San Francisco Giants: Maybe It’s Time for a New Second Baseman

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 01: Joe Panik #12 of the San Francisco Giants prepares to bat during the sixth inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 1, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 01: Joe Panik #12 of the San Francisco Giants prepares to bat during the sixth inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 1, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Joe Panik has been the San Francisco Giants’ regular second baseman since late in the 2014 season, but after three disappointing years, maybe it’s time to move on.

In 2014, Joe Panik seemed to settle a fairly long-standing issue for the San Francisco Giants. After some early struggles in his first big league action, Panik settled in and looked to be, not only the second baseman of the future, but the second baseman of the now.

San Francisco had trouble finding a long-term second baseman before . They had Freddy Sanchez in 2010, but injuries to his back and shoulder limited him to 60 games in 2011 and he never got back to the big leagues before officially retiring in 2015. Marco Scutaro was a catalyst to the 2012 World Series victory and an All-Star in 2013, but he too succumbed to a back injury. He played just five games in 2014, and unofficially retired after that.

Brandon Hicks hit just .162 in 71 games in 2014 after being signed as a minor league free agent. Dan Uggla was then brought in for an infamously disastrous four-game stint with the Giants. He went hitless in 11 at-bats, striking out six times, and committed a pair of errors. He was DFA’d on August 1st, and then the Joe Panik era began.

Panik hit .338/.367/.414 in 49 games after taking over as the everyday keystoner, and did well in the postseason, including his famous diving double play in game seven of the 2014 World Series. He further cemented himself as the team’s second baseman in 2015, hitting .312/.378/.455 in 100 games before a back injury cut his year short.

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Since returning from that back injury, Panik has just not been the same player. In 2016, Panik’s average dipped way down to .239, but he was able to make up for it somewhat by winning the Gold Glove as the National League’s best defensive second baseman. His bat bounced back in 2017, hitting .288 with career-highs with 28 doubles and 10 home runs. His defense wasn’t at the level it was in 2016, though.

2018 saw another dip. He hit .254, and his .307 on-base percentage and .332 slugging percentage were both the worst of his career. The defense, again, wasn’t great either. Since winning the Gold Glove in 2016, he’s been one of the worst defensive second baseman in baseball for the last two years. His -12 defensive runs saved is tied for second-worst among 17 qualified second baseman. His -0.6 UZR/150 is 11th out of 17, and his overall defensive rating of 2.5 is 10th.

There have been highlights for Panik during this disappointing stretch. His walk-off hit in game three of the 2016 NLDS kept the Giants alive during that postseason. He tied a major league record with 12 hits in a three-game series, coming against the Rockies in 2017. He was the offense in the first two games of the 2018 season, hitting solo home runs in two 1-0 wins.

Those moments, however, have been few and far between, and the Giants have been waiting for Panik to return to the form he showed in 2014 and 2015 for three years. He’s been disappointing when he’s been on the field. On average, he’s missed about 40 games per season in his first full four seasons.

Panik is projected to earn $3.5 million in arbitration this year by MLB Trade Rumors (who are normally surprisingly accurate on this), a meager raise for his 2017 salary. It’s a drop in the bucket for a team like the Giants, especially without those larger cap penalties hanging over their heads, but still it’s money that could be better used elsewhere.

The Giants’ new head of baseball operations will have a lot of decisions to make in their first offseason in control, and one of them will be regarding Panik. The incumbent could be traded for a somewhat decent return, and they could dip into the free agent market. DJ LeMahieu and Jed Lowrie could be options, or they could sign a utility player like Marwin Gonzalez and stick him there on most days. Or, if the newly-hired top person commits to a real rebuild, someone like Alen Hanson or Miguel Gomez could be put in that spot.

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The most likely option, though, would be to give Panik that arbitration salary and see what he can do with another season. But Panik hasn’t been getting the job done for a while now, and it might be time to consider going a different way at second base.