Why San Francisco Giants Veteran Starters Should Be On a Short Leash
The San Francisco Giants head into the 2010 season featuring a lineup with an average age of 31.25.
Six of the eight projected starters will be 32 or older, with only Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz in their 20s.
Last season, the six 32-plus year-olds in San Francisco's projected order posted the following offensive lines:
Bengie Molina, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand, Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa, and Freddy Sanchez will be paid a combined $41 million in 2010.
All six of them will be penciled in as a starter when healthy this upcoming season, but how much better are they then the Giants' younger counterparts at each position?
The truth is the value they bring to the team doesn't supersede the current talent and potential their younger replacements bring to the table.
While Molina may have been a smart signing in terms of need, 4.5 million dollars is much more than he deserves. When you consider the fact that Buster Posey is bound to take over the starting catcher position at some point in the near future, a stop-gap catcher should have been signed to a small two million dollar deal.
Molina showed last season that his body was starting to wear down on him late in the year and his defense especially was suffering most. Since San Francisco doesn't seem willing to try Posey at another position, then Molina shouldn't be the starter for more than half the year.
Posey is almost assuredly going to be knocking the cover off the ball at Triple-A Fresno to begin the season and when that happens the Giants almost certainly will have to make room for him in the lineup.
As for the shortstop position, Edgar Renteria posted an abysmal .635 OPS last season. But to be fair, reports were that all season long he was playing all season long with elbow and shoulder issues.
However, both Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen have proved to provide (at worst) similar offensive numbers to Renteria's '09 marks, while proving to be much quicker and agile in the infield.
Since it is clear the Giants prefer veteran infielder Juan Uribe in the super-utility role, either Burriss or Frandsen should see the majority of playing time at short if Renteria has yet another dismal year at the plate.
With Burriss, the Giants will have a true base-stealing threat they desperately lack going into the season. With Frandsen, the Giants will have a steady .280+ hitter with solid defense.
Now at first base, the Giants currently have Aubrey Huff locked in to play opposite Pablo Sandoval. But does the value Huff brings to the table really that much more than that of Travis Ishikawa?
It is true that Huff sports a career OBP of .340 and a career slugging percentage of .474, but of all the positions he's played, he's appeared most often as a designated hitter.
Defensively at first-base, Huff owns a career -6.8 UZR rating, compared to Travis Ishikawa, who sports a 8.1 UZR rating.
Last season Ishikawa posted an offensive line of a .261/.329/.387/.715. Significantly better than Huff's 09 offensive line of .241/.310/.384/.694.
On fangraphs, multiple projections averaged together predict Ishikawa's OPS to increase to .758.
On the other hand, Huff's averaged projections are for an OPS of .772. While this mark is slightly higher, it isn't higher by a wide enough margin to convincingly state that Huff will bring more value than Ishikawa. Plus, when you add in the gold glove caliber defense Ishikawa brings to the table, one could argue that Ishikawa clearly brings more value to the lineup.
San Francisco needed a definite upgrade offensively for this upcoming season, not a possible/maybe/perhaps offensive upgrade while losing defensive talent in the process.
Center field is once again going to be manned by former gold glover Aaron Rowand who registered an offensive line of .261/.319/.419/.738 last season with a UZR rating of 1.3.
Meanwhile, journeyman Andres Torres posted a 3.1 UZR rating in center field for the Giants last season and posted an offensive line of .270/.340/.533/.876 in 152 at-bats. Obviously those numbers aren't projected to be repeated given Torres' track record but that said, AT&T Park seemed much more suited to Torres' make-up as a player.
As a gap-to-gap hitter with blazing speed, Torres took advantage of the spacious outfields in the NL West both defensively and offensively last season. His averaged projections for next season have him registering a .749 OPS. Meanwhile Rowand's averaged projects have him reaching an identical .749 OPS.
If Rowand is penciled in to hit leadoff anyway, why not have Torres (who actually has base stealing capabilities) at least platoon with Rowand? The projected offensive lines are almost identical but yet Torres adds an extra dimension which Rowand clearly lacks.
Perhaps Torres' projections yield true or maybe he even eclipses his projected numbers. Torres then might be in line for the majority of playing time in center.
And what about Freddy Sanchez's spot at second base? Well, the apparent shoulder surgery might cause him to miss Opening Day and the skeptics are saying it might cause him to miss the entire first half.
Nobody really knows for sure how long he will be out of the lineup, but one thing we do know is that whether it is the bum knee or bum shoulder, Sanchez is quickly entering his mid-30s and his best year's are probably behind him.
Who could step in and contribute given everyday playing time? Just like with Renteria, either Burriss or Frandsen could get the job done defensively. However, offensively Frandsen would be by far the best choice.
For all of the skeptics and Frandsen haters out there, the 27-year-old hasn't been given a strong enough look to really asses his true value for an entire season. His career line may look like .240/.304/.341/.645 but over four seasons he hasn't had more than 264 at-bats in a single year. That season, Frandsen finished with a line of .261/.331/.379/.710.
In the final 31 games during that year (2007), Frandsen hit .367/.425/.561/.986. Since then Frandsen has been regulated to 24 at-bats over two seasons and no more than four games in a row in the starting lineup.
As big of fans as most Giants faithful are of a healthy Freddy Sanchez, the fact is he may just not be healthy enough to produce. And if Frandsen proves his 2007 run wasn't a fluke, the Giants will have a second baseman who can provide the same quality defense and situational hitting in the two hole, all the while being four years younger.
In left field, Mark DeRosa is the best and only option given his spot in the batting order. While I have argued that his signing was a poor choice to hit in the middle of the order, there simply aren't any other viable options. Fred Lewis is absolute train wreck in left field and his offensive production was too inconsistent last season to make up for it.
Prior to the DeRosa signing my preferred platoon in left field included Eugenio Velez along with Torres. However, with the DeRosa in the mix, the left field position is penciled in to hit in the middle of the order. Neither Velez nor Torres provide the same pop to take over if need be. Therefore, of all the everyday veterans, DeRosa's spot in the lineup is by far the safest.
But as for Molina, Rowand, Renteria, Huff, and Sanchez, poor starts to the season should allow for quick changes in the lineup to younger options with more potential.
Why? Because not only can you make the argument that their backups bring more value in the present, but also how their younger age allows them to have longevity in the future.
Even Torres who may only be six months younger than Rowand has more potential upside at this point in his career because his tools better fit NL West ballparks.
Now could Molina have an offensive year closer to that of his 2008 year than his 2009 year? Certainly.
Could Huff have an offensive year closer to his '08 year than his '09 year? Of course.
Can Rowand post his best year as a Giant in 2010? It is certainly possible.
With Renteria in his second straight year back in the NL (where he has spent most of his career) and finally being healthy, perhaps he has an offensive showing reminiscent of his 2007 season with Atlanta. A season like that isn't completely out of the question.
Will Sanchez be healthy enough to play over 120 games? Hopefully he will.
But if none of these look to come true come the end of May, then the younger options ought to take over the majority of playing time.
No more waiting until after July to make the appropriate changes, this team cannot afford to continue hoping that veterans past their prime will be able to turn their seasons around.
Unfortunately, with Bruce Bochy at manager, its almost a sure thing that none of these younger players will get the chance they deserve.
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