SF Giants: 6 Insurance Policies for Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez in 2012
The lack of a legitimate roster alternative to Buster Posey after his late-May injury haunted the Giants for the rest of 2011.
The club desperately missed Posey's run production, ability to control opponents' running games and—perhaps most of all—quiet leadership.
Chris Stewart was adequate defensively. Eli Whiteside was simply inadequate. And no one filled the leadership vacuum.
Both are returning from serious injuries; either could need intermittent rest.
Sabean has limited 2012 budget flexibility anticipating a steep raise for Matt Cain (to $15.3 million), a stratospheric arbitration award to Tim Lincecum (assuming there's no multi-year extension) and increases for Sergio Romo, Jonathan Sanchez and other selected arbitration-eligibles.
Not to mention $32.6 million owed in 2012 to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand.
I've come up with six plausible insurance policies for Posey and Sanchez—three at each position—culled from the Giants' current 40-man roster and farm system and available free agents.
Enjoy. And let's discuss.
Catcher: Chris Stewart
In a year of serially-unpleasant developments in San Francisco, career-minor leaguer Chris Stewart was a pleasant surprise.
Promoted from Triple-A Fresno after Posey's injury, Stewart steadily outperformed Eli Whiteside and eventually forced his way into the lineup as a semi-regular. (Bochy never quite got over Whiteside's clear deficiencies, playing the established back-up even when it stopped making sense)
If the Giants are confident enough to believe Posey can start 120 or so games behind the plate in 2012, Stewart would be a serviceable backup.
While Stewart can't be counted on for much offense—.204 BA/.283 OBP, 10 RBI in 183 PA last season—he'd be more than adequate defensively. Stewart threw out 39 percent of would-be base stealers, a better success rate than Posey's 36 percent prior to his injury.
That, added to his low price tag, makes Stewart the likeliest candidate to stick around as Posey's primary back-up in 2012.
Catcher: Hector Sanchez
Sabean and Bruce Bochy declared Sanchez "not ready" for the big club in 2012. Perhaps they're right.
On the other hand, Sanchez might deserve a longer look in spring training as a plausible backup (or third catcher, should the Giants go that route).
I'm less inclined than Sabean or Bochy to dismiss Sanchez because:
a) Inexperience alone shouldn't disqualify Sanchez,
b) Sanchez offers a left-handed bat off the bench, something the Giants lacked in 2011, and
c) While he didn't blow anyone away during his late-season call up, Sanchez's numbers (.258 BA, 29 percent of base stealers thrown out) weren't bad, albeit based on a small sample size
I'm not making a strong case for Sanchez here as much as questioning Sabean and Bochy's quick dismissal of him as an option.
Youth, you know, isn't necessarily a vice.
Speaking of youth, keep an eye on Andrew Susac, the club's second round pick in last year's amateur draft. The Giants handed him a $1.1 million signing bonus; that's a strong vote of confidence.
By signing late, Susac missed mid-summer rookie ball but is playing in the fall Arizona instructional league.
Catcher: Henry Blanco
Henry Blanco may re-sign with Arizona—he and the D-Backs hold a mutual $1.15 million option for 2012 with a $250,000 buyout clause—but if not, he'd be an attractive free agent option for the Giants.
Blanco brings numerous attributes that ought to interest San Francisco:
-Power (eight HR in 112 PA last season as Miguel Montero's primary backup)
-Good arm (throwing out 46 percent of base stealers in 2011)
-Age (he'll be 40 next season)
By the way: the age thing was a joke. Sort of. We all know how much Sabean and Bruce Bochy love vets.
There are other guys fitting Blanco's profile in the 2012 crop of free agents. The Dodger's Rod Barajas, for one. But since he's four years younger than Blanco, I deem him less desirable to Sabean.
Another age joke. Sort of. Haha.
Second Base: Brandon Crawford
Before questioning the sanity of this suggestion, consider that:
-Brian Sabean has already declared Jeff Keppinger "...possibly a luxury item," implying that the Giants might allow the mid-season acquisition from the Astros to walk rather than offering him salary arbitration
-Sabean has also implied that he may sign a veteran shortstop (check out these free agent options yourself; not an especially pretty picture)
That would leave Sanchez at 2B, Mystery Man at SS, no obvious candidate to back up either of them, and Crawford without a position.
Hence, this idea.
While little has been said about Sanchez's health status, we know that the surgical repair was to his right (throwing) shoulder. He's simply too brittle to be counted on to play a full (healthy) season.
On the Giants' current 40-man roster, Crawford and Emmanuel Burriss are the most plausible candidates to return as middle-infield alternatives. The other possibilities—Orlando Cabrera, Mike Fontenot and Keppinger—are older and would be costlier to retain.
If Crawford isn't the starting shortstop—still imaginable, depending on his progress in winter ball and what else the club does to fortify its lineup—he's clearly their best internal option as a reserve middle-infielder.
Far preferable, in my opinion, to Burriss.
Second Base: Jamey Carroll
Among free agent candidates as middle-infield insurance, Jamey Carroll has everything the Giants could want:
-Even at age 37, he appears capable of sustained productivity. For the Dodgers in 2011 he was more productive and durable (.290 BA, .359 OBP, 47 BB/58 SO in 146 games) than Jeff Keppinger (.277 BA, .300 OBP, 12 BB/24 in 93 games).
He was also cheaper ($1.8 million, to Keppinger's $2.3 million).
If Keppinger is too rich for Brian Sabean's tastes, perhaps Carroll would be also. On the other hand, signing Carroll would be a small blow to the Dodgers, who might want Carroll around for another year or so while waiting for top prospect Justin Sellers to mature.
Sabean also may have slightly more financial flexibility than former protege Ned Colletti has in L.A., an utterly dysfunctional, destabilized environment.
Second Base: Aaron Miles
Aaron Miles is a variation on the same (Carroll) theme.
Like Carroll, Miles is unsigned for 2012. Like Carroll, he's a a versatile infielder who put up decent offensive numbers in 2011.
With 45 RBI in 2011, Miles was a far better run producer than Carroll (17 RBI). He'd be a fine fit for the Giants.
Three years younger than Carroll, Miles might present a bigger risk for San Francisco; injuries shelved him for half of the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
While Carroll could back up both middle infield spots, Miles could capably fill in at 2B or 3B, freeing Pablo Sandoval to play 1B on occasion.
He's in line for a decent raise in 2012, but shouldn't be too rich for the Giants' tastes unless he demands a multi-year deal.