The San Francisco Giants entered play on Friday night 24th in the league in runs scored, a clear sign that they are in need of an offensive upgrade. Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area reported on Friday that first base is a position that the organization will attempt to improve.
Baggarly wrote, "Despite public votes of confidence in Belt, who continues to struggle, the Giants clearly are looking for other options at first base."
The Giants were planning on potentially giving Aubrey Huff another look at first base, but he had a setback on his minor league rehab assignment—aggravating his knee injury.
With Hector Sanchez also on the disabled list, the Giants will have to look outside the organization to upgrade at first base right now. Unfortunately, the best opportunity for an upgrade is already off of the market.
The White Sox acquired Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox on June 24th for Zach Stewart, a fringe prospect, and Brent Lillibridge, a bench player that has subsequently been designated for assignment—with the Red Sox picking up all but a million dollars of the remaining money owed to Youkilis.
At the time of trade, Youkilis was struggling mightily, hitting just .233/.315/.377 while spending time on the disabled list with a back injury. Brandon Belt was in the midst of his one hot streak of the season at that time, which raised his seasonal line to .268/.388/.444 on June 24th.
Since then, Belt has gone in the tank, hitting just .176 in July with 14 strikeouts in 34 at-bats. On Thursday, Manager Bruce Bochy showed his complete lack of confidence in Belt by pinch-hitting journeyman fifth outfielder Justin Christian for him in the most crucial at-bat of the game. Sure, it was a left-handed pitcher on the mound, but Belt is actually hitting lefties much better than righties this season.
Youkilis has taken off with the change of scenery. Entering play on Friday, he has hit .315/.407/.534 since being acquired by the White Sox, much closer to his outstanding career line of .287/.388/.488.
The Giants could have upgraded at first base by acquiring Youkilis last month, who was available on the cheap. The Red Sox preferred to trade him to the National League rather than a playoff contender in the American League that could potentially steal a wild card spot from the Red Sox.
Even though Youkilis was struggling to hit and stay healthy, the risk would have been worth it given that the cost was next to nothing. Even if he didn't hit for the Giants, he would have provided insurance at third base in case of another injury to Pablo Sandoval, who missed a month of the season this year and last with broken hamate bones, and battled an injured shoulder down the stretch last season which forced him to the bench against lefties.
Alas, hindsight is 20/20, and Youkilis isn't available now. However, the alternatives on the trade market don't have the track record or the potential to upgrade the Giants lineup in the same way that Youkilis could have.
Brian LaHair of the Chicago Cubs might be available, but since a hot April, he has struggled more with each passing month. His OPS in April was 1.251, but it has declined each month, all the way down to .603 in July.
Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins might also be available, but he's owed the remainder of his $14 million salary for this year, plus another $14 million next season—not to mention the prospects the Twins would want in return for his services.
While Morneau has an excellent track record, injuries have derailed his career in recent seasons. He hasn't played in 140 games since 2008, and over the past two seasons he has put up a combined .689 OPS while battling the effects of a concussion suffered in 2010.
If the Twins are willing to give him away like the Red Sox gave away Youkilis, he would be a fine buy-low candidate, but there is no indication that the Twins are willing to do that. After all, Morneau is not feuding with his manager the way Youkilis was with Bobby Valentine in Boston.
The Giants need offense, and they've determined that first base is a spot where they need to upgrade. They missed the boat on the simplest way to upgrade the position, unfortunately.
It seems that Brandon Belt's lone hot streak cost the Giants a shot at Kevin Youkilis, the cleanest solution to their offensive woes. Belt might not be the answer at first base, but at this point, what is the alternative?