Giants Must Get Creative In Replacing Melky Cabrera

Major League Baseball suspended Melky Cabrera for 50 games after he tested positive for testosterone, a substance banned under the league’s Joint Drug Policy. The suspension is immediate, meaning Cabrera won’t be seen in the orange and black, patrolling left field and accumulating hits, for the rest of the season. After their loss yesterday to the Nationals, coupled with the Dodgers win over the Pirates, the Giants fell out of first place in the National League West for the first time since late June. Losing Cabrera will hurt the Giants as they battle the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks for the division title, and try to stay in the hunt for a wild card spot.

Cabrera’s has been the Giants’ second-most productive hitter, behind Buster Posey. His season line is .346/.390/.546 for a .387 wOBA and a 146 wRC+. He was a steady and effective presence as the number three hitter in the Giants’ lineup, where he whacked 25 doubles, ten triples and eleven home runs in front of Posey. It will be impossible to replicate that production. The question is how best to replace it.

News reports suggest utility outfielder Gregor Blanco will get the bulk of the playing time in Cabrera’s absence. Blanco played his way into a regular right field job early this season when he batted .315/.427/.457 with a .391 wOBA and 149 wRC+ in May. But those numbers are a distant memory now. In 91 plate appearances in July and August, Blanco has 14 hits and 16 strikeouts. His walk rate remains high, above 14%, after plummeting in June.

The Giants will add two players to the roster before tomorrow’s game against the Padres. My best guess is that they’ll call up Brett Pill and Justin Christian, both right-handed batters, with an eye on a platoon with Blanco, who hits lefty. Christian’s been up and down from Triple-A several times this season, and shown very limited ability to hit major league pitching. In 41 plate appearances, he’s batted .158/.220/.184. His career numbers against lefties show some promise, but he’s had no success at all against southpaws this season. Pill made the Giants’ Opening Day roster and was used in a platoon with Brandon Belt at first base in the first half of the season. But even with Belt’s struggles, Pill did not seize the moment and was eventually sent back to Fresno. In 106 plate appearances, he batted .222/.274/.374 with four home runs. A better option than Christian at the plate, for sure. The only problem is that Pill has played only 47 innings in left field in the majors, all coming this season. An outfield of Pill in left, Angel Pagan in center, and Hunter Pence in right has the capacity to cause serious mayhem for Giants pitchers, particularly those induce a lot of fly balls, like Matt Cain.

The possibility of a Blanco/Pill or Blanco/Christian platoon doesn’t inspire confidence, so let’s think outside the box for a second. The Giants could use Pablo Sandoval at first base and move Brandon Belt to left field. Don’t jump right to the comments to blast me; hear me out.

Marco Scutaro, acquired before the trade deadline, filled in admirably at third base with Sandoval on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. On defense, it’s probably a wash between Sandoval and Scutaro at third, particularly with Joaquin Arias as a late-inning defensive replacement. Scutaro’s batting .320/.361/.427 in 83 plate appearances with the Giants, better than anything Blanco, Pill or Christian has or likely will produce. Even with all his injuries this season, Sandoval is batting .299/.353/.489 with a .356 wOBA and a 125 wRC+. In his career, Sandoval’s played almost 475 innings at first base, mostly in 2008 and 2009, and while he’s nowhere near as good at first as he is at third — or as Brandon Belt is at first — shifting Pablo to first could free up Belt to play left field.

Even with an up-and-down year at the plate, Belt has pulled it together in August and is now up to .267/.362/.405 with a .339 wOBA and 114 wRC+ for the season. He’s credited with 2 defensive runs saved and a 4.7 UZR/150 at first base. We can take those numbers with grain of salt, given the state of defensive metrics, but having watched nearly every inning of every Giants game, I can safely say that Belt is a very solid defensive first baseman.

Belt played a bit more than 240 innings in the outfield last season, and didn’t fare nearly as well by defensive metrics or the eye test. But he’s agile and fairly quick on his feet. With an additional year of major league playing time, it’s not ridiculous to think that Belt could play a reasonably steady left field for the Giants.

When rosters expand on September 1, the Giants could promote outfielders Francisco Peguero from Triple-A and/or Gary Brown from Double-A. Brown is one of the Giants’ most highly-rated prospects and fans have been clamoring for his arrival in San Francisco, even before Cabrera’s suspension. Brown started off slowly this season in Richmond, but has upped his numbers to .280/.346/.395 for the year. He might be a nice fill-in defensively down the stretch, but he’s unlikely to make much of an impact at the plate in a pennant race. Peguero’s had a full year at Triple-A and is batting .273/.297/.403, which reveals an abysmal on-base rate and low power numbers in the otherwise high-octane Pacific Coast League that both Christian and Pill have dominated. So Peguero is an unlikely solution.

And then there are trade options. The name that’s already surfaced is Alfonso Soriano. He cleared waivers but has 10-5 rights and has stated publicly he doesn’t like the weather in San Francisco and wouldn’t approve a trade to the Giants. It’s also unlikely the Giants would agree to pay for much of Soriano’s remaining $40 million in salary.

Other outfielders on teams out of contention, or soon to be out of contention, who could be possible fits in San Francisco include Denard Span of the Twins, Cody Ross of the Red Sox (and, of course, Giants 2010 postseason hero), Scott Hairston of the Mets, and Juan Pierre of the Phillies. It’s unclear (to me) if any of these players passed through waivers, making them available as trade pieces between now and August 31. All would be upgrades over Blanco/Christian/Pill. The question, of course, is whether any are available and if so, at what price?

Losing Cabrera puts the Giants in a tough spot just as their offense was kicking into high gear. In the last 14 days, the Giants lead the majors with 4.7 WAR and are third with a 122 wRC+. Much of that is due to Posey’s second half surge, Belt’s hot streak, and Scutaro’s arrival. But Cabrera played a big part of that, too, as he has in the Giants’ offense all season. The Giants need to think creatively how best to use their available players to fill in the gap. Or they can try acquire a player from a non-contending team. Or both. But the Giants must act quickly because time is ticking on the 2012 season.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Chris
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Chris
4 years 8 days ago

I wouldn’t put Pablo back at 1B, he just came off the DL after injuring his groin while making a play there (saw the game and injury happen, it made me cringe a little). I’m not sure how comfortable Pablo would be returning there.

Joe
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Joe
4 years 8 days ago

Alfonso Soriano doesn’t like the weather of San Francisco, he prefers to freezing winters and unbearable summers of Chicago…

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
4 years 8 days ago

Yeah, that’s pretty weird. I moved to SF from Boston because of the weather, and this guy refuses a trade because the weather’s not good enough? Drive a few minutes to Oakland if you want warm weather, or drive towards the ocean if you want cool weather.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 8 days ago

San Francisco has its winter in the summer. July is actually the 2nd coldest month of the year, barely losing out to January for 1st.
I liked it that way and loved my nearly 20 years in that beautiful city.
However, if Soriano, like most people I know, prefers hot summers and spends his winters somewhere far south of Chicago, I can understand his preference.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
4 years 8 days ago

Baltar, according to weather.com July is warmer than any month from November through June. It’s 2 degrees cooler than September, on average. It doesn’t always feel warm in July, but the numbers don’t align with the reputation.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 7 days ago

Viva, I yield to your source. Mine was an article in the San Francisco chronicle from a few years back.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 years 8 days ago

I imagine he is saying this to create leverage.

walt526
Guest
walt526
4 years 8 days ago

Leverage for what? He’s signed through 2014. No way any team is going to consider extending him beyond that.

Sorry, but I just don’t want Soriano if it means being stuck with him for 2013 and 2014. Even if the Cubs pay some of that contract, I don’t want him. I’d rather see the Giants sign Barry Bonds for the remainder of 2012 just as an FU to Bud Selig.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
4 years 8 days ago

That might all be true, but by saying something pretty silly, he can make it clear that he wants something without coming out and saying it. I’m guessing his agent is clever enough to come up with this. What professional, in anything, gives up a better situation because of what must be at best a marginal difference in weather?

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 8 days ago

It’s the ‘weather’ at AT&T Skippy Soriano doesn’t care for. You think the LF bleachers in Wrigley have been hard on him, AT&T can be merciless. Just ask Ross and the Huffalo.

Kellin
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Kellin
4 years 8 days ago

Actually, the Belt to LF (which was universally hated in the pre-season) and Sandoval/Scutaro combination at 1B/3B makes more sense than ever giving another AB to Christian. For a moment, it looked like the Giants could have a really nice/good hitting lineup…

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 8 days ago

Wendy’s suggestion has merit, though I’m not sure that shifting Sandoval and Belt out of their best positions is made up for by playing Scutaro instead of Blanco or a Blanco/somebody platoon.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the G’s, as they have done so many times recently, trade a prospect for a rental.

bro
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bro
4 years 8 days ago

since the trading deadline has passed, how do you trade a minor league prospect? doesn’t he have to clear waivers also? (as well as the bum we get in return)

walt526
Guest
walt526
4 years 8 days ago

I guess the question is whether keeping Theriot (.280 wOBA) in the lineup everyday is really worth playing three guys out of position (Belt, Sandoval, Scutaro). Theriot does a lot of little things well, but he’s pretty deficient on the big things. In my mind, the main benefit of picking Scutaro up was to play Theriot far less (or at least get him out of the #2 hole).

Blanco projects as a ~.300 wOBA hitter with above-average defense in LF and baserunning (plus Sandoval and Belt get to stay put). They’ll also presumably get Huff back, who projects at ~.315 wOBA with terrible defense and baserunning, but might also be able to contribute in an extremely limited way. And either Pill or Christian.

Another option is Todd Linden. Yes, that Todd Linden. He’s been providing roster depth at Fresno (LF/RF). I calculated his MLE at around .235/.300/.370. Now that sucks, but that’s not that much worse than Theriot at the plate and he plays above-average defense. Maybe Linden can pull a Vogelsong and finally contribute.

Pitnick
Guest
Pitnick
4 years 8 days ago

Yeah, this seems like a big gap in the article. All that positional switching basically means giving at-bats to Theriot instead of Blanco. Blanco’s been pretty poor since his hot start, but he’s still been a better hitter than Theriot. Given the much better defense with everybody playing in position, playing Blanco seems like a no-brainer to me.

ElJimador
Guest
ElJimador
4 years 7 days ago

Agreed. Plus if Blanco can get on any kind of groove again with regular playing time he’s a better leadoff option (career .350 OBP) than Pagan (.331) who could drop down to 6 or 7.

I’d also rather have Blanco playing CF and the Pagan Adventure moved over to LF where it can do less damage, although I doubt Bochy will consider that.

Pitnick
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Pitnick
4 years 7 days ago

Yeah, it’s pretty funny that they’re using their best defensive outfielder in LF, especially given the funky right field at AT&T.

JA311
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JA311
4 years 8 days ago

Soriano doesn’t like the weather in SF? Because Chicago is famous for it’s glorious weather year round.

baycommuter
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baycommuter
4 years 8 days ago

From a baseball perspective, cool San Francisco weather benefits the pitcher. A lot of hitters don’t like the Bay Area, Johnny Damon thought it was too cold in Oakland Coliseum, which on average is 4-5 degrees warmer than AT&T. San Diego, Seattle are also cool, even LA sometimes that way. The only West Coast park that has warm nights is Anaheim.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
4 years 8 days ago

maybe he LIKES staying fit by shoveling snow in the offseason !

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 8 days ago

Can’t imagine either Ross or Hairston made it through waivers.

I hear Johnny Damon is available….

walt526
Guest
walt526
4 years 8 days ago

Picking up Damon is not the worst idea in the world; however, isn’t Damon’s defense atrocious?

Based on how terrible his batting stats looked with Cleveland I’m not sure that he really represents that much of an upgrade over Blanco offensively. And he’s going to give back a substantial portion of whatever offensive advantage on defense.

Spike
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Spike
4 years 7 days ago

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Hairston clears waivers.

Spike
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Spike
4 years 7 days ago

not that the Giants would prob want to deal with the Mets again after flipping Wheeler for 2 months of Carlos Beltran that got them nowhere… or that the Giants even have a prospect that would be a good fit for what the Mets…

Resolution
Guest
Resolution
4 years 8 days ago

In getting creative to replace Melky, I suggest paper mache.

Brian Sabean
Guest
Brian Sabean
4 years 8 days ago

i don’t know what we’re going to do but i know it involves brandon belt being sent to AAA.

Snowblind
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Snowblind
4 years 8 days ago

If only Ichiro could have waited another month! There he goes, being selfish again…

The Ancient Mariner
Guest
The Ancient Mariner
4 years 8 days ago

Why wouldn’t it make more sense to play Scutaro in the outfield? (Yes, I realize it would take a little preparation, but still.)

Will
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Will
4 years 8 days ago

How bout pill/blanco platoon, with belt playing left when pill plays. Or trade zito for soriano and maybe 5-10 mil in cash to balance salaries. Soriano has said his family will make decision if he get traded to sf

Herbalist
Guest
4 years 8 days ago

Belt to LF, Posey to 1B and Hector Sanchez behind the plate is my solution. Hector Sanchez is a better bat and Pill or Blanco and Posey will be able to stay in the line-up more at first.

This is the best option.

walt526
Guest
walt526
4 years 8 days ago

Relative to a baseline of C-Posey, 1B-Belt, LF-Blanco…

Benefit: Less wear and tear on Posey (and probably more AB’s)

Cost: Sacrificing defense at C and LF to get a guy with a .276 wOBA into the lineup in place of a guy with a .297 wOBA (based on ZIPS-R). Possibly sacrificing some of Belt’s production just when he’s finally hitting a stride by playing him out of position.

I’m not sold that it’s the optimal solution.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 8 days ago

There really is no ‘best option’.

PrettyRicky
Member
PrettyRicky
4 years 8 days ago

I don’t see a better in-house solution than giving Blanco an extended shot; he’s a switch-hitter, not a lefty, and better than Theriot, Pill, Christian or Hector Sanchez.

I miss Nate Schierholtz.

PrettyRicky
Member
PrettyRicky
4 years 8 days ago

Oops. Blanco is not a switch-hitter. But he does hit better against lefties, or at least has so far this year.

Rick
Guest
Rick
4 years 8 days ago

Re-sign Barry Bonds. It would be the perfect solution to losing Melky to PED suspension!

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 8 days ago

Melky may be a doper, cheater, whatever you want to call him but he also injected some excitement into the Giants team and the fans. The Melkmen and Melkmaids, his hustle, his enthusiasm all had a positive inpact on the team. You can trot a replacement, who may or may noy play well, but does that lost spark affect the team as well?

bro
Guest
bro
4 years 8 days ago

he’s a cheater.

got melk
Guest
got melk
4 years 8 days ago

So’s your Mom, but we don’t run HER down in the comments.

Et Tu, Bro?
Guest
Et Tu, Bro?
4 years 7 days ago

I thought “your mom” jokes stopped after 3rd grade.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 8 days ago

With 45 games left, and Cabrera likely to have been a 5.5-6.0 WAR performer this year, there is no offensive fix. To date, he has contributed about 20-25% of that offense. If Lincecum and Zito don’t up there game, the Giants will spend October toasting marshmellows, IMO.

bro
Guest
bro
4 years 8 days ago

yep.

fergie348
Guest
fergie348
4 years 7 days ago

Totally agree – Giants got 4.5 WAR out of Melky before he got booted for his cheating ways. The only reasonable way to expect to get the rest of the 1.5-2 WAR we would have gotten if he were clean is to get better performances across the board, starting with the back end of the pitching staff.

It’s gonna take better effort, more concentration and maybe a little bit of luck for the Giants to end up ahead of the Dodgers in about 6 weeks.

iallm
Guest
iallm
4 years 8 days ago

Are you sure?

Seems like someone getting creative caused the problem…

hey oooh
Guest
hey oooh
4 years 7 days ago

and getting creatine rather than ‘creative’ would have prevented it…

iallm
Guest
iallm
4 years 7 days ago

Hi-YOOOO!

bobJfrost
Member
bobJfrost
4 years 5 days ago

Garry Brown has 139 hits in 122 games. They need to give the kid a shot, could be a this years version of Cody Ross, if he lives up to the hype. They’ve done a pretty decent job in their farm system…Crawford, Belt, Posey, Panda all valuable to THAT line up….Would Brown play LF or CF moving Pegan ? Either way I want to see him in the box come September 1st.

freddie
Guest
freddie
4 years 5 days ago

Vladimir Guerrero!

’nuff said.

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