San Francisco Giants: 5 Things They Must Do in the Wake of Buster Posey's Injury
In roughly one year, Buster Posey, along with Tim Lincecum, has become the face of the franchise for the Giants. The question has been raised several times whether it's wise to continue to have Posey play the catcher position because of the wear and tear on his body.
Posey has been hit in the head with several foul tips this season, and there have been worries about concussions. The Giants were acutely aware of the dangers of head shots because their former catcher Mike Matheny's career was ended due to the effects of concussions.
Now, however, due to the vicious hit he took from Scott Cousins, Posey had surgery and will be out for the rest of the season.
We have all seen the play by now, so I won't rehash that, except to say that under the current rules, it was a legal hit by Cousins. The question of whether the rules need to change is a legitimate one and should be discussed by Major League Baseball.
Posey's left leg has been mangled with a broken fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle. Hopefully, Posey will be able to make a full and complete recovery, but it will take a long time.
Prior to Posey's injury, I felt like the Giants' chances to make the playoffs were about 75 to 80 percent. That has now dropped to 50-50 at best.
The damage is done. Now the Giants must decide what to do and how to strengthen their team. Here's a look at how they can still play winning baseball and make the playoffs.
5) Acquire a Veteran Catcher
The Giants must acquire a veteran catcher. Eli Whiteside is a decent backup, but he cannot be counted on to be a solid everyday catcher.
Whiteside is a solid defensive catcher, and San Francisco pitchers have confidence throwing to him. However, he has never been an everyday player in the majors, and it's highly unlikely that he can perform to that level. Whiteside is a weak offensive player, and the Giants will need more than he can give.
Chris Stewart, who was just called up from the Giants' AAA affiliate in Fresno, is simply not good enough for the majors. He is a good receiver and defensive catcher, but his offense is very weak.
Stewart is 29 years old and has played sparingly in the majors briefly since 2006. His career batting average is .188. This year, while playing for Fresno, Stewart was hitting only .221 before being called up. Last year, in Portland, Stewart hit only .248.
There are some reasonable options available that can combine with Whiteside and give the Giants some stability. Ivan Rodriguez is not in the Nationals' long-term plans, and he would provide a veteran presence for the Giants. At age 39, the Giants would also not need to pay a whole lot for Pudge.
Ronny Paulino of the Mets, who is splitting time with Josh Thole, is someone to consider. Paulino's contract is up at the end of this year, and he could be available. He is a career .275 hitter and would bolster the offense at the catcher position for the Giants.
Bengie Molina is another option, although I seriously doubt that GM Brian Sabean would go this route. Molina has not played this year and probably is not in very good shape. My guess is that there would be a fairly lengthy period needed to get Molina up to speed and ready to contribute.
The one thing I am confident about is that Whiteside and Stewart will not provide the Giants with enough offense.
4) Give Brandon Belt Regular Playing Time
The Giants offense is struggling, their seven-run Memorial Day outburst against St. Louis notwithstanding. Even with Buster Posey, the Giants were not scoring a lot of runs, and in the first four games after Posey's injury the Giants scored only seven total runs and were shut out twice.
Brandon Belt has proved he can hit in the minors. In 2010, he batted a cumulative .352 across three levels in the minors. Then, after starting the season sluggishly in San Francisco, Belt returned to AAA Fresno and was hitting .337 when he was recalled to the majors.
The time is now to insert Belt into the lineup and give him regular at-bats. He is a natural first baseman but had been playing left field during his stint in Fresno. Belt would replace Pat Burrell, who has not produced in left field, and can also spell Aubrey Huff at first base.
The Giants sorely need to ignite their moribund offense, and perhaps Belt can help energize them. Now is the time to find out.
3) Acquire a Veteran Shortstop
The shortstop position has been an issue all season for the Giants. Miguel Tejada has not been hitting, and his defense has been very poor.
Tejada has been starting at third base for the Giants due to the injury to Pablo Sandoval. However, Sandoval will be back in another week or two, and if he's healthy, he will take over at third base.
Mike Fontenot had been playing a solid shortstop defensively, but his offense has been inconsistent. Fontenot is a valuable player and is ideally suited to a utility role.
Emmanuel Burriss is seeing some playing time at shortstop and is an average defensive player at best. Like Fontenot, I believe he is best suited for a utility role, not being an everyday starter.
Rookie Brandon Crawford has helped the Giants win two games with his bat and is an excellent fielder. Crawford is major-league-caliber defensively, but it remains to be seen if he can continue to contribute offensively.
Prior to joining the Giants, due to Fontenot's injury, Crawford had never played above AA ball, and his career batting average is only .270 in the minors. It will only be a matter of time before big-league pitchers find some holes and we see Crawford's offensive productivity drop.
If the Giants can somehow acquire Jose Reyes from the cash-strapped Mets without giving up Zach Wheeler or Brandon Belt, they must do it. If the Giants feel confident they can sign Reyes to a long-term deal, I would also be willing to give up Wheeler, but only if a long-term deal is a virtual certainty.
I have a strong feeling that the Mets will demand too much from the Giants and GM Brian Sabean won't make a deal for Reyes. Assuming that is correct, I believe the next best option that would also be cost-effective is Jack Wilson.
Jack Wilson is unhappy in Seattle, and the Mariners are not happy with him either. Wilson is a fine defensive player, and I believe will be energized to play for a contender. He will also be reunited with and playing alongside his close friend Freddy Sanchez, also a former Pirate.
Shortstop is a huge weakness in the Giants lineup, and I believe they need to address this as soon as possible.
2) Key Existing Players Must Step Up
The San Francisco Giants have several key performers that have not lived up to their potential in 2011.
Two core players that the Giants are counting on must start producing or the Giants will not go far this year. First and foremost is Aubrey Huff, who is mired in a season-long slump.
Huff hit .290 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI in 2010. He was one of the primary reasons the Giants won the World Series last year. 2011 has been a totally different year and a disappointment thus far.
Huff is hitting only .219 with four homers and 23 RBI. The most telling statistics are his OBP at .385 and SLG of .506 in 2010, compared with .280 and .344 in 2011. The Giants desperately need Huff to get hot and stay hot the remainder of the year.
Cody Ross was the MVP of the NLCS last year, as he continually hammered the Phillies with his bat. Ross is a notoriously streaky hitter, and the Giants need him to get hot and turn his season around.
Ross hit .294 with five homers and 10 RBI in the postseason last year. He also hit .288 for San Francisco during the 2010 regular season. Thus far in 2011, Ross is hitting only .234. He has started to show some positive signs at the plate, and the Giants are hoping to see one of his hot streaks happen right now.
In addition to Huff and Ross, the Giants need Pablo Sandoval to come back strong when he returns in another week or two. Sandoval was the Giants' best hitter early in the year, prior to his injury.
Sandoval was hitting .313 when he went on the DL and had five home runs and 15 RBI during the first month of the season. Very alarming is the fact that although Sandoval has missed the entire month of May, he is still tied for the team lead in home runs with five.
1) Pitching Must Continue to Excel
The strength of the Giants is their pitching. It is what carried them last year and what must do so again in 2011.
The Giants have five very good starters now that Ryan Vogelsong has replaced Barry Zito, who has been out with an injury. Zito will be returning soon, but now there appear to be no spots available in the rotation.
I personally would like to see the rotation remain Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Vogelsong. These five give the Giants the best chance to win, and with the offense performing the way it has all season, inserting Zito back into the starting rotation would be a mistake.
In order for the Giants to reach the postseason, they must get very strong contributions from their starters.
The bullpen features arguably the top closer in baseball along with talented arms from both the left and right sides. A key pitcher that must find himself and begin throwing the ball better is Jeremy Affeldt. The left-handed reliever is important in order for the Giants to avoid overworking the other lefty, Javier Lopez.
There are no real weak links in the bullpen, so it will also be difficult to see Barry Zito playing a vital role unless someone falters or is hurt.
The Giants' pitching has no margin for error, especially with Posey gone.
The Giants Have a Chance, but It Won't Be Easy
The Giants have suffered an incredible string of injuries this year. Even with the run of bad luck, they are five games above .500 and in second place in the NL West.
Missing significant playing time this year already are Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Fontenot, Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Barry Zito, Santiago Casilla and Brian Wilson. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has had his hands full juggling the roster and trying to keep the Giants winning.
If the Giants can stay healthy the rest of the season, make a couple of vital moves and get contributions across the board, they do have a chance to make the playoffs again. Once in the playoffs, with their pitching, the Giants can beat anyone, as they proved last year.