Last season, the San Francisco Giants carried two unheralded left fielders on their postseason roster. The Giants ended up receiving tons of production.
San Francisco had a platoon working at the position in September and October, as southpaw Gregor Blanco started against right-handed pitchers, and the right-handed Xavier Nady occupied left field against left-handed pitching.
Neither player put up gaudy numbers, but both did enough for the team and came through with timely hitting.
Nady joined the Giants with two games remaining in a series against the Chicago Cubs, and he registered three hits in five at-bats during the series. In addition, he walked twice and hit a three-run double in his first at-bat with the team. The Giants won both games, and Nady was the main reason why.
However, because the Giants didn’t face a single left-handed starter in the playoffs, Blanco started all 16 postseason games. He came through with some tremendous defense and timely hitting, as he homered in Game 4 of the NLDS and hit an RBI triple in Game 3 of the World Series.
Blanco, who registered a solid .333 OBP in 2012, started the 2013 season in a left field platoon with Andres Torres. However, an injury to center fielder Angel Pagan forced Blanco to shift over to center.
The move caused some chaos in left field, but the Giants have sorted it out and can definitely get by without acquiring a left fielder at the 2013 MLB trade deadline.
Torres initially took over, but the Giants quickly found out that he isn't the answer. He has committed a miserable five errors, which is horrible for a platoon player. Torres has looked lost at times, which has led to his poor defensive play.
Should Andres Torres start in left field?
He hasn’t started in left field since July 8, and, as Alex Pavlovic of The San Jose Mercury noted, he is more comfortable in center field. So, we probably won’t see him in left much more.
Instead, we’ll see Kensuke Tanaka and Jeff Francoeur.
Tanaka, who played in Japan for 13 years before signing with the Giants, has sparked the team and has drawn comparisons to second baseman Marco Scutaro for his ability to reach base. In his first major league game, he robbed a home run, walked and singled. He has kept that positive momentum going as he is hitting .269 with a .345 OBP.
He is poised to keep hitting well. While he has minimal power, he can get on base, swipe bases and provide decent defense in left field. Tanaka will make a pitcher pay for lack of control, as he has walked three times in just 29 plate appearances. In 78 games in Triple-A, he hit .330 with a .392 OBP.
Oh, and he walked more than he struck out.
If Tanaka can continue to come through with key hits and knock in runs at the bottom of the order, it will immensely benefit the Giants. Because he bats from the left side of the plate, he will get the majority of the starts (if the Giants continue with the platoon), so he will need to produce consistently.
Tanaka can be counted on to do that, and Francoeur can as well. Francoeur's numbers this season are atrocious, as he is hitting a mere .214 (overall) with just one multi-hit game since May 1. However, the fact remains that he is a proven veteran who has had a solid career.
He can be counted on to provide depth, experience and solid defense. He is very similar to Nady and former Giants left fielder Pat Burrell, as all are veterans who were cut by other teams before signing with the Giants. In addition, all signed inexpensive deals.
While he didn’t impact the team in the playoffs, Nady came through in the regular season. He posted a .333 OBP and a .733 OPS, and he came through in a plethora of key situations. Burrell did the same thing, as he helped lead the Giants to a championship by cranking 18 home runs and posting a stellar .364 OBP.
Can Francoeur be the next Pat Burrell?
Unlike Nady and Burrell, Francoeur doesn’t walk often, but he could impact the team in a similar way. He can stay calm and come through in the clutch, and he can inflate a pitcher's pitch count. Francoeur has a mediocre 19.7 percent strikeout rate in his career, but when he makes contact, he hits the ball well.
He has reached base four times in 10 plate appearances with the Giants, once on a well-struck double. Francoeur worked pitcher Will Harris in a 10-pitch at-bat, one that culminated in a hit. Francoeur didn’t score, but he provided an example of his ability to stay calm and come through.
He showed that the Giants don't need to target a left fielder at the trade deadline.
The left field market is thin, and the Giants shouldn't overpay because they have serviceable left fielders. In addition, they have a glaring hole in the bullpen that needs to be filled, and they don't have what it takes to pull off two noteworthy deals.
In other words, the Giants should add a reliever and not an outfielder.
An outfielder like Alex Rios would help on offense, but he would hurt on defense, wouldn't help the integral element to San Francisco's success that is team chemistry and wouldn't turn the team around. Francoeur, on the other hand, isn't the flashy prospect he once was, but he can hit for power (he has 140 career home runs), play good defense and get on base at an acceptable rate.
And, he can mesh with the other 24 guys on the Giants roster. Great team chemistry has powered the Giants to two championships, and Francoeur and Tanaka can help the team bond even further.
They can help on the field as well. Tanaka is a converted second baseman and inexperienced left fielder, but he has made some noteworthy plays. Francoeur's natural position is right field, but he has piled up numerous defensive gems in his career. He should be able to make a seamless transition to left field.
As for Francoeur's offense, he is a well-known player who can hit for power and come through in the clutch. He isn't going to hit .300 anymore, but he could surprise pundits and draw comparisons to Burrell.
For Tanaka, if all goes as planned, he will be the second coming of Scutaro. Scutaro sparked the Giants and propelled them to a championship last season, and Tanaka can do the same thing. He isn’t as experienced and clearly isn’t a carbon copy of Scutaro, but he can most definitely impact the team in a similar way.
Should the Giants trade for a left fielder?
Neither Tanaka nor Francoeur will capture any MVP awards, and neither will have their every move documented by camera crews. However, while both will fly under the radar, both will help the team.
The Giants have a glaring hole in the bullpen, and they shouldn't fork over a multitude of top prospects to unnecessarily add a left fielder. Lots of people don't think the Giants will survive in left field, but those people will be proven wrong.
After all, San Francisco was in a similar situation last year. The season ended up fine.
Former Giants left fielder Melky Cabrera’s suspension was supposed to doom the Giants last season, but exceptional defense and timely hitting from Blanco and Nady helped the Giants sustain a solid level of production at the position. This season, a different but similar platoon will help the Giants stay strong at the position.
And if all goes right, the new platoon could even help propel the Giants to their third championship in four years.