It’s that sad time of the year again – Giants offseason. We’ve been so fortunate to be watching them in the postseason two out of the last three years, so that softens the blow a bit for 2013. But it turns out that we’ll have some things to watch even though the Giants aren’t playing. The offseason moves are going to be crucial if the black-and-orange hope to re-take the NL West crown in 2014.
One of the biggest areas of concern from 2013 was second base. It was a no-brainer to re-sign Marco Scutaro after his contributions in the second half of 2013. The reigning NLCS MVP hit .362 with 44 RBIs after being traded from the Colorado Rockies, including .328 during the playoffs. But the soon-to-be 38 year old struggled in 2014, mostly due to injury. After playing the World Baseball Classic until mid-March, maybe Scutaro was just tired. Back spasms sidelined him at the beginning of the season and returned to bother him in August and September. He also was hit by a pitch on June 11, smashing his left pinkie finger. After only missing a few games initially, the injury refused to go away, and his season ended when he was pulled from a game in New York. Just before the season was officially over, Scutaro had surgery to place a pin in his pinkie to straighten it out. The pin will come out in about six weeks and a specific training regimen will hopefully strengthen his back this offseason.
Despite struggling so much this season, Scutaro finished with a .297 batting average and a trip to the All-Star game. However, his stats were inconsistent. His averages for the season were .240 in April, .420 in May, .289 in June, .303 in July, .229 in August, and .300 in his 40 September at-bats. Hopefully, he’ll return healthy and rested and ready for 2014.
But the lack of depth at second proved costly for the Giants this season, and it’s something they absolutely have to address this offseason. Nick Noonan could be an option and should be given serious consideration during Spring Training. He hit .333 in April, but finished with a .219 average. His playing time decreased dramatically with only 16 at-bats in the second half, not allowing him time to get comfortable at the plate. Defensively, Noonan committed just one error in San Francisco this season, which is a step up from Scutaro, who’s defensive skills are not what they used to be.
Tony Abreu also made a strong case for himself with the September that he had. He hit .268 in the majors this year, including .325 in April and .271 in September. His seven RBIs (in only 16 at-bats) in the final month of the season were the fifth-most on the team. His three errors in 116 chances isn’t the best, but he was able to play second, third, and shortstop, providing some flexibility on the bench.
Joaquin Arias also continued to be a solid backup utility infielder. His finished 2013 batting .271 in 225 at-bats. He also played all four infield positions, committing only five errors. He’s proved over the last two years that he can play dazzling defense (Cain’s perfect game, anyone?) and is probably the best bench player that the Giants have. Both Arias and Abreu are eligible for arbitration, so there’s a good chance that at least one of them will return without a high cost to the Giants.
Free agent-wise, left field is more of a priority for San Francisco. There’s also not a ton of great second base options out there, but a couple guys are:
1. Kelly Johnson, Tampa Bay. He’s struggled in the past few years and will probably be looking for a starting role somewhere, but he’d be a solid guy off the bench for a reasonable price. He’d also bring a little bit of power to a position that normally doesn’t provide that much pop.
2. Mike Fontenot, Tampa Bay. The former Giant is a free agent again at the end of this season. He was a solid backup for San Francisco in 2012 hitting .278 in 36 at-bats with a .341 OBP, but struggled in 2013. In 45 at-bats with the Rays, he hit .156 with just a .278 OBP. He also dipped in SLG from .389 in 2012 to .178 in 2013. But, again, he’ll come at pretty low price if the Giants are just looking for a quick fix solution to their depth problems.
3. Ramon Santiago, Detroit. The 34-year-old veteran second baseman has spent the last six seasons with the Tigers. In 205 at-bats this year, he finished with .224/.298/.288, which are up from his 2012 numbers of .206/.283/.272. Lifetime, he owns a career .243 average. Because of his age and numbers, Santiago will probably go cheap and be willing to sign as a back-up.
Again, there’s not a lot of great back-up options out there, and it’s not the biggest area of concern for the Giants, so they may just decide to go with a minor leaguer, Arias, or Abreu. Either way, they’ll need to make sure they have a solid guy coming off the bench so that Scutaro can get rest when he needs it without the line-up taking such a big hit.