Crawford, Theriot and Burris: San Francisco Giants' Middle Infield Conundrum

Matt DavidContributor IIIApril 4, 2012

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 27:  Infielder Brandon Crawford #35 of the San Francisco Giants gets the out on Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as he attempted to steal second base during the fourth inning of the spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 27, 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

You have to go back to 2005 to find the last time that one middle infield tandem played at least 140 games together for the San Francisco Giants.  It's been a revolving door of mediocrity since then, with some surprises—Omar Vizquel, Juan Uribe—and a boatload of trial and error guys like Eugenio Velez, Brian Bocock, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Tejada.  

The 2012 version is already off to a bad start.  

One of the Giants' biggest offseason agonies was having to choose the banjo-hitting Mike Fontenot over the stone-handed Jeff Keppinger.  Now both are cut.  With Freddy Sanchez making his 47th trip to the DL (approximate) in a Giants uniform, San Francisco is left with unproven Brandon Crawford, perpetual prospect Manny Burris and Cardinals cast-off veteran Ryan Theriot, who inherits the over-the-hill legacy of last year's bombs Tejada and Orlando Cabrera.  

Courtesy of Fangraphs, ZiPS projects the following for this dynamic trio

Avg. OBP Slg.
Crawford .225 .291 .336
Burris .255 .308 .306
Theriot .272 .323. .337

This is ugly, even more so considering that none of these guys brings power to the lineup, and only Burris provides any hint of speed on the base paths.  Interestingly, ZiPS only projects Crawford to play 120 games, which is terrifying given that the Giants just released their backup shortstop.  

So where is the bright side?  Here are a few glimmers of hope

First, Freddy Sanchez has to return sometime, right?  According to reports, he's "starting to make progress," which I guess is better than nothing.  Though he's been placed on the DL and tagged with the always frustrating "no timetable for return" label, it seems that the Giants plan on having Freddy in the lineup for most of the season.  

Secondly, Crawford and Burris are a pair fans can root for.  Homegrown guys who are getting the rare shot to win a starting job on a championship contender.  Burris especially has worked hard for years and nailed his last chance at glory this spring.  Giants fans would love to see him succeed. Crawford, despite giving no indication that he's able to produce in the big leagues, also had a solid spring and will get another shot at being a full-time starter.  Would you rather see these guys or the Cabrera/Keppinger train wreck fans were treated to last season?  

In the best case scenario, Sanchez returns quickly and miraculously stays healthy all season.  The rest of the Giants lineup actually hits the ball this season, leaving Crawford to develop as a defensive wizard and an adequate No. 8 hitter.  Worst case?  See 2011.