I get it. After the near-legendary post-trade performance Marco Scutaro put up for the San Francisco Giants, and the follow-up run in the playoffs that practically made him a folk hero, what else was the team going to do?
That they signed the 37-year old through age-40 with a three-year, $20 million contract was one of the most predictable decisions for the Giants to make in the off-season.
But how will their faith in the second-baseman be rewarded in 2013?
It will seem like a long time ago, but there was a time where Scutaro wasn’t hitting .362 and getting on base at a ludicrous .385 clip as he did with the Giants: namely, his entire career.
Yes, despite the feel-good story of Scutaro’s career revival, the fact of the matter that there was something to revive to begin with, and that was a less-heartwarming .271/.324/.361 triple slash with the Colorado Rockies in the first half of the season that got him traded to begin with.
Unless you truly believe that Scutaro has hit a second gear in his late 30s, a regression is inevitably coming in 2013 – the only question is a matter of degrees.
Fortunately for the Giants, because of his skill set, the floor is set to a rather comfortable level. Scutaro has been at least a 2.4 fWAR player over the last five years, and his incredible contact rate means that he’s not going to make very many outs, even though he doesn’t draw walks.
That said, because of his run-of-the-mill defense, the performance at the plate is what will ultimately determine his value. At his .859 OPS peak? He’d be a bargain if that could be sustained over three years. Conversely, if he regresses to the .684 OPS hitter he was with the Rockies, the Giants might find soon find themselves with another Aubrey Huff problem.
Scutaro has a number of skills that combine to make him a very good utility player that doesn’t hurt the team, and for 95 games in 2012, those skills were diminishing, as he was headed toward what would have been one of his worst season in years.
The Giants are banking on the fact that his contact rate means it won’t happen in 2013, but usefulness is a fine line, especially for aging players. Scutaro’s contact rate is going to mean little if he can’t retain his doubles power, and his batting average is going to need a little bit of help from the baseball gods to soften the crash from an unbelievable .366 BABIP.
Just because he was a second-half/playoff hero, doesn’t mean it will stay that way. If Scutaro can’t follow up the coming years with a 2.0 fWAR season, the final two seasons of his contract are going to quickly become a point of contention for the team.