San Francisco Giants Team of the Decade: The Infielders
Our friends across the pond call them the Noughties. Us Americans would probably choose the Aughts.
Either way, with the clock striking 12 and the calendar switched over to Jan. 1, the first decade of the 2000s has come to a close.
The decade has certainly been an interesting one for the San Francisco Giants. It began with opening the sparkly new digs with a National League West crown. Just two years later, the Giants, in 2002 landed a World Series berth (yes, that happened).
It was a completely different story from 2005-2008 when the Giants recorded four consecutive losing seasons with both Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy attempting to right the ship.
The final season of the decade saw the Giants get back to their winning ways. The lineup might not have resembled what we saw to begin the decade, but there was still a constant threat that made pitchers worry quite a bit.
And much like many decades before, the Aughts have seen quality talent come through town. The names on this list follow the names Willie McCovey, Robby Thompson, Will Clark, and Matt Williams as some of the best Giants since the team moved to San Francisco.
Now presenting the final segment of the three-part series to close out one decade and begin a new one. These are the San Francisco Giants Infielders of the Decade.
The (Not So) Honorable Mentions
With the good always seems to come the bad.
Some aren't really terrible, but none of them are considered great either. Some of them bring fond memories while others make you turn your head like a confused dog and go "huh?"
Every team has a few of these people come-and-go over the course of time. The Giants are no different. The players that frustrate you to no end, the ones that don't live up to the hype, or the ones you wonder how the heck they get to where they are.
These are those players.
—Edgar Renteria, for his two-year, $18.5 million contract being one of the reasons why the Giants aren't able to spend the money on a big-time hitter they desperately need right now.
—Edwards Guzman, for the random "s" at the end of his first name.
—Damon Minor, for being nicknamed "Tiny" while standing 6'7" tall.
—Kevin Frandsen, for being hailed as the next Robby Thompson, having a hot September in 2007, getting on Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean's bad side, and then finding himself on the outside looking in on the discussion of who will be the Giants' second baseman.
—Jose Castillo, who surprisingly played 112 games in 2008. His biggest contribution to the Giants? Clearing the roster spot when Pablo Sandoval was promoted to the big leagues.
—Neifi Perez, for his high socks and skinny chickens on the bricks in right field.
—Shea Hillenbrand, for being the classic Brian Sabean rent-a-player trade.
—A.J. Pierzynski, for just...yeah.
Brian Sabean seemed to have a thing for gamerific catchers over the age of 30 this decade, didn’t he? Benito Santiago was signed at age 36, Mike Matheny at age 34, and the "youngest" of the group, Molina, at 32.
After a good, not great, 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays,
Whether the fans and Molina liked it or not, Molina was the Giants' cleanup hitter because nobody else fit the billing. And even though he would've been hitting sixth or seventh in most lineups, he put up numbers that trumped anything he had done before he came to San Francisco.
The approach at the plate never changed—in fact, the walks only went down from what he averaged before he put on the orange and black.
Molina was the Giants' RBI leader with 81 and a career-high 95, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Before he came to the Giants, he never had more than 71.
Some of that obviously had to do with hitting cleanup, but it also shows that Molina was a key component to the Giants' offense.
First Base—J.T. Snow
What? You were expecting Dan Ortmeier?
Sorry to disappoint.
Snow’s production wasn’t up to the standards he set towards the end of the decade before. He wasn't the prototypical first baseman that would hit 30 bombs and drive in 100.
With Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent ahead of him in the lineup, Snow didn't have to be another power bat. His power numbers went down—with his 2000 season being his last season of quality run production.
His pre-Pac Bell Park days with the bat were obviously better, but you can’t say the dip in production at the plate effected his pure brilliance with the glove.
Snow will go down in history as one of the best defensive first basemen to ever play the game of baseball. Whether it was pickin' balls out of the dirt and making it look completely easy, throwing a perfect strike to second base on a bunt to start a double play, or diving to his left to prevent a double down the line, Snow was as good as it gets.
In his career, Snow collected six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1995-2000. He is the only first baseman to win Gold Gloves in both the National League and American League.
Second Base—Jeff Kent
There really was only one choice at second base.
Before Kent came to the Giants in 1997, he was putting up decent power numbers in eight seasons with the Blue Jays, Mets, and Indians.
Then Nov. 13, 1996 happened.
After just six weeks on the job, Brian Sabean swung one hell of a blockbuster trade. He sent fan favorite Matt Williams and Trenidad Hubbard to the Cleveland Indians for Kent, Julian Tavarez, Jose Vizcaino, and Joe Roa.
Thing is, Kent wasn't even the key player that the Giants were getting back. Tavarez was. Whoops.
From the day Kent put on the orange and black, he mashed. His six-year stint with the Giants became one of the best offensive displays that a second baseman has ever produced.
How good was he? His average numbers as a Giant:
150 G, 572 AB, 29 HR, 115 RBI, 41 2B, a .297 BA, and a .903 OPS
His best season was the first year the Giants played in Pac Bell Park in 2000 when he won the National League MVP award. His .334 average was fifth in the NL, while he lead all second baseman in HR (33), RBI (125), 2B (41), and OPS (1.021).
Translation—Before he was a Giant, Kent was a good player. When he left the Giants, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame.
He may have donned the Dodger blue to finish out his career, but there is doubting that Kent was one of the best Giants ever.
Third Base—Pablo Sandoval
Okay, so the Panda has only spent a year and change in a San Francisco uniform. That’s obviously not much time to establish yourself as one of the best this decade.
However, when you combine how incredibly good Sandoval has been in his 194-game career in the bigs and who the Giants have had at third this decade (Pedro Feliz is now attempting to win fans over by swinging at sliders a foot off the plate), Sandoval is the pick at the hot corner.
Along with the likes of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Sandoval is the foundation of the Giants for the next decade. Throw in Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and the next wave of prospects, and the next decade will have a more homegrown aspect to it.
Back to what has already been written.
After he crushed the ball in the minors in 2008—hitting .350 with 20 home runs and 96 RBI in just 112 games between High-A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut—Sandoval appeared in 41 games and just kept on hitting. The power numbers weren't as gaudy—just two in 145 at-bats—but Sandoval hit .345 and showed his minor league production was no fluke.
The Panda's first-full year in the bigs was even better. In a lineup that failed to get any offense going, Sandoval was the lone shining star in a lineup full of average hitter—a .330 average that ranked him second in the NL, 25 HR, 90 RBI, and a .943 OPS.
Not bad for somebody who is just 23 years of age.
As San Jose Mercury News beat writer Andy Baggarly put it, "Sandoval has a strike zone the size of the St. Louis Arch." His noes-to-toes approach at the plate is definitely not the norm. Sometimes you want him to take a pitch or two but at the same time you want him to keep doing what he's been doing because it obviously works.
What sets Sandoval apart from most of the free swingers out there is that he can hit the pitches at his shoulders as easily as he can a hanger in the middle of the plate. An ugly looking swing up around the shoulders can turn into a double down the line within seconds.
That is the beauty of Sandoval. An unconventional approach from a one-of-a-kind type of athlete.
And now that he is eating his vegetables, a slimmer Panda will be an even better one. National League pitchers beware.
If you wanted defense, then Omar Vizquel was the easy pick at shortstop. There may never be a better player with the glove to ever don the orange and black
But you can't go wrong with Aurilia. At all.
From 1999-2001, there might not have been a better shortstop with the bat than the Brooklyn native. Aurilia averaged 26 home runs, 85 RBI.
The 2001 season was the crown-jewel of Aurilia's career as a Giant. Manager Dusty Baker moved Aurilia from the lower third of the order to batting second—also known as the wonderful world of hitting in front of Barry Bonds.
He responded with a .324 average, 37 HR, 97 RBI, a career-high .941 OPS, and became only the fourth San Francisco Giant to record 200-plus hits with a league-leading 206 knocks.
Aurilia left via free agency to sign with the Seattle Mariners before the 2004 season. He also spent time with San Diego and Cincinnati before coming back to the Giants in 2007.
The second stint didn't go as well as the first one, but there's no doubting how much Aurilia meant to the Giants during his time with the team.
Oh, before we forget...
His fake bunts were the best in baseball.