The Giants are learning what life is like with a 38-year-old second baseman. The team is finally conceding that Marco Scutaro will almost certainly start the 2014 season on the disabled list. Scutaro has had his spring marred by a series of nagging back injuries, and now what was seemingly inevitable, that the Giants would be without their second baseman to start the new season, has basically become reality. Scutaro’s balky back has been a constant source of frustration to both player and team this spring, and finally the Giants are settled on going with another option until their regular second baseman is fully healthy.
Scutaro hit .297/.357/.369 last season, and he continues to be one of the best contact hitters in the game, striking out just 34 times in 547 plate appearances. While Scutaro’s defense last season was a tad shaky, there’s no doubt the team will miss his bat out of the number two hole should he miss an extended amount of time.
Scutaro became in instant fan favorite after he was acquired by the Giants midway through 2012. He starred in the 2012 postseason and was awarded the MVP of the NLCS against the Cardinals. His “Shawshank” rain pose as the team was about to clinch the pennant was one of the iconic images from that season. As a reward of sorts for his contributions to the 2012 title winner, Scutaro was re-signed to a three-year deal by the Giants that offseason.
The risk, of course, a team takes with signing middle infielder in their late-30’s is that they might find themselves in exactly the situation that the Giants are in now. Scutaro’s back trouble is basically a day-to-day thing (the Giants are mainly taking precaution by not playing him), but the team may have to get used to Scutaro’s injury troubles. Old middle infielders tend to get hurt, and they tend to stay hurt. The list of second basemen who stayed healthy and effective past the age of 37 is not a long one. In fact, it’s frightfully short, according to this article by Chris Quick, formerly of Bay City Ball.
So the Giants have to at least be prepared for a longer absence than expected for Scutaro. His replacement, at least on Opening Day, is most likely going to be utilityman and Kobe clone Joaquin Arias. Arias has made himself into a valuable backup infielder primarily by being able to hit lefties and replace Pablo Sandoval when no-hitters and perfect games are afoot. In his two season with the Giants, he’s hit just .252/.285/.344 against right-handed pitchers, so everyday play is probably beyond his talents. Also in the running is Ehire Adrianza, a switch-hitter and has hit some moon shots this spring, so a platoon might be something that Bruce Bochy considers. On the down side, Adrianza has played exactly one professional game at second base.
The other question is who hits out of the two-hole in the order. Scutaro profiles as the prototypical number two hitter with his contact abilities, and the Giants don’t have anyone else who comes close to matching him. Bochy has mentioned possibly batting Mike Morse in the second spot, or potentially bumping up Brandon Belt and then moving everybody up in the order behind him. Brandon Crawford started 20 games as the number two hitter last year, but his career .304 OBP would seem a better fit at the bottom of the order.