Angel Pagan has a bulging disc in his back, and the Giants hope an epidural injection today will help speed along the
healing pain-tolerance process. Pagan has already received multiple injections since the beginning of June, and the Giants know from experience how tricky back problems can be.
Pagan — in a development that has to be incredibly frustrating to several members of the team and front office, given his health history — is now considered the team’s most vital cog. And as we all know by now, a little Gregor Blanco goes a long way, but a Blanco a day keeps the playoffs away.
The Giants have three outfield spots (breaking news), and one is filled by this year’s savior, Hunter Pence. Really, where would this team be without Pence, who leads the team in WAR, wOBA and runs (the latter by a really wide margin — Pence has scored 60 runs, the next closest is Pablo Sandoval with 39)? But even though he’s the team’s new leadoff hitter starting this afternoon, PENCE IS ONLY ONE MAN.
The other four outfielders on the active roster are Michael Morse, Tyler Colvin, Juan Perez and Blanco. The last three players are reserves and shouldn’t be scrutinized like starters. There’s a contingent of folks who seem to take joy in blaming Blanco for the team’s recent malaise, which is ridiculous. He’s a near-perfect fourth outfielder in the National League, and he’s paid ($2.5 million this year) as such.
Pagan is being paid to start, and to a lesser extent so is Morse. The latter is who I’d like to focus on here, as he’s been a drain on the lineup for four weeks and counting.
Morse’s last 28 days: 23 games (22 starts), .241/.294/.291, two runs, three RBI, four doubles, no home runs, three walks, 19 strikeouts.
Morse’s nickname is the Beast, but lately he’s been Marshawn Lynch without the Skittles. This isn’t surprising. Morse has played in 82 of the team’s 84 games, with 78 starts (he isn’t starting this afternoon’s series finale against the Cardinals after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in last night’s 2-0 loss). He already has 300 plate appearances, just 37 fewer than he had last season and over two-thirds his total in 2012 (430).
This isn’t hindsight, either. I brought up how the Giants were probably overusing Morse over a month ago.
Michael Morse hasn’t had one day off yet. Yes, the same guy who’s played over 102 games in a season all of one time (146 games for Washington in 2011). He’s not Hunter Pence. He needs days off. Not a day off. Days.
I asked Bochy today if Morse (who’s starting tonight at first base) could be in line to get a day off soon.
“Yeah, no question. I check on him probably as much as anybody. I called him yesterday. He’s honest. He’ll let us know. He could get a day tomorrow, we’ll see. He feels great. What’s helping is he was coming out of a lot of games in the sixth inning. So we were getting him off his legs. But since he’s gone to first and making that position change, it’s a little tougher on the body, I think. I really do. Playing first base, you’ve got get up and down more. You’re breaking to the bag. You’ve got more on your plate. He’s playing nine innings there, so it’s important that we give him a day here and there.”
Since then, Morse has gotten three days off. One of those days — June 1 in St. Louis — came after Morse fouled a ball off his foot.
With Brandon Belt returning on Friday, there won’t be any opportunities for Morse to play first base (where he has generally started and played complete games since Belt’s thumb injury). Bruce Bochy will probably go back to relieving Morse of his left field duties in the later innings, but there’s clearly a potential problem here.
The Giants need an outfielder who is better than Colvin (who’s actually been OK, although the Giants were probably hoping for more dingers after he hit one in his first start of the season) and Perez (a fringe player). That’s because doing nothing and hoping for Pagan to return doesn’t just expose Blanco’s shortcomings, it also increases the odds that the Giants get below average production from two outfield spots throughout the second half of the season.
Past history and present performance tell us Morse is either playing through an injury or will sustain one at some point. The Giants know this.
Here comes the hard part
The pitchers — the starters, anyway — are holding up their end of the bargain after a rough stretch in mid-June. The situation at second base is decidedly less than optimal, although Marco Scutaro has been playing a few innings here and there with the Giants’ rookie squad.
Brian Sabean recently talked to CSN Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor about the team’s roster weaknesses, as well as their situation vis a vis (to use an oft-used Sabes phrase) the current trade market.
“The fact of the matter is, I can’t click my heels and make a trade. I can’t dip down into the minor leagues. We’ve played our cards with Panik and Duvall, and God bless them, but they’re not ready to be here. It’s an impossible, frustrating place to be in, but it starts with what you have at hand, which is the roster and the deck that you’re playing with.”
You’ve got to love Sabean’s honesty … unless you’re Joe Panik or Adam Duvall, and you’ve barely gotten your feet wet before the GM tells the world you aren’t yet major leaguers.
“You’re in a negative, negative leverage situation as far as the trade market. Our feelers are out. There’s probably more hype and banter than there is actually players on the market. I’ve said it over and over — we’re in a very difficult situation with the free agents to be that we have at the end of the season. To expect a high ticket item to come in and rescue the day or be folded into next year’s budget is probably not realistic. We’re going to have to do this incrementally and it starts with the roster we have at hand, then secondarily getting players off the DL.”
This is Sabean cooling our jets, or at least attempting to shut down questions regarding potential trades with a few weeks to go before the non-waiver deadline on July 31. With the expanded wild card and so much money at stake (and the associated pressures from fans, media and each team’s local TV network), teams are more hesitant than ever to sell off well-known players this early.
So the Giants aren’t going to land Giancarlo Stanton (or even Michael Bourn), but unless Pagan gets back to full strength quickly, they’ll need to consider making a 2010-like midseason acquisition (unless they suddenly decide to trust Gary Brown or Darren Ford, and Ford isn’t even on the 40-man). They grabbed Pat Burrell off the waiver wire that season in late May, and poached Cody Ross off waivers near the end of August. If the Giants are seriously reluctant to take on any big salaries past 2014, they’d better hope teams part ways with similar players in the coming weeks.