There’s a Big Hole on Right Side of Giants Infield

There was a great deal of hand wringing among Giants fans during the offseason about what the team should do at shortstop. The incumbent, as it were, is Brandon Crawford, who jumped from Single A to the majors in 2011 after Pablo Sandoval broke the hamate bone in his right hand in late April, shifting Miguel Tejada over to third base. Tejada didn’t produce at the plate no matter where he played in the field and was cut in late August. In 220 plate appearances, Crawford posted a paltry .204/.288/.296 but showed value in his glove, recording 6 Defensive Runs Saved in 500+ innings.

Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins were available free agents shortstops. Fans were split on whether the Giants should pursue either one, or both, and if so, for how long and for what kind of money. Never mind the fans, though. Reports suggest the Giants front office never considered a serious offer to either Reyes or Rollins, although they tried to get Willie Bloomquist and thought about bringing back Edgar Renteria. Neither (thankfully) came to fruition.

All the noise over shortstop, however, may have obscured an equally pressing need for the Giants at second base. Freddy Sanchez is in the second year of a two-year deal with the Giants, after joining the team mid-2009 in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates. And while Sanchez has been moderately effective when he’s played, he’s had one injury after another, missing big chunks of time.

Sanchez came to San Francisco with an existing knee injury. Once the Giants were out of contention that season, he had surgery on that knee. In the offseason, he had further surgery, this time on his left shoulder, and the rehab  kept him out for the beginning of the 2010 season. Sanchez did play full time when he returned, and was an integral part of the Giants’ march through the playoffs on the way to their first World Series championship in San Francisco.

But sixty games into the 2011 season, Sanchez injured his right shoulder, requiring yet more surgery, and knocking him out for the rest of the season. Ten days into spring training, Sanchez is just now starting to make throws from second to first, gingerly. And then two days ago, Sanchez’s back “flared up” — which is an interesting way to describe an injury from early 2009, and one that hadn’t been bothering Sanchez for several years, as far as we know. At this point, there may be little more than scotch tape and paper clips holding him together.

And yet, the Giants expect Sanchez to play the great majority of innings at second base. We know this because the Giants have touted Sanchez’s return as akin to a new free agent signing, and because the team has little in the way of a backup plan.

Heading into the season, the Giants are expected to use former Cubs teammates (and fellow Cajuns) Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot as utility infielders. Each has played close to 2,000 innings at second base in his career, with Theriot earning slightly higher marks in Defensive Runs Saved and UZR. Neither is stellar at the position; neither is too much of a liability, at least defensively.

Theriot bats right handed and Fontenot left, so a platoon would be likely if Sanchez falls victim to an existing — or new — injury. Either way, the Giants aren’t likely to get much in the way of offensive production. RotoChamps, Bill James and ZIPS project wOBA for Fontenot somewhere between .296 to .310. For Theriot, the range is .292 to .304. Ironically, or not — depending on your view of things — Sanchez isn’t projected to produce much more offensively than either Fontenot or Theriot, even if he’s healthy. The range for Sanchez’s projected wOBA is .301 to .307.

In fact, the Giants face the same situation as they did last June, when Sanchez’s right shoulder went “pop” (I was at the game. It really did go “pop.”) They muddled along with Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burriss until getting Jeff Keppinger from the Astros in a trade and picking up Bill Hall off the discard pile. Keppinger and Hall were a big downgrade defensively and Keppinger wasn’t nearly the offensive upgrade the Giants expected, and needed. When the season was over, the Giants had to choose either Fontenot or Keppinger, and chose Fontenot.

What should the Giants do? Not much, for now. Get the season started, see if Sanchez is healthy enough to play, how he performs, and all the rest. But if Sanchez can’t play, or does play and produces only to the level of his projections, the Giants will have to act fast. Several months of a Fontenot/Theriot platoon could spell doom for the team’s playoff chances, particularly if Crawford sticks at shortstop with minimal offensive production.

A short-term solution? An old friend.

Matt Downs.

Downs spent several years in the Giants farm system and saw limited big league action with the team in 2009 and 2010. When the Giants acquired Cody Ross off waivers at the end of August, 2010, Downs was the odd man out on the 40-man roster. The Giants hoped to squeeze Downs through waivers, but the Houston Astros picked him up.

Last season, Downs was the super-utility infielder for the Astros, with significant playing time (more than 120 innings) at both second base and third base. He rated poorly by UZR at second base (-2.2), although his career UZR at that position is 1.0. But in 222 plate appearances, Downs posted a slash of .276/.348/.518 for a .373 wOBA. And while Downs may regress from those numbers, he’s projected for a wOBA between .311 and .351.  On the high end, that would be an upgrade over both Fontenot and Theriot.

The Astros have Jose Altuve for the long term at second base. The Giants have no one for the long term at second base, meaning 2013. Well, unless Joe Panik rips through the minor leagues this year. That’s a discussion for another day. For 2012, Downs could be a gap-filler if the Giants need help this season.




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Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on ESPN.com, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

34 Responses to “There’s a Big Hole on Right Side of Giants Infield”

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  1. Sabean Wannabe says:

    Nice food for thought, but I seriously doubt they upset the apple cart for a big unknown. Sure, Downs had good numbers in 2011, but nothing in his major league or minor league career suggests he will approach that again although he could be a late bloomer.

    The Giants/Sabean know that they are unlikely to be out of the race at the trade deadline and can reassess then.

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  2. Dandy Salderson says:

    There’s an even bigger A-Hole on the left side of the Yankees infield.

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  3. Baltar says:

    So nice to have you back writing good articles instead of proposing silly rule changes.
    Your mention of Downs is intriguing. It could pay off and could be a good move for the Giants whether Freddy is ready or not.
    In an otherwise excellent article, I must quibble with the statement “a Fontenot/Theriot platoon could spell doom for the team’s playoff chances.” While that might actually be true, the fall from Freddy at this stage of his remarkable career to that platoon would probably not be great.

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      Yeah, that’s probably an overstatement. But thanks for the kind words.

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      • Nivra says:

        FWIW:
        Career wRC+
        Sanchez: 96
        Fontenot vs. RHP: 95
        Theriot vs. LHP: 107

        A Fontenot/Theriot platoon will likely outproduce Sanchez at the plate.

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      • OrgoneDonor says:

        I’m with Nivra.

        I think even a healthy Freddy will be at most worth 2 wins, likely less. Freddy played great in the 2010 WS. But he’s really not very good anymore. And he’s made of ampule glass.

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  4. fergie348 says:

    Yup, middle infield has been the issue for this team for the last few years. It doesn’t seem likely that Panik will be ready to join the big club for at least 2 years and they’ve got to see how Adrianza progresses as a hitter to decide what to do long term about shortstop. Crawford has reportedly looked better but realistically he has to hit some this year or he risks being relegated to part timer status. The real platoon will probably be Crawford/Theriot at short, but that’s assuming we can rely on Sanchez to soak up the majority of innings, and as you’ve pointed out that’s not a good assumption to make.

    Once we get to 2014 all these things should be in the rear view for the Giants, with Panik and Adrianza in the middle infield, Posey and Sandoval at the corners, Hector Sanchez behind the plate and Gary Brown roaming the vast outfield at Pac Bell. I just wonder who will be pitching for the Giants then besides Madison Bumgarner..

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  5. Noles says:

    Is Brett Pill an option at 2nd?

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    • Sabean Wannabe says:

      I really don’t think so. I read recently (too lazy to locate the link) that he did play some 2B last year in the minors, but unimpressively.

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    • fergie348 says:

      I hear they’re giving him some reps at 3rd. We’ll see how serious that is once the games start. I’m not sure how it helps our middle infield issues, however..

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  6. soladoras says:

    I’d like to see Conor Gillaspie in the mix as well when (not if) Freddy Sanchez misses significant time.

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  7. Kellin says:

    Baggerly just tweeted the lineup for the first ST game on Saturday and the right side consists of Fontenot and Huff…

    I think that “Big Hole” does not even begin to describe how awful that side of the infield is. And I really like Fontenot…

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  8. Darryl0 says:

    One prominent name that is missing from your analysis is Manny Burriss. If Sanchez has to spend short periods of time on the D/L this season then the Giants will almost surely try to muddle through with a platoon of Burriss and Fontenot at 2B. If Sanchez can’t finish out the season then the Gaints will try Burriss and Fontenot at 2B to begin with, then swing a trade if they aren’t up to the job. Matt Downs, while a super-nice kid, will not be an option they consider. He’s just not enough of an upgrade over Fontenot for Sabean to make such a trade. Not to mention that Sabean has a long track record of trading for established veterans welll into their 30s in situations like this.

    Looking around the league I’d suggest the following list of guys the Giants might target:
    Juan Uribe (the Dodgers would have to eat a big chunk of salary)
    Felipe Lopez (still a free agent)
    Orlando Hudson
    Kelly Johnson
    Chone Figgins

    Finally, there’s the Giants top 2B prospect (assuming Joe Panik sticks at SS), Charlie Culberson. It’s a huge longshot, but he should start the season in AAA and he’s still young enough (he turns 23 in April) and he has sufficient tools that it’s not inconcievable to think that he has another big jump left in him to get him over the hump to being a viable major league ballplayer this year.

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      I considered all of these options, and rejected them. Manny Burriss isn’t a prominent name. He’s never done anything in the big leagues. He’ll be lucky to make the team out of ST. Culberson has really fallen down on a lot of prospect lists. No one I know and trust thinks he could make an impact in the big leagues. Uribe? No way would the Giants take him back after he spurned them for Dodgers, and he was horrible last year. Chone Figgins? Really? Orlando Hudson might be possible although intra-division trades are unlikely. Maybe Kelly Johnson. Maybe.

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      • Darryl0 says:

        1. You have no idea how much the Giants like Burriss. I just watched an interview with Brian Sabean today (likely taped yesterday) in which he specifically identified Burriss (followed by Fontenot) as his first option should Freddy not be able to answer the bell this season.

        2. Are you writing your article based on what you think the Giants should do in case Freddy is unavailable, or on what you think they will do? If the former, then I agree with you that Figgns, Uribe and Lopez wouldn’t be good ideas. If the latter, then you don’t have a good idea on how Brian Sabean operates. I posted my list of possible trade candidates as my early prediction on what Sabean and the Giants would do. First off, there’s no bad blood on the Giants side towards Uribe. He’s still well-liked and respected by the org. If the Dodgers were willing to eat around 75% of his remaining salary then I’m fairly certain that Sabes would make that trade based on Uribe being a known quantity to them and not somebody that would upset the team chemistry. Secondly, if the Padres aren’t contending this season, then I believe that they’d trade Hudson to any team as long as they got a good return on the trade. If they are contending then they won’t trade him to any team. Hudson would only be on the Giants for a very short period of time (1.5 seasons max) so it’s not as if the Pads would be giving them a long-term piece to their puzzle.

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      • jeff_bonds says:

        Even after his historically bad 2011 (wRC+ of 55), Uribe still posted .4 WAR in 77 games. If he bounces back to just regularly awful at offense and plays something close to a full season, Uribe can come close to or exceed 2 WAR. Giants should be begging Ned Colletti to give them Uribe back, maybe throw in Belt.

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      • Jason B says:

        “Giants should be begging Ned Colletti to give them Uribe back, maybe throw in Belt.”

        Throw in a potentially productive, up-and-coming (and cost-controlled) player in Belt for a decrepid bag of no-OBP bones in Uribe? Whaaaaa?? Where can Colletti sign up for that, and how quickly?

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  9. Shankbone says:

    First off, there isn’t a big hole in the Gints infield. That was what the (cheap) signing of The Riot and bringing back The Hobbit was all about.

    Second, because nobody sticks up for Freddy Sanchez, I will here: He had 4 solid years in Pittsburgh logging over 600 plate appearances the last 3 after he broke though including his famous batting title. He is a damn good hitter. The injuries have been unfortunate, no doubt. Knee, left shoulder and right shoulder. He’s taking it slow and the freakout train is starting. At 34, and a veteran of rehabbing from injuries, maybe he knows something others don’t. I would not bet against somebody who overcame both a club foot AND being severely pigeon toed, three different stops for college on his way to playing pro ball. I also wouldn’t bet the over on 120 games for him, he will need his rest. Again, that’s what Theriot/Fontenot are there for. Minor nitpick: Sanchez is on a one-year extension following his two-year contract. Major nitpick: Sanchez hit 298/337/762 in the 2nd half of 2010 and was a catalyst for the world series victory. That is more than moderately effective. I’m completely over all the band-aid jokes coming his way.

    It was a bummer to have lost Downs to the waiver claim, he seems like he’ll carve a nice career out as a utility player. But I wouldn’t get too excited about those stats he put up. 106 games but only 35 starts. He barely faced any front line pitching and got to play half his games in Minute Maid. While there is always the chance of a breakout, I would be pretty surprised if Downs was able to hit his predictions in a full time roll. Those predictions are for a part time roll, a pretty big factor to consider.

    If Freddy can’t go and the LSU Tiger power isn’t there, I’m sure Sandy Alderson would be happy to deal off defensively challenged Daniel Murphy for more Sabean prospects. Murphy can hit for real. That would be an upgrade over the current options. Matt Downs is not worth burning through any more B-list arms in the Giants system, he is just not enough of an upgrade over Burriss/Gillespie muddling along.

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      I’ve enjoyed having Freddy on the team. When healthy, he did what the Giants asked him to do, for the most part. With age, and injuries, the chances of him repeating what he did in 2010 are slim. I’m just being a realist and calling it like I see it.

      I don’t see any evidence that Sanchez will be around after 2012. I checked a few sources. Where did you get your information?

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      • Shankbone says:

        1 year/$6M (2012) signed extension with San Francisco 4/1/11

        2 years/$12M (2010-11) signed extension with San Francisco 10/30/09
        10:$6M, 11:$6M

        He is on a one year contract right now, you wrote he is in the 2nd year of a 2-year deal. Minor nitpick about facts.

        I think Renteria reached out to the Giants this year, not the other way around. They may have spoken to the Reds last year, I didn’t see anything about him this year. The Bloomquist offer was indeed silly as confirmed by the D-back beat reporter.

        I’m being a realist and calling it how I see it – I think everybody is discounting a very good ballplayer and taking pot shots at him. I think the chances of him doing exactly what he did in 2010 (and 2011 before the injury) are good. He’ll take it slow and come on strong. There is always injury risk. Matt Downs isn’t the answer to that problem though.

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    • Ryan says:

      I agree here.

      This article is much ado about nothing. Yes, Freddy has been extremely fragile. If he can rebound, great. If not, Sabean has stockpiled depth that in reality is not much of a drop off from whatever Sanchez will bring to the table.

      So what if Freddy starts the year on the DL. It will give Manny Burriss a chance to get on the roster. Let Freddy heal, his bat will have some value. Get at-bats to the Cajun Combo and see what happens. No need for big moves, Joe Panik en route next year.

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  10. Wendy Thurm says:

    To Darryl10:

    My perspective is what the Giants should do, not what I think they will do. Except for my comment on Uribe, where I think the bridges were burned. The Giants are talking up Manny Burriss because — frankly — what else are they going to do? They really don’t have a good back up plan. They’ve been holding out hope on Burriss for years. It’s not going to happen. Not in a way that helps a major league team.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      I could see Burriss putting up an OBP of about .330 with 40+ SB’s + excellent defense at 2B. I don’t know how much that helps a major league team, but I know the homeboys in my fantasy league would be all over him.

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    • Darryl0 says:

      To Wendy:

      Thanks for the clarification on your original intent. I do agree with a lot more of what you wrote when I view your OP and comments in that light. I especially agree with you that Burriss is not likely to be a guy that any team would want to rely on to start more than a handful of games for them this season. One minor quibble – Sabean is not a guy that blows smoke about players in the media. If he doesn’t have something good to say about a player he’ll either say it or just avoid/ignore the question. In Burriss’s case, he has no incentive to puff him up as there is no trade market for him. Burriss is either going to make the 25 man roster out of spring training or he’s going to be DFA’d (barring a big run of injuries to other guys currently on the Giant’s 40-man roster during the next 4 weeks).

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      • daveinexile says:

        “Sabean is not a guy that blows smoke about players in the media.”

        Every offseason has at least one ” Dan Ormeire opening day starter ” from Sabean. It is ussaly a farm hand. He ussaly fetches coffee and doughnuts for the vets tell sent to Fresno. Odds are Manny is this winters Ort. It makes more sense the Brandon being this winter’s Ort.

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  11. Greg says:

    Here’s to praying that Burriss can somehow learn how to play like a big leaguer in the next month.

    On a somewhat related note, biggest fail of Sabean’s offseason was not getting in on Scutaro or Lowrie, they were practically given away and would have been huge helps.

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    • Baltar says:

      Add Barmes to that list. His price could have been raised by re-signing only one, not both, of Affeldt and Lopez, not worth 1 WAR between them.

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  12. Tyler says:

    We don’t have big holes on one side in particular. I mean we have Huff,Belt, and Pill if any of them struggle it could go down the line. But 2b/ss is weak. LEt’s hope Panik can fill one of the 2 and maybe just maybe if carwford turns into something special we could see a panik-crawford combo up the middle. The only reason why Craw is getting the job right now i heard, is because of defense. I think some decent guys who we could have tried to trade for or sign are: Robert Andino bal, Eduardo Nunez nyy, yuniesky betancourt(was FA) kc, Trevor plouffe min, jose lopez cle, steve lombardozzi wash. Maybe some lower end names with decent categories that could help. Just my opinion.

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  13. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Like others here, I don’t see the big dropoff from Freddy Sanchez to a Riot/Hobbit platoon, and I don’t see Downs being a significant improvement on that.

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  14. tom s. says:

    this article requires a follow up, entitled, “the dodgers infield is one big hole.”

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  15. westcoast hero says:

    And I in no way could see Burriss putting up what DrB suggests. I think a TheriFont platoon would be fine, but it stretches the team even thinner at short should crawford hit like any rational person would expect.

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