After dissolving a six-game losing streak on Saturday night, the San Francisco Giants finally regained some positive momentum, but now face the added challenge of overcoming potential lineup-crippling injuries to outfielders Angel Pagan and Michael Morse. The Giants’ lack of bench depth was a presumable issue before the 2014 MLB season began. They’re now forced to deal with that shortcoming, a reality of which could derail their hopes of winning their third World Series title in a span of five seasons.
Giants executives have been politically correct in addressing the team’s recent struggles to members of the media, but it’s time to make more than a single change. The recent call-up of future starting second baseman Joe Panik was a smart decision by general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy. It was also a no-brainer, given Brandon Hicks‘ month-long slump. Hicks owns a .172 batting average, recording just one multi-hit game since May 23. He’s 7-for-62 during that stretch, causing his average to plummet by 28 points.
Panik will assuredly provide the Giants with an influx of energy at the bottom of the lineup. He was batting .321 with 23 extra-base hits and 45 RBIs in 293 at-bats at Triple-A Fresno before earning the call-up. The Giants hope that Panik can place a choke-hold on second base, which would decrease their need to make multiple positional changes via trade this summer. One position the Giants flat out cannot ignore is outfield, especially considering recent back injuries to both Pagan and Morse.
The stiff back phenomenon is rampant among Giants in 2014. Projected starting second baseman Marco Scutaro remains sidelined with a lingering lower back ailment that has forced him to miss the entire season to date. Giants executives have officially ruled out Scutaro as being an everyday player at any point this season, creating an immediate need for Panik to perform at a high level.
Morse is listed as day-to-day whereas Pagan hasn’t played since June 14. His average (.307) has also dropped by 20 points this month, signaling that his stiff back has likely been a problem for a significant amount of time. San Francisco’s run production has taken a dive as of late. They’re averaging 3.82 runs over their past 11 games, losing nine. To compare, the Giants averaged 4.41 runs through their first 63 games, winning 42.
Injuries are inevitable over the course of the 162-game baseball marathon, but being prepared for the worst is seldom achieved. It’s time for the Giants to bust open their crop of minor league prospects and strike a deal for Minnesota Twins power-hitting outfielder Josh Willingham.
The 35-year-old veteran would supply the Giants with pop off the bench. He owns an .896 OPS with six home runs in 100 at-bats this season. He’s also been torrid at AT&T Park throughout his 11-year career, recording a .352 average with 11 extra-base hits, including five home runs, in 54 at-bats. Those numbers are the best that Willingham boasts at any active ballpark in the big leagues (.424 average at RFK Stadium).
The Giants can’t rely on wanna-be big leaguers like wet newspaper “hitter” Juan Perez to pick up the slack in times of need. They need an extra bat on their active roster. Willingham is a proven veteran with the track record to be that guy.