Here are the top 15 second basemen in the majors (ranked by VORP) and the batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage lines they put up when they were 22:
Chase Utley - A+ - .257/.312/.422
Ian Kinsler - A/AA - .345/.413/.573
Brian Roberts - Rk/A+ - .302/.407/.406
Dan Uggla - A/A+ - .214/.301/.307
Mark DeRosa - A+ - .269/.318/.387
Placido Polanco - AAA - .280/.324/.378
Jose Lopez - Maj. - .282/.319/.405
Kelly Johnson - AA - .282/.348/.468
Orlando Hudson - A+/AA - .272/.342/.388
Mike Fontenot - A+ - .264/.323/.364
Kazuo Matsui - Japan - .311/.370/.442
Alexei Ramirez - Cuba - ?
Felipe Lopez - AAA - .318/.416/.457
Clint Barmes - A/A+ - .256/.311/.355
Travis Denker - A/AA/AAA - .257/.357/.418
This isn't to suggest that Denker is the next Kelly Johnson, Chase Utley, or Dan Uggla; it's an attempt to prove that Denker wouldn't have been out of place with the 22-year-old versions of Johnson, Utley, or Uggla. Only one player up there was light years ahead of where Denker was this season (Ian Kinsler). Using simple AVG/OBP/SLG lines that aren't park-adjusted might be overly simplistic, but it'll do in a pinch. Even when Denker's horrific start in AA is included in his cumulative 2008 stats, it's clear that he had a pretty nice year for his age and level.
Just looking at the numbers isn't going to tell the whole story, of course. Denker was never a favorite of the scouting community. He's 5' 9", and his defense is probably below-average. So it's plausible that in a roster crunch -- a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't, mess of a Rule 5 preparation -- the scouting should trump the stats. Fair enough. But the Giants aren't faced with a roster crunch. After Friday's bloodletting, there are 33 players on the 40-man roster. When Omar Vizquel and Rich Aurilia file for free agency, there will be nine open spots. The sudden desperation for additional roster spots might make sense if the Giants needed to protect several players in the Rule 5 draft...except that isn't the case. The Giants will protect Henry Sosa for sure. Maybe Jesse English will be protected. Justin Hedrick is another possibility, and if we really want to stretch it, Eddy Martinez-Esteve could still have some believers in the front office. That's about it. Other than Sosa, I'd rather have Denker than anyone who might be eligible for the Rule 5, and it isn't even close.
So it isn't a Rule 5 thing. Maybe, then, the Giants are anticipating going on a free agent spending spree. Maybe they're going to sign five, six, or seven free agents, and when C.C. Sabathia, Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez, and Barry Bonds are added to the roster, someone would have had to go anyways. Maybe the Giants have targeted several players that other teams will have to expose in the Rule 5 draft. Fine. Then wait until you have to make a move. Do what you need to do when the hurricane comes, but don't start boarding up the windows because it's windy.
When trying to make sense of this move, some have suggested that Denker didn't impress coaches, executives, or veterans with his attitude, or that he didn't run out a ground ball or two, which ticked off someone important. If true, that would mean the Giants are suggesting that being a jackass precludes any sort of potential value. Six of the past 15 National League MVP awards were won by Giants. Each of those six awards went to a jackass. Unbearable, moody, and distasteful jackasses who couldn't even hide behind an excuse of youthful ignorance. The Giants were also perennial contenders during this epoch of jackassery. The San Francisco Giants, more than any other franchise in the game, should know not to worry about their players' Gallup favorability ratings.
It's likely that this will end up being much ado about nothing. Denker might be turn out to be a utility player, and he might turn out to be a total bust. I've grumbled in the past about the donations of Brian Burres, Jon Coutlangus, Carlos Villaneuva, and Greg Bruso to the general fund, and none of those moves have proven to be traumatic. But this is still just a baffling move. Unless Denker was involved in something really creepy, or unless he was injured, I can't think of a reasonable reason to just dump him. I mean, this was just a complete dumping. They didn't need the roster spot at all. This was the baseball equivalent of killing a bystander in "Grand Theft Auto" just because you can. You have a pen, it's a Friday...why not just waive a whole bunch of people? Waive waive waive waive giggle outright waive waive release snerk release titter waive. Awesome! That really is fun.
I've never been more confused about a Giants roster move. That's the scariest sentence I've ever typed. I'm going to bed, and I just might call in sick to work tomorrow.