe Bochy would even think about switching Pablo and Belt in the order… I can’t think of many 2-hitters better than Pablo when he’s hot, as it seems he is this spring.

The other big question for me at this point is, how much will we see Scutaro on the field this season? I’m sure my take is a little different than some, but I honestly don’t care if he misses the first half of the season. I really don’t. When did Scooter have his biggest impact as a Giant? 2012… down the stretch. When did Freddy Sanchez have his greatest impact? 2010…down the stretch. Edgar Renteria, remember him? Dude played 72 regular season games in 2010, the final year of his contract. If the core players in this offense stay healthy (Posey, Pence, Sandoval, Belt), and the starting pitching rebounds, I’d much rather have Scutaro back, well-rested, for the stretch run than watch him lumber around in pain all season. Can the offense hold up without him? I certainly think they’ve got enough thump in there right now, but you obviously wouldn’t want any of the other key guys to go down.

Ok, let’s wrap this up. We’re about 10 days from decision time, and that infield position still looks like it’s up for grabs. If Scutaro hits the DL, it’s two spots… With 3 guys vying for those spots, the staff will have to ask themselves how much they trust spring numbers. At the moment, it’s Hicks sitting pretty at .394 (33 AB), Adrianza cooling to .194 (31 AB), and Abreu not showing much at .179 (39 AB). Do you trust this group? Is it time for a trade? My guess: Scooter hits the DL, Adrianza and Hicks get big league jerseys, Abreu hits the road. Arias starts the opener. It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out from now until then.

Advertisements

Afternoon Prospect Talk

Sorry for the long(ish) delay in posts recently. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather, and my mind really just hasn’t been that focused on writing lately. I’ve still been watching and listening, however, as we’ve had a few opportunities to see the Gigantes on TV over the past week. As we speak, the skipper and his green St. Patty’s Day cap are out to present the lineup… teaser, Marco Scutaro is in there. Two weeks until Opening Day, will Scooter be ready to go?

**Scutaro doubled down the line in his first AB. Looks a little stiff, but nothing wrong with the ol’ man’s bat.

Tyler Graham and Jarrett Parker are also in the lineup against the Angels today. This could be a nice opportunity for Parker to show something with his bat.

We seem to have hit the lull of Spring Training. Problem is, there seems to be a new hitter dinged up every day. Scutaro, Pence, Morse, now Pagan. At some point, you’d like to see the club run out its “projected” everyday lineup before the season begins. I’m not saying I’m alarmed or anything at this point, but it’s definitely a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Ok, let’s talk about the kids. MLB.com released its Giants Top 20 list today, and I have to say it looks much better than it has in recent years. Of all the major prospect rankings, I usually take MLB’s with a grain of salt, as it always seems like something is off. Now, though, with the combination of Mayo, Cahill, Callis and Pleskoff, they seem to be right on cue.

First 5: Crick, Escobar, Mejia, Susac, Arroyo – Hard to argue with the “big 3” at the top, but Susac’s progression is evident. I’m not sure any player’s status was boosted this winter as much as Cool Andy’s.

Next 5: Blach, Stratton, Blackburn, Williamson, Law – Look at the love for Blach! I’d love to see Mac sitting top 5 on the mid-season list, but he’ll have to do a lot. And how about Law? I’m telling you, I deliberated for so long this fall in giving Law a top 10 spot… thought I’d be laughed off the block. Look at him now!

Final 10: Hembree, Gregorio, Agosta, Panik, Ryder Jones, Brown, Kickham, Osich, Mella, Flores – Gregorio’s stock seems to be on the rise. I’m not sure if Brown or Kickham will make the mid-season update, as I’m looking for Matt Duffy and Luis Ysla to find their way in. Still, this is a nice group, and even MLB said it: this might be the deepest crop of pitchers in the majors.

Callis added a “bonus prospects” section on his blog, to round out at top 25. So the bottom 5 looks like this: Kieschnick, Perez, Adrianza, Bandilla, Cody Hall. Steven Okert also made it as a “deep sleeper” in the system, or a first-man-out kind of deal. Personally, there are a handful of guys I like more than these bonus players (Duffy, Ragira, Villalona, Stephen Johnson), but I think this should be further proof to some of us that the Giants have some very interesting players farther down in their system than what meets the eye.

Finally, let’s talk about Susac, who I haven’t had a chance to comment on after his standout performance last week. One day left in big league camp, the kid gets his first start and puts on an absolute show. The home run was something to behold, and I had literally just said to myself, “ok, 2-0 count, let’s see what he does here…” Michael Kirkman serves one up, KA-BOOM.

There have been a few folks comparing Susac’s bat to Posey’s lately, and I don’t think they’re too far off. That was my impression when I first caught Andrew in the AFL a few months back. The stances are almost identical, but it goes beyond that. Just a quiet approach at the plate, similar leg kick, level inside-out swing, and the ability to take the ball to the deepest part of the park. Buster is obviously a rare talent, but I think Susac is giving us an idea about what he can do at the bat when he’s healthy. I don’t think he’ll ever hit .300, but I do see a 20-HR or two in his future.

Another catcher who Susac reminds me of: Mike Zunino. That home run off Kirkman on Thursday? Very similar to some of the moonshots I watched Zunino hit in AAA last season. Gets ahead in the count, looks for something up, and just destroys it. Easy to say, hard to do, but you see what’s happening here. I’m comparing Susac, a 2nd round pick, to a couple of guys taken among the top 5 picks in the draft. Susac and Zunino have a long way to catch Posey, but I do think both of those guys could have solid MLB careers. For Susac, it’s all going to be about staying healthy.

Big League Dreamin’

Well, I learned the answer to a question I thought I’d never have to ask yesterday morning: What does -50 degrees feel like? The answer: About how you’d think it would… way too cold. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but there is one thing I’m sure of: Montana will never make national news for weather. It’s dangerously cold out here, but we just go about our lives like nothing’s changed. Snow day? There’s no such thing. Another thing I’ve learned during my time in Big Sky Country; spend a year in Montana, and you’ll be prepared for just about anything life throws your way. I’ll be headed for the Golden State on a work trip in a few weeks, and it can’t get here soon enough.

But this is a baseball blog folks, not a “KG’s life story” blog. And boy, could I sure use some baseball in my life right about now. We’ve spent so much time on the prospect front lately, I think it’s about time we get back to the 25 men who are the envy of every minor leaguer in the organization. This isn’t really intended to be a formal post, but more of a place to chat about a few things that have been on my mind lately. It may seem a little random, but try to stay with me here.

The Big Question

The big question everyone seems to be asking these days is, “Did the Giants do enough this winter?” There’s definitely some major disagreement on the part of the fanbase regarding Sabean’s offseason work, but there’s also a good chunk of the fanbase who would fire Sabean in an instant. Most of that crowd doesn’t hang around here, which is just fine by me. Honestly, how can anyone actually tell you a team did or didn’t do enough before a Spring Training game has even been played? I don’t think they can.

When I look at the overall body of work Sabean and his staff put together this winter, I see every major roster hole filled. Maybe you have an issue with the individual players who they signed to plug those holes, but it’s hard for me to be overly critical when the only position battles in camp are for bench and bullpen jobs. There are certainly other teams in baseball who would like to have that kind of certainty this time of year.

Weaknesses

For me, the key to this season will again be depth. And I do feel like that is still an area of weakness, despite Sabean talking so much about it during his end-of-year press conference. I really don’t know how much more could have been done about the starting rotation (I’m not going to nitpick the Lincecum and Vogelsong signings), but the Giants just don’t have an Archie Bradley or Jameson Taillon sitting in AAA right now ready to move in at the first sign of trouble. Between Petit, Huff, Kickham and Escobar, there should be enough options in case one of the regulars hits the 15-day DL. If someone suffers a more extensive injury like Vogey did last year, then you may have to start looking at trade options. Obviously, you can’t plan for things like that.

When I talk about depth, the two areas that concern me the most are the infield and bullpen. I really think this roster could have used another proven reliever, so guys like Hembree, Kontos and Machi would have been battling for one spot rather than two. Another MLB arm, lefty or righty, would have really tied things together. There are a couple kids lurking in the minors like Derek Law and Josh Osich, but I can’t envision either of them in San Francisco before mid-season.

I also would have liked a more reliable option to take time off Scutaro’s hands at second. This is really where I feel the front office didn’t do enough, as the options were certainly out there. Shankbone talked very early on in the offseason about the Dodgers’ utility guys that would hit the market, and I certainly thought the Giants would have looked at one of them. As it went, those guys didn’t stay unemployed for very long. The A’s scooped up Nick Punto in a hurry, the Cards brought in Mark Ellis to provide Kolten Wong insurance, and Cincinnati plucked Skip Schumaker. Any one of those guys would have been a good fit for the Giants, and probably could have seen plenty of playing time. Even the Dodgers – after losing all three of those guys – got back into the infield market recently by giving Justin Turner a minor league deal. He was a non-tender guy, and it wouldn’t have taken much to bring him in for a look.

These are certainly small problems to have in the grand scheme of things, but I do think there will come a time this season when depth will be an issue again, and the lack of proven options off the bench might come back to haunt the front office. The Giants just have too many players with injury history to ignore that possibility. At that point, maybe a trade or two would need to take place. We’ll see how that all plays out.

Posey’s conditioning

Have you seen the pictures of Buster from the commercial shoots and Fanfest? Wow, he looks good. There’s been all kinds of talk about his offseason regimen, building strength to get through the grind this summer. Well, he certainly looks bigger to me, both in his arms and upper body. He’s supposedly up to 215 lbs now, and I have no problem with that. Personally, I think he’s as upset as anyone about what happened last season. When he was needed most to pick things up (in the second half), the production just wasn’t there. Buster seems to be one of those guys for who it only takes one time to learn a lesson, and his poor second half was likely a wake-up call. I’m looking for big things from him this season. He’s a leader on this team, and the Giants will go as he goes in 2014.

Final Word

Sorry if this seems a little scattered, I know it’s a little different from most of my posts. But there are so many things to catch up on right now, so many different storylines to discuss. Rather than writing one exasperating post, I figured I’d break them up into some smaller ones, touching on three or four topics each time. We’re less than a week from pitchers and catchers reporting, and the days are moving slower. If you’re like me, you need some baseball chatter this time of year to keep your spirits up.

So, hit me with some feedback. Did the Giants “do enough” this winter? What are the weak areas of the team? What are you expecting from Buster this year? Feel free to chime in, and I’ll be working on a few more of these to get us through next week. As always thanks for reading, and stay warm… it’s chilly out there. Seriously, seriously chilly.

Buster Posey

(Sfgiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

The Hitting Market: Buyer Beware

We’ll turn our attention now to the offensive market this offseason. The caveat here: it’s pretty bare – even more so than the pitching market in my opinion. But Sabean promised us more depth, despite his lack of confidence in free agency and potential trades. So, what should we expect this winter? Well, here are 10 players that might be of interest for Uncle Sabes during his shopping trip this offseason. Ok, it’s actually 12 players if you count all 3 of the Dodgers’ infielders, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities here. Some of these guys are a little more likely than others, of course, but each might be a reasonable name to file away in your offseason guide as we start to wade deeper into free agency.

If Sabean were to take up an ad in the classifieds this offseason, I’d expect it to look something like this:

WANTED

A Left fielder – right-handed hitting; defensive-oriented; home run power preferred (this is starting to sound a little like an oxymoron, isn’t it?) Draft pick compensation players need not apply.

A Utility Infielder – part-time starting position available. Must be willing to take a back seat to gritty NLCS MVP, but also available to step in on late notice when said gritty NLCS MVP wakes up with a stiff back… cagy veterans welcome, positional flexibility preferred.

That looks about right, you think? Now, we watch the applications roll in… but seriously, the Giants need some kind of an offensive upgrade in left field. Aside from filling the back end of the rotation, this is one of the greatest needs on the team going forward. Here’s what Baggs had to say about the situation in his weekly chat last week… “I think you’ll see the Giants either try to trade for a left fielder, or find a better right-handed bat (with some power) to platoon with Gregor Blanco…Defense remains a big part of the equation.” And “…that would mean Blanco would get most of the at-bats in that scenario. I think the Giants know they need to do a little better than that.”

Wow, I’m painting a picture in my head right now, and it looks something like a kindergarten splatter-paint masterpiece. A right-handed, defensive-minded, power bat… in this market, that won’t be easy to find, folks. That’s just the way it goes. Even Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, the top outfielders available this winter, don’t fit that description. They are both left-handed… they both received the qualifying offer as well, so the masses out there wishing for a Choo or Ellsbury signing almost assuredly aren’t going to get their wish. Sabean already spent his big money in the outfield, and it’s sitting in the bank account of the Rev. Hunter Pence. There’s not much dough left for the opposite corner at the moment. It’s going to take some creativity to get better production out of left field next year, that’s for sure.

The utility infielder spot actually shouldn’t be all that difficult to fill. And it shouldn’t take a whole lot of money. The Giants have quite a few in-house options to consider as well. If they still see Marco Scutaro as the primary starter, they’re really only looking for a player to come in and make roughly 50 starts… essentially a Ryan Theriot role.

Those are your needs… now, who’s going to fill them? I’ve listed a handful of players who might fit, whether through free agency or trade. I even added a couple of wildcard candidates to consider as well.

*One thing to note here: I included the 2013 and career OPS+ for each player to give just a quick snapshot of his recent production in comparison to what he’s done for the long haul. Remember, a 100 is average.

Free Agents:

Chris Young, CF, 30 yo | 2013: OPS+ 85 (94 career), 12 HR, 10 SB – career .837 OPS vs LHP. The A’s declined their option on Young last week, and if Sabean decides his best bet is a platoon partner for Blanco, he’s probably one of the better fits. He offers center field-caliber defense, some potential for power, and a little speed to boot. He should come cheap, but you have to remember he only hit .209 against lefties last season.

Mike Morse, 1B/LF, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 84 (119), 13 HR – career .819 OPS vs LHP. If the Giants want defense, Morse may not be a good fit. He had a pretty messy 2013 campaign, and his wrist injury is a concern. If he’s healthy, he could be a great offensive bounce back candidate.

Marlon Byrd, RF, 36 yo | 2013: OPS+ 138 (102), 24 HR – career .804 OPS vs LHP. Byrd resurrected his career last season, and could definitely be the right-handed power bat the Giants are looking for. But do you trust him to post those numbers again next year? Maybe on a one-year offer…

Omar Infante, 2B, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 113 (93), 10 HR. Two weeks ago, Infante was my under-the-radar dynamite pickup… his bat and positional flexibility would fit perfect in the Giants’ infield, and he’d probably push Scutaro to a reserve role. Problem is, this is a very overpriced market, and a guy like Infante now stands to get close to $10 million a year… so much for that.

Dodgers MIF: Ellis, 36 yo, OPS+ 92 (94) /Punto, 36 yo, OPS+ 87 (76)/Schumaker, 33, OPS+ 90 (94). Dodgers, and plenty of them. All of these guys fit the reserve infielder, scrapper profile. Ellis was my first choice, but the more I think about Schumaker’s positional flexibility, the more I come around to the idea.

Trade:

Brandon Phillips: 2B, 32 | 2013: 92 (96), 18 HR. He’s as “good as gone,” in Cincy, according to one report. I’ve always like Phillips, and those damn Reds always seem to mash in AT&T… he stands to make $50M over the next four years, so the Reds would need to eat some money. Definitely a long shot, but he would certainly make the team better, both offensively and defensively.

Mark Trumbo: 1B/OF, 27 | 2013: 109 (114), 34 HR. Like Phillips, he’s available. You want a power bat from the right side? Here it is, with some contact issues as well. The Angels want starting pitching. I’ll give you a Kickham and a Surkamp, straight up… just kidding… but seriously, they’re on the table.

Justin Ruggiano: CF, 31 | 2013: 90 (102), 18 HR, 15 SB – .834 career OPS vs LHP. He’s a late bloomer who’s kind of bounced around organizations. But the last two seasons in Miami have been very intriguing. The batting average fell off quite a bit in 2013, but he’s got all the makings for a very realistic trade candidate. Power against lefties, speed, and CF defense. Also, the dude had a (short-lived) Marlins’ blog named after him… so there’s that. Credit to DrB of When the Giants Come to Town on the initial find of what could be a very under-valued trade candidate.

I truly believe a Ruggiano deal could happen, and don’t think it would cost Sabean all that much in return. Kickham, Ehire Adrianza, Nick Noonan, Francisco Peguero… Pick any two, and size the newest Giant for a hat.

Wildcards:

James Loney: 1B, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 118 (106), 13 HR. Not finding a match in the right-handed hitter department? What about a 2-year offer for another former Dodger? He’d require Brandon Belt to move to LF against righties, but Loney’s been a pretty safe bet to hit .280 for most of his career. He’s got gap power from the left side, which is exactly how lefty hitters should approach AT&T Park. He shouldn’t cost much, and could really give Sabean and Co. a nice 7th hitter who adds depth to the lineup.

Brian McCann: C, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 115 (117), 20 HR.  “If you asked me right now, McCann is the only player who received a qualifying offer that I could see the Giants punting the draft pick to sign.” ~ Baggs. So, the Giants really are interested in McCann… fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your priorities), he’s got a very large market this winter, and reports have him signing for $100M+. It won’t be with the Giants, who should have a very good chance to use their 1st round pick on another power pitcher. Don’t get me wrong –McCann is a pro who’s going to help some team out greatly. But he’s not a good fit for the Giants right now, and kicking the draft pick for him would be a serious mistake, in my opinion.

There you go… free agents, trades, and a couple wildcards. 10 (ok, 12) potential players to fill two needs. Young or Morse might be the most likely fits for a short-term deal, but keep your eye out for Ruggiano in a trade if the free agent market turns sour after the New Year.

Happy shopping, Sabes… and good luck.

Image

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.

Walking (Off)

When you’re 17 games out and you steal a win from a first-place team like the Red Sox, I think that’s cause for a little celebration. The Giants definitely stole one last night, gutting out three runs to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Buster tied it with a sac fly in the 8th, and Scutaro walked on a very close pitch with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and the Sox left the field pouting. I’m not sure when the Giants last walked off, but it feels like it was probably back in May. A literal “walk” off is kind of awkward, and the Giants almost didn’t know how to react at first. Scooter didn’t even think the pitch was a ball. I’m guessing the Red Sox didn’t think so either, but the whole ordeal just made the win that much sweeter.

Thoughts:

Ryan Vogelsong still didn’t have his normal fastball velocity, but he threw over 100 pitches while working 7 strong. That’s the Vogey we’ve all become accustomed to over the past couple years, digging in and working himself out of trouble. It’d sure be nice to see a few more starts like this from him down the stretch. Sabean needs someone to step up and lock down a rotation spot for next season, and the Giants would gladly pick up his option in a heartbeat if he finishes the year strong.

Another 3-hit night for Belt, and this one may have been the most impressive to me. He hit a mammoth triple off the wall in right-center in the 4th, then doubled down the line in right in the 6th. Belt’s bat has been strong all month, but he crushed those pitches last night. I can’t help but think he’s found that next level as a hitter that many players spend their entire career striving for. If he really has turned the corner, that’s a huge positive for the Giants going forward.

Speaking of 3-hit nights, Roger Kieschnick went 3-4 last night with 2 runs, including the game-winner on Scutaro’s walk (off). Roger K. continues to gain confidence at the plate. He still only has one extra base hit in the big leagues, but he’s taken 6 walks to only 4 strikeouts over the last 10 days. After starting his career with a bb/k ratio of 1/16, he’s starting to make nice adjustments. We know the guy has power in his bat, and I think we’ll start to see it as he gains more confidence. For now, he’s taken a pretty nice hold on the everyday left field spot.

Roster News:

Francoeur DFA’d; Machi and Kickham recalled; Dunning and Hembree are probably pissed.

Zito moves back into the rotation… and I can’t find any good reasons why. Not one.

Angel Pagan is getting close to returning from the DL. Pagan’s presence could make the Giants a much happier (and more competitive) team closing out this season.

Francisco Peguero and Juan Perez should be back September 1. I’d think Nick Noonan will be as well. Andres Torres should be sent the way of Francoeur… and that’s that.

It’s Not Pretty, But…

The Giants are playing better baseball lately. I won’t say they are playing complete baseball, but they’re at least winning some games here and there. If the Brewers continue to fall over themselves as they did last night, I don’t think it’s out of the question for the Giants to take 3 of 4 in this series. The orange and black started the home-stand with a 4-2 victory last night, a win fueled mostly by solid pitching and Milwaukee blunders.

A few thoughts:

The Giants are pitching very well right now, as we discussed a couple of days ago. Chad Gaudin continued that trend with another quality start last night, allowing 1 ER in 6.1 IP. Gaudin’s situation is starting to look a lot like Ryan Vogelsong’s in 2011. Is this season an anomaly? The big red beard is only 30 years-old, and if he can keep his nose clean off the field, I don’t see why the Giants wouldn’t bring him back on a 2-year contract… I’m not saying it’s the smartest decision in the world, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.

Speaking of Vogelsong, he was in the dugout last night with the team. I haven’t heard for certain whether he’ll be making another rehab start (likely in Fresno) or getting back on the bump in San Francisco this weekend. Either way, he’s getting close. If Vogey can be productive at all down the stretch, the Giants will have a very complete rotation again – and they’d likely pick up his option for next season, leaving only one open spot to fill in the rotation for 2014.

Bruce Bochy shuffled his lineup last night, but the offense still isn’t there. Marco Scutaro hit leadoff for the first time this year, and had some good at-bats, but he had only a 0-5 to show for it. Brandon Crawford moved into the number two spot in the order, and he posted a 0-4. The Giants had 8 hits on the night – all singles – and only one RBI. Three of those hits came off the bat of Brandon Belt, who’s swinging with a lot more confidence since sitting down for a few games last week. Jeff Francoeur had the big RBI hit on a broken bat in the 8th before Jeff Bianchi’s error put the Brewers out of reach. But Hunter Pence had the best game among Giants’ hitters, taking three walks from the #3 spot and stealing two bases. Pence is now an impressive 17-17 on the paths this year.

I like the new-look lineup; I hope Bochy gives everyone a chance to stick in their spots. I really think Crawford could be a nice top of the order hitter, but as long as he’s not in the 8-spot anymore, there are no complaints on this end. If Blanco and/or Torres are going to play every night, those guys need to be slotted in front of the pitcher and left there. I still think Torres should be replaced by Francisco Peguero or Juan Perez, but what do I know anyway?

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t end with a little closer discussion. Sergio Romo allowed another home run to a left-handed hitter last night, serving up a solo shot to Juan Francisco in the 9th. This one didn’t cost him the game, but Romo has been very shaky against the lefties lately. Not that there are a lot of other options right now, but can Romo really be counted on as the closer going into next year if he can’t get lefties out? Heath Hembree, anyone?