Joaquin Arias was once ranked ahead of superstar second baseman Robinson Cano.
When he was traded as a PTBNL to the Texas Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez deal, he was ranked ahead of Ian Kinsler.
Things are different now. Fresh off a one-year deal signed over the weekend worth $.925 million to avoid arbitration with the San Francisco Giants, Arias is just happy to be a reserve middle infielder for the defending World Series champions.
That’s because by most odds, the 28-year old probably shouldn’t even be playing baseball right now. Not after the arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder left him irreparably changed, and unable to use his body to play the game he used to. Until the Giants took a shot at Arias with a minor league contract in 2011, the former top prospect was languishing in the minors after being dumped by several organizations, his career closer to ending than it was ever getting started.
It was in 2012 that he really established himself as someone who could truly be a contributor in the major leagues. Arias played all over the infield, notably filling in for Pablo Sandoval at the hot corner when he went down, and remarkably playing plus-defense ( 8.5 UZR/150) while doing it.
While filling in at short as a platoon-mate for Brandon Crawford, Arias may not have had the same range that he had at a prospect, but he hit like an elite shortstop, posting a .312/.344/.496 triple-slash over 141 at bats in 50 games. A big part of that has to do with his ability to hit lefties – Arias had a .768 OPS against LHP in 2012, while Crawford’s number was at .631. Arias was the go-to guy against southpaws, and he made the most of his opportunity when he got it. In fact, a 1.154 OPS tear over 60 AB in August had many clamoring for him to take over at short on a full-time basis, and the platoon situation was something that manager Bruce Bochy managed all the way into the playoffs.
Going into 2013, that issue may come up again, even if it’d likely be a mistake for the Giants to give Arias full-time at-bats anywhere. That said, whether it’s Crawford’s lack of production, or whether it’s a spell Sandoval from time to time, Arias gives the team a talented platoon piece who can fill in all over the infield, and someone who can be much better than his .693 OPS if used in the right amounts and in the right situations.
At a $.925 million price tag, that’s a bargain for the Giants.
It was a year ago that Arias was given a chance – with no promises – to make the Giants roster. One year later, not only has Arias carved out a niche on this club, he has a championship ring and a new contract to boot.
Even if he’s not Robinson Cano or Ian Kinsler, that’s has to feel pretty good.