The San Francisco Giants face a decision in the coming days on which player to demote when they activate Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list. Coming into this weekend, the answer seemed to be pretty obvious; Nick Noonan would go back down to get regular at-bats in Triple-A. But with the success Noonan has had, and the general lack of opportunity for fellow utility infielder Tony Abreu, the decision may be a bit more complicated than initially assumed.
Throughout the past two weeks, the Giants have dealt with injuries to both Brandon Crawford and Marco Scutaro, and have continued to trot out different players while compensating for Sandoval’s absence. With Abreu having recently joined the team, the assumption was that he would get a quality opportunity to play. He did pick up several starts at second while Scutaro was hurt and put together some quality at-bats. However, his playing time has slowly decreased since then. Since Scutaro returned Tuesday, Abreu has only received one start, coming at third while Joaquin Arias shifted to short. His bat has cooled off as well, as he was one for his last 10 coming into Saturday’s game with his average down to .276.
Meanwhile, Noonan has started all three games at third base during the Giants’ series against the Miami Marlins, and has capitalized on the opportunity. After a rough stretch at the plate, Noonan is now 6-for-24 since his brief demotion and prompt recall from Fresno. In addition, he has flashed spectacular defensive skill at third, an area in which he clearly has an advantage over Abreu. While it is conceivable that manager Bruce Bochy has played Noonan more in an effort to keep him in a rhythm, it would seem that if he thought Abreu was the better player, he would be starting him, or at least splitting their time evenly.
If the Giants care about retaining Abreu, they would be taking a risk by keeping Noonan following Sandoval’s return. Abreu is out of options and therefore would have to pass through waivers to return to the minors, while Noonan is a rookie and could be optioned without consequence. That being said, it seems that Abreu’s knee is still preventing him from being able to play on a daily basis, and the Giants could place him on the 15-day disabled list to clear a spot for Sandoval if they so desired.
If the Giants are going to make their decision strictly based on who is the better player, Noonan seems to serve as a better option off the bench. He is superior to Abreu defensively and has shown a knack for taking good at-bats, even if they don’t always result in hits. While Abreu is the better all-around hitter, he is more impatient at the plate. In addition, he is a serious downgrade from Noonan as a third baseman, and probably does not have the range to play shortstop like Noonan is capable of doing.
While it is a bit soon for the Giants to be giving up on him or pushing him to the backburner, it would not be surprising to see the Giants remove Abreu, not Noonan, from the roster when Sandoval ultimately is activated.