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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pagan Trade Only Creates Questions

On the surface, the Giants’ trade today for Angel Pagan is perfectly fine. They traded a guy who they likely weren’t going to bring back anyway (Andres Torres) and a solid reliever who’s replaceable (Ramon Ramirez) for a leadoff hitter with speed, something the Giants lacked most of last season. Pagan had a breakout year in 2010, regressed some in 2011 but still managed respectable numbers, and is younger than Torres. He fills a definite need for the Giants, and again, the trade looks good on the surface.

Beneath the surface, though, the trade raises a number of questions. For one, the Giants had already traded for Melky Cabrera earlier in the offseason and had him penciled in as the starting center fielder. Pagan is a much better option there defensively than Cabrera, so logic would dictate Cabrera would shift to a corner spot. Problem is, the Giants have Nate Schierholtz in right and Aubrey Huff’s contract in left. Where does Cabrera play? Would he bump Schierholtz to the bench and weaken the team’s outfield defense in the process? Would he push Huff back to first base and cause Brandon Belt to spend another year shuffling between San Francisco and Fresno? Would he force the Giants to bench Huff and get nothing in return for his massive salary? Or would the Giants actually keep Cabrera in center and make Pagan the fourth outfielder?

Benching Huff is the easiest move, but if he re-dedicates himself to getting in shape and starts to hit the Giants will need his bat in the lineup. Belt is too good of a hitter to ride the bench all year and it’s time for the Giants to commit to him at first base. Schierholtz could be the best defensive right fielder in the game, and the runs he saves in AT&T’s vast outfield are just as important as runs he drives in at the plate. The Giants are counting on Cabrera to be a major part of their lineup, and they don’t have anyone on the roster that can do the things Pagan does. So who sits?

I can’t see them not playing Pagan or Cabrera, considering the assets they gave up to acquire them. A team built around pitching needs their best defensive alignment on the field, so Schierholtz has to play. Huff’s contract will dictate his playing time more than anything, so the Giants will give him every opportunity to hit again. That leaves Belt out in the cold once again, probably even starting the season in Fresno. After his wasted year last year, it’d be a shame to see Belt not get a real chance at keeping a big league job; sadly, that’s the scenario that seems most likely.

Getting Pagan was a good move on the surface. The ramifications of the move, though, won’t fully be felt until spring training. The Giants created a lot of questions for themselves with this move, and I fear the answers they’re going to come up with.

But hey, maybe Belt can learn to play SS while he’s in Fresno. And throw right handed. Now that’s a solution.