PHOENIX — Stop me if you’ve heard this before: San Francisco has an opening in left field.
Since Barry Bonds left, the position has been the Giants’ black (and orange) hole.
The position has defied a long-term fill for a decade, and this season indicates nothing will change. Usually it has not been a pressing concern, given the Giants’ strength in other areas and their ability to adapt.
But more on that later.
To catch up, Giants’ opening-day left fielder Jarrett Parker made remarkable catch in deep left field on a ball hit by Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu in the 4th inning at AT&T Park on Saturday. But Parker collided with the wall and suffered a fractured right clavicle that is expected to keep him out about two months.
Starting pitcher Matt Moore and manager Bruce Bochy were effusive in their praise; the front office, meanwhile, got to work on a Plan B.
Some things never change.
Parker, a rookie who broke camp as a part of a platoon with spring sensation Chris Marrero, was the Giants’ 11th starting left fielder in as many seasons since should-be Hall of Famer Bonds’ final season in 2007. The Giants turned to right-handed hitting Marrero against Colorado rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatala on Sunday and have started veteran right-handed bat Aaron Hill there once this season, but neither is likely to be the long-term solution.
The Giants have other options among veteran major leaguers. The recently signed Melvin Upton Jr. to a minor-league contract, although he is not in game shape yet, and 2014 starter Michael Morse continues to rehab a hamstring injury suffered the third week of March. Morse, who came to camp as a spring training invitee, is expected to be out at least another week while the hamstring completely heals. Mac Williamson is on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury. Orlando Calixthe is on the 40-man roster, although creating space should not be an issue if Parker is to miss 60 games. Justin Ruggiano, invited to spring training, is in Sacramento.
Angel Pagan, who spent the last five seasons in San Francisco and was the regular in left last season, remains on the market after signing with Baltimore this spring but reportedly failing a physical. If the Giants had wanted him back, however, they would have made a move before now.
Whatever happens, the Giants are not without resources.
While the Giants opened the season with a franchise-record $180 million payroll, their only major offseason acquisition was that of closer Mark Melancon. The Giants have such a strong fan base — they have a 520-game sellout streak, including 25 playoff games — that revenue is not a problem.
The Giants have been almost exactly here before, and have made it work.
In the long term, Parker’s injury may simply expedite the timetable for addressing a position they have previously tended to in July or August. President Brian Sabean and general manager Bobby Evans have found a way to hit a home run in this situation before.
Remember Cody Ross and Pat Burrell in 2010. Melky Cabrera in 2012. Morse in 2014.
Neither Ross nor Burrell started the 2010 season with the Giants, but both helped them to the first of three World Series titles in five years.
Ross, claimed off waivers from Florida in August, 2010, had 3 homers in 73 at-bats in the final five weeks, then made his only postseason appearance memorable. He had 5 doubles, 5 homers and 10 RBIs in 15 playoff games as the Giants beat Texas in the World Series. Ross was the MVP in the 2010 in the NCLS, hitting 3 homers with 5 RBIs when the Giants beat the Phillies in six games. He hit 2 homers in a Game 1 victory over Roy Halladay.
Burrell joined the Giants earlier that season, signing as a free agent in May, and contributed 18 homers, 51 RBIs and an .879 OPS in 289 at-bats. When he fell into a slump later in the year, the Giants added Ross.
Cabrera was a different case, although another short-termer. The Giants acquired him from Kansas City in the winter of 2011, betting that his walk season (he would be a free agent after 2012) would help. It did, for four months, until he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance. The Giants added Hunter Pence two weeks later to replace Cabrera’s offense while patching with Gregor Blanco and Xavier Nady in left field the final six weeks, and they won another World Series.
Morse, a free-agent sign in the winter of 2013, was the principal left fielder when the Giants won it all again in 2014. When he was sidelined in September, Blanco stepped in, hitting .309 with 10 doubles, 4 homers and 19 RBIs in the the final 30 games.
None of those guys have been Bonds, of course, but who is?
In the Giants’ three World Series-winning seasons, however, their left fielders were fourth, eighth and seventh in OPS. With the Giants’ roster composition, that was enough. They won with a strong starting rotation, a shutdown bullpen and ample offense — Buster Posey throughout, Pablo Sandoval early in the run and Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt late.
Whatever the Giants do in left field going forward, past performance indicates it will all work out.