As spring training winds down and Opening Day draws near, the San Francisco Giants look to be in good shape. The starting rotation has looked solid all spring, and its members look set to have strong seasons. The core hitters of the Giants’ starting lineup – Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Pagan, and Pence – also appear ready for the regular season. The only question mark that remains is at second base.
The 38-year-old Marco Scutaro has been the Giants’ starting second baseman since he was acquired from the Rockies at the 2012 trade deadline. Expected only to be a depth player, Scutaro proved to be a revelation, becoming a core component of the Giants’ identity in their magical World Series run. He took his game a step further in the playoffs of 2012, winning the NLCS MVP award after batting .500 in the Giants’ series win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
However, after signing a three-year extension with San Francisco, Scutaro has shown signs of breaking down. Last season, he was plagued by a myriad of nagging injuries, including a mallet finger and a bad back. He was able to play through the pain throughout the season, finishing with a .297 batting average and a .357 on-base percentage. While these are solid numbers for a No. 2 hitter in the lineup, it should be noted that Scutaro batted only .262 with a .339 on-base percentage after the mallet finger injury.
After seeing a back specialist in Los Angeles and strengthening his core and back muscles over the offseason, Marco Scutaro is once again struggling with chronic back pain and has yet to appear in a spring training game. With Opening Day drawing closer and closer, Scutaro still reportedly feels pain while swinging and even while sitting. The Giants must come to terms with the fact that they will likely not have their starting second baseman to begin the season and, possibly, a lot longer.
With Scutaro likely beginning the season on the disabled list, the battle for the backup infielder spot becomes all the more important. Joaquin Arias has been a very capable bench player for the Giants in the last two years. With his excellent defense, his versatility, and his ability to impact the game with his bat, Arias seems to be the most logical in-house option to fill in for Scutaro. There are currently three players battling for the remaining backup infielder spot – Ehire Adrianza, Tony Abreu, and Brandon Hicks.
Adrianza is the youngest of the three and has minimal major league experience. Yet despite his inexperience, Adrianza has been a prospect that has worked his way up the Giants’ minor league ladder, proving to be a defensive wiz and a decent switch-hitter. Tony Abreu has the most major league experience of the three and was with the Giants all of last season. With Abreu, you know what you are getting – a solid, yet unspectacular veteran. Brandon Hicks is the dark horse in this race. He has bounced around the league since he debuted in 2010. He has noticeable pop in his bat, evidenced by his home run against Clayton Kershaw during the spring, but he has never proven to be a reliable hitter for average.
Giants fans would likely complain of the lack of viable options within the organization to replace Scutaro in the short-term. Aside from Adrianza, none of the backup infielders spark any kind of excitement. But at this point, none of the available free agent second basemen spark excitement either. Second base is, after all, one of the shallowest positions in terms of talent in baseball. If the Giants really want to upgrade their options at the position, it would have to be by way of trade.
As of now, the two second basemen that would provide a significant upgrade that the Giants may be interested in are the Reds’ Brandon Phillips and the Mets’ Daniel Murphy. Phillips is the more touted one, having been a perennial Gold Glover and Silver Slugger at the position for the last several years. He is likely out of reach for San Francisco unless they are willing to unload multiple top prospects. Daniel Murphy is an intriguing option. He is one of the Mets’ better hitters, but the Mets are also in the middle of a rebuilding project. Murphy would likely net them several prospects to focus their rebuild around.
Realistically, I don’t see the Giants making any move to acquire any help at second base outside of the organization. While Scutaro’s chronic back issues are alarming, until there is legitimate concern over his ability to play at all this season, Scutaro is the man. Joaquin Arias is a capable substitute at the position and will even provide better defense than Marco. As long as Scutaro’s condition does not worsen, the San Francisco Giants should feel comfortable with their in-house prospects.