This particular Giants line-up has spoiled us a little bit. They’re second in the National League with 71 home runs, they’re third in runs scored (298), third in RBIs (287), and fourth in slugging (.404). They lead the Majors with 133 two-out runs. The pop is much improved from 2013, and yet, one position seems to provide the biggest offensive hole.
When Marco Scutaro began breaking down in Spring Training, the Giants had to look at other short-term options. Ehire Adrianza was the name that most Giants fan knew from the farm system, but Brandon Hicks put together a solid Spring after signing a minor league contract with San Francisco last November. While in Scottsdale, he hit three home runs, had 11 RBIs, hit .348, and had a .696 slugging percentage, easily the best Spring of his career. He was the obvious choice to make the Opening Day roster for the Giants, and both he and Adrianza found themselves in San Francisco at the start of the season.
But both have had their struggles. Adrianza has had just 60 at-bats in just 13 starts and is hitting .183 with no home runs and three RBIs. He’s looked lost at the plate, but most discouraging has been his play in the field. In the nine games he’s started at second (the other four were at shortstop), he’s committed two errors in 43 chances for a .953 fielding percentage. And there have been glaring mental mistakes – throwing balls away, mishandling run-downs, not covering bases. Adrianza is just 24 years old, still a rookie, and he has looked like a rookie this year so far. I believe that he has the talent to be a big-league second baseman/shortstop, but right now he would benefit most by some consistent at-bats in AAA Fresno. He is not the solution for this 2014 squad.
Hicks has also struggled mightily, although he started out strong. He’s tied for fifth on the Giants with eight home runs on the season, giving San Francisco four times as many homers as they had at second base all of last year. 15 of his 33 hits this season have been extra-base hits (eight HR, six 2Bs, 1 3B), so Hicks has shown his power. He’s also proven to be very capable in the field. He’s tied for the National League lead at second base with 45 doubles plays turned. He’s committed just five errors in 54 starts at second and has a .981 fielding percentage. He and Crawford have combined to provide solid coverage up the middle for their pitching staff, and that importance can’t be overstated.
However, he is mired in the slump of all slumps at the plate right now. After hitting .318 through the first ten games of the season, his average has continued to drop and is now at .177. He’s batting just .125 in his last 21 games with one home run and just for RBIs over that span. He also has 70 strikeouts in just 186 at-bats. Because the Giants are getting so much offensive production from the rest of the line-up, Hicks defense is enough of a contributor – for now.
If the Giants are in a tight pennant race down the stretch (which seems likely), and their young prospect Joe Panik isn’t quite ready for the big leagues, do they look to pick up a short-term bat for second? If so, who?
The two names I’ve heard floating around are Chase Utley of the Phillies and Daniel Murphy of the Mets. Both are having great seasons – Utley’s batting .308 to Murphys .299. Both players have five home runs and Utley has a slight lead in RBIs (32 to Murphys 25). Utley has 24 doubles and three triples, Murphy has 16 doubles and a triple. Murphy has committed seven errors at second base for a fielding percentage of .977 in 65 games. Utley has 4 Es on the year in 61 games for a .987 percentage. Though they’re both remarkably similar – and both very talented – I think that Murphy would be the better fit for a few reasons.
1) He’s younger. He just turned 29, whereas Utley is 35.
2) Murphy’s contract is much more affordable. He’s arbitration-eligible after 2014, and he’s currently making $5.7 million. The Giants could get him as a short-term solution and, if he worked out, they could re-sign him for 2015. It’s not a big commitment. Utley, on the other hand, is signed through 2015, so San Francisco would have another aging, veteran second baseman to go with Scutaro in 2015. Utley’s current contract is two years/$25 million, so the Giants would be taking on a good chunk of that, which is probably more than they’d want to pay.
3) Personality. The San Francisco clubhouse is a goofy and quirky place, full of fun and team chemistry. Not that Utley isn’t a good guy, but he’s a pretty serious baseball veteran. He’s been around awhile, and he’s not known for being the silliest guy on the field. Murphy brings a younger energy and would probably be a good fit for a team that wins games based on their chemistry. He also recently gave a speech at the White House where he decided to “wing it.” So, he seems like he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
These are all just rumors and speculation, of course. Scutaro may return sooner than we all think, Hicks may come out of his slump, Panik may be ready this year. But if not, it’s good to know the Giants have some options on the trade block.