Friday, March 25, 2016

Thoughts on Who Are the Indispensable Giants

I already really liked Jessica Mendoza, the former softball player who now does baseball color commentary in the broadcast booth for ESPN.   After last night's broadcast of the Cubs-Giants exhibition game, I absolutely love her.  She has a strong voice that sounds good on TV.  She is smart, knows the game and does her homework.  Last night, she took Aaron Boone, the other commentator in the booth to school on the Giants farm system leaving him more or less sputtering.  Here's how it went(paraphrased):

Boone:  "I feel like the Giants are a team that is more vulnerable to injury than other contending NL teams.  If one of their players goes down with injury, they don't have the depth to replace him that other teams have.

Jessica:  "I'm not so sure about that.  Take Brandon Crawford.  If he were injured, their top prospect is Christian Arroyo who looks like he's about ready to step in and do a great job.  Then there is Mac Williamson who's had a great spring and could step into the outfield.  Remember how a player like Kelby Tomlinson came up and filled in for Joe Panik last year?"

Boone:  "Well, I don't think Arroyo is that close to being ready.  I don't think the Giants would bring him up if Crawford were hurt.  I also feel like Williamson has some parts of his game that need polishing up."

Mendoza mercifully did not ask Boone what he thought would happen to the Dodgers if Clayton Kershaw was injured or to the Cubs if Arrieta or Lester went down.

That exchange got me to thinking:  "Who are the indispensable Giants?"  What players, if they were injured for an extended period, would cause the Giants to fall out of contention for another even-year championship?  Here is the list I came up with:

Buster Posey:  Any list of indispensable Giants has to start with Buster Posey.  He is the best player in baseball at his position.  He gives the Giants the widest positional competitive advantage over every other team, maybe of any position in baseball.  In other words, the difference between Buster Posey and the second best catcher in baseball is greater than the difference between the #1 and #2 at any other position.  We all saw what happened to the Giants 2011 season after Buster was injured.  It is extremely difficult to imagine the Giants competing for a championship in 2016 without Buster Posey starting at catcher.

Hunter Pence:  Pence is not the best RF in baseball.  He is the best Giants OF by a pretty big margin and the hardest one to replace.  Take a look at the Giants W-L record in games he played last year vs games he was out with injury.  I could see Big Mac or Jarrett Parker replacing Angel Pagan in LF and being almost as good or even better.  They would certainly provide more power in the lineup than Pagan.  They might do OK in RF replacing Pence, but it's not something I would count on.  I'll go with Hunter Pence as the second most indispensable Giant.

Madison Bumgarner:  Bumgarner has been the best pitcher on the team for a couple of years now.  The Giants absolutely do not win the 2014 championship without him.  After the additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, if everyone else in the rotation stayed healthy and played up to expectations, the Giants might still be OK.  On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine a successful rotation without Bumgarner leading it.  I'll make Madison Bumgarner the Giants 3'rd most indispensable player.

Brandon Belt:  Brandon Crawford may be a better player than Brandon Belt.  The difference is in who would replace them in case of an injury.  In Crawford's case, the Giants have the aforementioned Kelby Tomlinson and Christian Arroyo.  In Belt's case, they have pretty much nobody.  Kyle Blanks hasn't proven he can stay on the field.  In fact, he's pretty much proven he can't.  Buster Posey could move to 1B, but then that creates a big drop off at the catcher position.  Lack of a reasonable alternative makes Brandon Belt the 4'th indispensable Giant.

Johnny Cueto:  Let's just say the Giants gave Cueto a $130 M contract for a reason.  Bumgarner is still the #1, but if Cueto gets hurt or has a disappointing season, the Giants are in a lot of trouble.  We'll say Johnny Cueto is the 5'th most indispensable Giant.

That is about it:  The Giants have Gregor Blanco backing up Pagan and Span with Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson behind him in LF.  They have Tomlinson and Arroyo in the IF.  They have Chris Heston, Clayton Blackburn and possibly Chris Stratton in case Matt Cain or Jake Peavy get hurt.  With Samardzija it's more whether you would be replacing the 2014 Shark or the 2015 bust.  The projected Samardzija would not be that hard to replace.  The entire bullpen is close to fungible except possibly Hunter Strickland.  The 5 guys the Giants would have the toughest time replacing are Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt and Johnny Cueto, in that order.

Who are your indispensable Giants?


  1. 1. Posey. Not to put too much shine on his apple, but he's clearly on a HOF path. You're lucky to get one or two in any 10-12 year player-career cycle. There is, simply, nobody in baseball that combines his defense and offense at the position.

    2. Bumgarner. He's the Ace with year-in, year-out repeatability. Any replacement for him would be a substantial down-grade and an early season injury would probably cost the Giants at least five wins.

    After that, I'm less sure. Maybe Crawford. Maybe Pence.

    1. If the other 4 members of the rotation pitched up to their capabilities, and that a big if, I think the Giants could survive the loss of MadBum, which is why I think Pence is just a bit more indispensable.

  2. I would add Matt Duffy to the list, mostly because there isn't a solid ready replacement on the bench. I suppose Tomlinson could do it, but he didn't look real comfortable at 3rd to me.

  3. I think the conversation will always start with Buster Posey.Once he got injured, it will always be a massive downgrade for the Giants. The second in my opinion is Pence. I agree to DrB that the loss of Pence in the lineup is more painful than losing Bum because of the players that are next in line for them (the rotation options are greater than the outfield options).

    Posey -> Pence -> Bum -> Belt (losing Belt means playing Posey to 1B and Susac/3rd string to the lineup which is a lineup degrade) -> MIF -> RP

  4. Can't argue with your list. Sadly, we've got: a catcher, a concussion prone player, and a aging outfielder on that list. We're back up about as well as we can be, but it would be very surprising if all 5 stayed healthy the entire year. You have to give Buster and probably aging ironman Pence their rest. And Belt should probably wear a helmet at first and during BP.

  5. she took Aaron Boone to school on the Giants farm system

    I caught that too and fully agree.
    I like Boone, but he whiffed this one.