The San Francisco Giants have had a fairly quiet offseason in terms of big name free agents and legitimate contract extensions. Sure, they unloaded Jonathan Sanchez, who had more or less outplayed his stay in San Francisco, and received a potent hitter in Melky Cabrera. They picked up Angel Pagan from the Mets, and said farewell to Andres Torres, Cody Ross and other lovable misfits. In the midst of the acquisitions, they also nominally extended Tim Lincecum for two years, which essentially solved nothing, as the team bought none of Lincecum’s free agency period. Finally, contract talks with Matt Cain have not resolved anything, as spring training looms.
I might argue, however, that perhaps no acquisition this offseason has the potential to be as beneficial as the Giants’ acquisition of Ryan Theriot from the St. Louis Cardinals.
The key concerns for the Giants this offseason have been as follows:
- Answering the question of leadoff hitter
- Finding a power hitter
- Securing Lincecum and Cain long term
- Shoring up the middle infield.
With spring training so near, the Giants have not yet found a definitive answer to the leadoff question, but there is a good chance that a competent leadoff hitter can be found on the current roster. Who that is will likely be seen as spring training unfolds.
The issue of power has been answered in part by Melky Cabrera, who has a bit of pop in his bat, but also by the return of Buster Posey. Pablo Sandoval provides significant power, and Posey and Cabrera’s contributions should be significant.
Neither Lincecum nor Cain has been signed long-term, which does nothing to assuage the perception that the Giants’ front office is miserly, greedy, cheap, insert pejorative term here.
But the middle infield, without question, is solidified with Ryan Theriot coming back. The key figures in the Giants' infield right now are: Freddy Sanchez, Mike Fontenot and Brandon Crawford. Freddy Sanchez is a wonderfully skilled player and a huge reason why the Giants went all the way in 2010. But whether or not he can remain healthy for an entire season is another question, and the odds of it do not appear particularly good that he can. Mike Fontenot is skilled as a utility infielder, but contributes relatively little offensively. Brandon Crawford might be the most talented defensive presence on the team, but his offensive contributions are so woefully anemic that the Giants ought to institute a “free iron” night in honor of Crawford.
Enter Ryan Theriot.
Theriot’s numbers (2011): .271/.321/.342, 1 HR, 47 RBI
Crawford’s numbers (2011): .204/.288/.296, 3 HR, 21 RBI
Theriot played both second base and shortstop last season, and in doing so, continued to prove his value as a middle infielder.
He has virtually no power, but save for his first-start-Grand Slam, neither does Brandon Crawford. Theriot did, however, lead the league in singles in 2008, 2009 and 2010. A singles hitter could work very well at, or near, the top of the Giants order. He played a career low 132 games last season, and routinely breaks the 150 mark, which means he is durable enough to play every day if need be (read: Brandon Crawford hits .190).
Furthermore, Theriot has been there. It is worth pointing out that with Freddy Sanchez injured and Edgar Renteria/Juan Uribe members of the middle infield of the 2010 Giants, Brandon Crawford did not have a mature veteran champion presence to mentor him. Miguel Tejada? Not quite a champion. Orlando Cabrera? To this day, more than a few Giants fans might still refer to him as, “Who dat?” Ryan Theriot just won a championship and, by all accounts, is a wonderful member of the clubhouse. He has the power to not only contribute to the team offensively and defensively, but also to facilitate Brandon Crawford’s development into a significant big league force.
It seems as though the Giants organization, from Bochy on up, believes that Crawford is the future of the Giants at shortstop. I don’t disagree with this idea, but I find such unwavering confidence (especially given what transpired last year) a bit unfounded at this stage. But if Crawford truly is the future, then he might as well be motivated and mentored by a legitimate middle infielder—one who might also be able to play in place of Freddy Sanchez, if he pops out his shoulder making an up-the-middle grab.
For those reasons, I think that we might look back on the offseason acquisition of Ryan Theriot as the true difference maker for the San Francisco Giants.