Bruce Bochy told the beat writers at Chavez Ravine some bad news for the Giants’ postseason chances. Angel Pagan, who has already missed 60 games this season due to a variety of ailments, will have surgery on the most problematic part of his body: his back.
The surgery will keep Pagan out of action for three months, but he’ll need all the recovery and rehab time he can get heading into 2015.
Pagan was arguably the team’s best player in April, mixing power and contact hitting with his standard speed, to go along with some stronger-than-usual defense in center field. The Giants soared to the top of the standings, and Pagan’s production stayed solid in May. Then June hit, and the Rockies came to town for a series that pretty much ruined everything that could’ve been great about this season. The Giants lost three late leads, then-closer Sergio Romo lost his way and the Giants lost Pagan (whose played horrible defense in that series) in the process to a back injury that sounded relatively minor from our vantage point. However, it’s clear based on today’s news that Pagan was in a significant amount of pain over the last three-plus months.
The loss of Pagan means Gregor Blanco will start and probably lead off the rest of the way, with the other outfield plate appearances getting divvied up between Juan Perez (who’s starting in left field tonight), Chris Dominguez (a natural third baseman), Travis Ishikawa (a natural first baseman) and Gary Brown (who so far has accumulated big league service time as Hunter Pence’s bongo drum).
Three months sounds good, but in reality the future for Pagan is murky. Two more years and $21.5M remain on his deal, and an already injury-prone center fielder and leadoff hitter who’ll be 33 next season isn’t guaranteed to bounce back from back surgery like nothing happened. No one is, really. Back surgery isn’t like a knee arthroscopy. A neurologist with a strong Russian accent told me a few years back after an MRI that “you have … very bad back for someone your age,” but his recommendation was to avoid surgery as long as humanly possible. Granted, I alleviate a lot of my pain by walking everywhere I go and standing up while writing whenever possible — I’m not trying to cover ground in the AT&T Park outfield, swing hard from both sides of the plate and steal the occasional base.
The Giants are 56-35 in games Pagan started this year and 29-36 in the rest, and today he joins Matt Cain and Marco Scutaro on the list of Giants veterans who’ve sustained season-ending injuries. Throw in Brandon Belt (100 games missed) and one can see how Joaquin Arias will finish seventh on the team in games played (he’s at 103, currently). Michael Morse comes in sixth at 131, and he’s still dealing with an oblique injury. It’s pretty difficult to field a team of capable hitters and fielders who can be counted on to play over 145 games per year, possibly in part because drug testing standards actually exist now. Pablo Sandoval is second on the team behind Pence with 151 games played so far, so remember that if/when the Giants make a much larger offer to the 28-year-old third baseman than many are expecting.
We’ll also see if the Giants do more to add outfield depth before next season. Anyone could’ve looked at the outfield — Pagan, Pence, Morse and Blanco, with Perez and Colvin as reinforcements — and noticed where things could go wrong with such a top-heavy setup. With Morse likely headed elsewhere (like, the American League) and Pagan coming off back surgery, you can add “outfielder(s)” to the Giants’ list this offseason. As for the 2014 postseason, the Giants will deserve an emphatic salute if they can advance without perhaps their most irreplaceable player.