The San Francisco Giants made yet another cut from their spring training roster on Sunday, making a surprisingly early move to release infielder Tony Abreu.
Abreu had struggled this spring, going just 7-for-39 (.179) at the plate. He wasn’t anything special in the field, either, committing two errors in 31 chances at second base while spending just two innings at third base. The 29-year-old had some good moments during 2013, highlighted by a month of June which saw him hit .325 over 40 at-bats, but those ultimately were not enough to overshadow the negatives in his play.
His most prominent issue was his failure to fully recover from a lower-body injury which he sustained early in spring training last year. It kept him away from baseball entirely until June, and even when he returned he never healed enough to where he could play in back-to-back games on a consistent basis. It caused him to be placed back on the disabled list in late July, and though he recovered enough to return at the end of the year, it was easy to see both last September and this spring that it continued to affect his defensive range.
While Abreu previously had seen extensive time at shortstop and third base, he was limited almost exclusively to second base during his Giants career. Conversely, his primary opponents in his battle to make the roster this spring were much more versatile: Ehire Adrianza is proficient at second in addition to his primary position of shortstop, while Brandon Hicks can play second, short, and third.
Adrianza had more or less already locked up a roster spot with his strong defense and power-hitting skills this spring, but Hicks faced a much more uphill climb to make the roster, so Abreu’s release is huge for him. The 28-year-old, who has played in 55 MLB games over three seasons, was brought in as a non-roster invitee who was projected to provide depth in the minors, but by hitting .432 with three homers and 11 RBI, he became impossible to ignore.
As things stand now, it would seem that the only person standing between Hicks and a big-league roster spot is starting second baseman Marco Scutaro, who has just two at-bats and two innings in the field this spring. He’s been held back by a sore back, though he continues to say that he’s making an effort to get back as quickly as possible, it would be rather impractical for the Giants to try to prepare him to play in the opener. That would require them sacrificing the disabled list retroactivity that he has built up by sitting out of Cactus League games, meaning that if he gets close to ready but isn’t quite there, he would have to risk sitting out as many as two weeks unnecessarily. If he tries to prepare for the season by participating in minor-league spring training games, he would be facing rather inferior competition due to the fact that most teams wait until the conclusion of the spring to send out most of their Triple-A pitchers.
With Abreu gone and Scutaro questionable, the most logical course of action would seem to be starting the season with Hicks and Adrianza on the big-league roster as backup infielders, with Joaquin Arias serving as the primary second baseman. While that might not seem desirable at face value, Arias is hitting .278 as a starter during his career compared to .233 off the bench, so he should fit into the lineup rather well, at least for the time being.