Here we are, one full week into the Giants regular season, staring into the face of two of the most stale, yet persistent topics surrounding the team. The situations in the bullpen and left field that were harped on throughout the offseason and spring training continue to dominate the discussion following a 2-5 start to the season.
Say “bullpen” to any San Francisco Giants fan right now and you’ll likely get a clenched fist, a shake of the head, or the single-eye twitch of someone on the verge of mass violence. The sorest of subjects among the fan base for the last 10 months, a first week beset with blown leads has the orange and black faithful on edge to a very August-like degree.
Like it or not however, the Giants bullpen is relatively set for the time being. Aside from the fate of Matt Cain’s position in the rotation and the trickle down effect it will have on guys like Ty Blach, Cory Gearrin, and Steven Okert, barring injury this is the unit San Francisco will likely do battle with for at least the next 6-8 weeks. It will be some mixture of Gearrin, George Kontos and Neil Ramirez in innings 5-7, and Derek Law, Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon at the back end.
The left field situation on the other hand, now seems completely up in the air following a dreadful first week from Jarrett Parker and Chris Marrero, who struggled so badly that Aaron Hill emerged as a candidate to see more time in the outfield. In spite of the organization’s insistence throughout the offseason that the team was looking for one player to seize the majority of innings in left, Parker and Marrero have seen nearly equal playing time, with Hill and Gorkys Hernandez both making appearances in left as well.
Let’s not forget the Giants still have Justin Ruggiano, who missed the cut for the opening day roster playing in Sacramento with Mac Williamson, currently injured but certainly not lost for significant time. And if you believe in miracles, Michael Morse hasn’t conceded retirement just yet.
So naturally, the Giants went out and inked two unemployed veteran outfielders, Drew Stubbs and Melvin (formerly Bossman) Upton Jr., to minor league deals this week. Both 32, with multiple full seasons as starting outfielders under their belts, Stubbs and Upton were not signed to fill holes in a relatively full Sacramento River Cats outfield. The moves signal the organization’s desire to find an answer in left sooner rather than later, perhaps even before Williamson returns to full strength.
Let’s review the candidates one more time, in case you didn’t catch all of that:
-Melvin Upton Jr.
Seven, seven left fielders! Ah ah ah…
And just to really convolute things, there are Giants Twitter GMs floating around hoping to #FreeHwang, or reunite with your mom’s favorite 36 year-old unsigned superstar Angel Pagan.
We know the story with the first five names on the list (we’re at least 80% sure Ruggiano was in Arizona this March), so let’s take a look at the two newcomers: Robert Andrew Stubbs and the artist formerly known as B.J.
Stubbs made his biggest mark in the big leagues during his tenure with the Cincinnati Reds, where he was the starting center fielder for some formidable Reds teams from 2010-2012. Giants fans may recall the 2012 NLDS just a lil’ bit. Drew was there.
Following the 2012 season, Stubbs swapped views of Kentucky for the clearly superior vistas of Lake Erie, when he found himself on the other side of Ohio with Cleveland. He was thoroughly meh with the Indians in 2013, so he set sail for Colorado, where he had his last season as a regular starter with the Rockies. Since then, Stubbs has had cups of Joe with Texas, Atlanta, Baltimore, and most recently this spring with Minnesota, but has failed to gain any traction over the last two seasons.
The book on the former #8 overall pick hasn’t changed much over the years. He can hit a homer here and there, steal a bag here and there, but won’t wow anyone with his defense and will strike out a TON. Like, won’t make contact, at all, for long periods of time. But that doesn’t sound like any of the current Giants left fielders, does it?
As for Upton the Elder, things were looking pretty grim following his departure from Tampa Bay, where from 2007-2012 he established himself as a productive, borderline All-Star caliber player with a combination of speed, power, and outstanding defense. His stint with Atlanta was by all accounts a disaster, as he struggled to hit .200 and saw his power numbers plummet in 2013-14.
A change of scenery to San Diego however, came with a small resurgence for Upton, who saw his average creep up around the .250 range he averaged for the Rays, along with a modest return of some pop. In 2016 he managed to post a 20-20 season for the first time since 2012, his fourth 20-20 year overall. Much of the production came early in the season with the Padres when Upton was seeing regular playing time, his numbers dropped significantly following a midseason trade to Toronto.
Upton spent this spring in Toronto’s camp, but was ultimately a roster casualty when the Jays decided to carry just four outfielders into the regular season.
In several ways Stubbs and Upton are similar players; both have been base stealers with power in the past, both hit lefties fairly well, and both will hit for a low average with plenty of strikeouts. Upton has the upper hand defensively, and for my money is a better bet to provide some form of production at this stage in his career. Stubbs couldn’t crack the Twins roster, so yea.
Will it even matter though? Ruggiano showed flashes of life late in spring, and Williamson still has yet to get a real chance to be an everyday player, but are any of the guys on this lengthy list legitimate starting left fielders? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it. Unfortunately it appears the Giants will need to hang in with this revolving door platoon for the time being, until either someone steps up and takes command of the position or the market develops enough for the team to acquire an established starter.
There you have it social media Giants fans, your itinerary of gripe for the next several weeks. It doesn’t look like this undying question will be answered any time soon.