PHOENIX — Tis the season for rumors, and all sorts of scenarios have been floated regarding the Giants’ third base position. San Francisco has said Eduardo Núñez is their man, but that has not stopped the chatter. Some are further from reality than others.
The Kung Fu Panda has three rings. The Giants do not have a power bat at third base.
Sandoval’s return would make a tiny bit of sense until you consider that he is owed $59 million through 2019, that he played three games last year after undergoing left elbow surgery, and that he took several shots at the Giants after signing a five-year, $95 million free agent deal with Boston following the Giants’ 2014 World Series title.
In his prime, even slightly above fighting trim, Sandoval helped anchor the lineup.
That was then.
Giants general manager Bobby Evans told MLB.com that he was unaware of “any consideration for a reunion.” He should know.
Catcher Buster Posey has been mentioned as a possible candidate to play third base, but that speculation ignores not only the discomfort factor involved in moving a 29-year old catcher to a different position but also the Giants’ general bent toward putting defense on the field.
Posey has played only catcher and first base in his nine-year professional career, and moving him would be counter-productive.
As the Giants prepared for the winter meetings, they have made it clear that 2016 trade deadline acquisition Núñez is their starting third baseman. If there is any movement on that front, it is likely to remain on the back burner until the Giants accomplish their stated primary task of adding a closer.
Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon are the prime free agent closers available, with former Kansas City closer Greg Holland as a fall-back option after returning from an arm injury.
The Giants’ offensive issue is not at third base, anyway.
Last season, it could be traced to injuries.
The Giants have not suffered from the loss of Sandoval, and the numbers seem to bear that out. They scored 665 runs in 2014, 25 more than the league average, in Sandoval’s final season.
They scored 696 runs in 2015, 30 above the league average, when rookie Matt Duffy seamlessly replaced Sandoval at third. The Giants had 715 runs last year, the most in the decade that has brought them three World Series titles, although in a year when scoring was up greatly they finished three runs below the league average.
The run figures are close enough to wonder what would have happened had the rest of the team remained healthy.
Right fielder Hunter Pence missed 110 games in 2015 and another 56 last season with a variety of injuries, and a full season from Pence would go a long way. Pence had not missed a game — 383 straight — in his previous two-plus seasons since being acquired from Philadelphia at the 2012 trade deadline.
Joe Panik missed 35 games last year, and third baseman Matt Duffy missed about that many games with an Achilles tendon injury before being traded to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought left-hander Matt Moore into the rotation.
Duffy’s injury before the All-Star break directly coincided with the Giants’ second-half slump. After entering the All-Star break with a major league-best 57-33 record, the Giants went 30-42 the rest of the way, clinching a postseason berth by sweeping the Dodgers in the last weekend of the season. The scored 4.7 runs per game before the break, 3.9 per after.
Núñez is quick and athletic, and he took off last year when finally given a chance to be a regular for the first time in his seven-year career. He slashed .288/.325/.758 with 16 homers, 67 RBI and 40 stolen bases in 141 games for Minnesota and the Giants last season. After playing mostly shortstop for the Twins, Núñez’s defense at third for the Giants was major league average, according to baseball-reference.com. He, too, was hurt last season, and he was used only as a pinch-hitter in the NLDS.
If the Giants want to add offense after signing their closer, they would be better served to look to the outfield. Third base seems set.