The Glut of Almost-Average Outfielders

There could probably be a series on potential roster moves. Jonathan Sanchez or Other? Kevin Frandsen or Matt Downs? Rich Aurilia's gold watch: 14k or 18k? The one that fascinates me, though, is the glut of mid-20s, kinda interesting outfielders who may or may not be a part of the Giants' future. What the Giants have in the outfield right now:

  • Aaron Rowand, who is the only non-Torres outfielder the Giants seem comfortable giving extended innings in center field. He's also been the team's second-best hitter, so even if he weren't making a squillion dollars, he isn't going anywhere
  • Randy Winn might be the streakiest player I've ever watched. His defense is fantastic in right, but he's striking out more than he has since he was a rookie. While strikeouts aren't necessarily a bad thing, the K-rate jump seems to coincide with a lack of hard-hit balls. Winn's 35, and he might just be decomposing before our eyes. Or, as he's done the last six times we've cursed one of his slumps, Winn could go 41 for his next 40 and carry the team's offense. I'm done giving up on Winn...which is kind of a dangerous comfort level to have with a 35-year-old outfielder. One of these years, he's going to be infected with old, and the antibiotics aren't going to help.
  • Nate Schierholtz has hit at every minor-league level, and he's never had a real shot in the majors. He also swung at a ball that hit him last week. I'm not going to judge a player based on one misjudgment, but that at-bat sure didn't surprise me. Dude hacks, and I'm not sure if I'm ready to watch that every day. It should be noted, though, that every preseason projection system -- from PECOTA to ZiPS -- predicted that Schierholtz would be the best or second-best hitter on the team, so it isn't as if his minor league numbers should just be thrown out the window.
  • Fred Lewis was drafted by the Warriors with the 11th pick of the 2003 draft, and he recently played in the NBA Finals for Orl...whoops. Wrong bio. Man, how did I mix those up? How strange. Lewis is always going to drive people nuts -- his strengths aren't as obvious as his weaknesses, even if the end result is a fairly productive player. The defense is good, if erratic, and the ability to work a freaking count is certainly welcome on this team. But for all of the love for Freddie's on-base skillz, it isn't as if he's an on-base machine. He's at .343 this year, which is just a bit below his .355 career average. His minor league career OBP is .379, which is good, but nothing that suggests Lewis is playing below his skill level.

    If you look at Lewis without that paternal, my-team-developed-this-guy fog, you might see a punchless corner outfielder who will never hit for enough average to maximize his offensive contributions, which are almost wholly tied into his on-base percentage. That's a worst-case scenario, but it's a little more likely than the "Lewis has great natural power, so don't pay attention to the fact that he's never cracked 12 home runs at any professional level and he's already 28"-silliness.

And this is all before we get to the new, improved John Bowker, who is going nutty on the Pacific Coast League. Get those fluke-year Linden comparisons out of here, because Linden's huge year didn't involve a completely reworked approach. Bowker has almost doubled his walk rate this year -- he has 41 walks so far, compared to 26 walks in his entire 2008 season (AAA and MLB). The increased walk rate hasn't just been confined to a single fluky month, and now the power has caught up with the improved plate discipline.

The Giants need power, and they need hitters who can get on base. Turns out there's a familiar face doing both in AAA, just waiting for another shot in the majors. But who gets buried to make room for Bowker? Winn's a free agent, so if the team were really interested in playing for next year, it would make sense to forget about him entirely and focus on getting Lewis, Schierholtz, and Bowker the bulk of the at-bats. But the team is still sniffing a playoff spot -- laugh if you want, but it's true -- and Winn was a very, very valuable player as late as last season. Lewis might not ever be an All-Star, but his offensive performance is about 106th on the list of things the Giants should worry about. Schierholtz has 816 AAA at-bats of .327/.364/.576 behind him, which is pretty impressive even accounting for PCL offensive levels.

If any of these players had enough value to other teams to trade them for talented infielders, this wouldn't be a problem; it would be a solution. The Giants would flip one of Lewis or Schierholtz for Powerful Infielder, and pat themselves on the back. But neither of them have enough value to bring back Powerful Infielder, whose team is starting the trade talks with Tim Alderson and Thomas Neal, though they might accept Lewis or Schierholtz as a throw-in.

I don't have an answer. So you figure it out. My head hurts. Who should get at-bats in the Giants outfield?

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