"The trunk of the car looked like a crappy middle infielder factory. We had two bags of Miguel Tejada, seventy-five pellets of Orlando Cabrera, five sheets of high-powered Jose Vizcaino, a salt shaker half full of Willie Bloomquist, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored bunters, divers, gamers, mover-runners-overers, . . . and also a quart of Manny Burriss, a quart of Kevin Frandsen, a case of Eugenio Velez, a pint of raw Yuniesky Betancourt and two dozen Brian Bococks ….
… The only thing that really worried me was the Yuniesky Betancourt. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of a Yuniesky Betancourt binge."
- Hunter S. Sabean
After spending quite a bit of time thinking about what the Giants were going to do this offseason, there was a moment of clarity. We'll call this the Brandon Crawford Theorem, then. It's so obvious, but I've ignored it until now.
The Giants, who usually don't trust young players to begin with, trust Brandon Crawford so little, that they were willing to trade for Orlando Cabrera and play him in meaningful games last season.
It's a take-off-your-glasses kind of moment, possibly while muttering "my … god …." The Giants, who aren't flush with young outfielders, traded a young outfielder for Orlando Cabrera. Then they played Orlando Cabrera. Then they kept playing Orlando Cabrera. This was at the expense of Brandon Crawford.
And now there's supposed to be a chance that the Giants are going to sniff around this offseason, ask about various shortstops, and then say, nope, Crawford's our guy. There isn't anyone out there who could improve on ol' Crawffy. Stand down, boys. Let's save our money for the Zito extension. Does that sound plausible in any way? Even in the Year of the Rainy Day Fund, the Giants aren't going to give the job to an unknown like Crawford. My proof is that they were willing to trade for Orlando Cabrera and play him in meaningful games.
A history of unproven players getting starting jobs: Pablo hit .345 to get his gig the next year. Posey was blocked by Bengie Molina. Belt wasn't exactly anointed as the starter in the offseason, but when he won the job, the experiment lasted all of two weeks. Even Fred Lewis had to wait behind Dave Roberts; Nate Schierholtz had to wait behind Randy Winn. John Bowker was supposedly the starting right fielder to begin the 2010 season, but he lost his job after a few days.
If the Giants give a young player a starting job to begin the season, it's because he has a good spring training. And if he doesn't hit well in April, best of luck. This isn't typical McCovey Chronicles cynicism. It's just how it is. If you think it's cynical, that's because you're reading too much into it. You're probably letting your own opinions on spring training stats cloud your judgement. Sad, really. But there has been a pattern, whether you like it or not.
The last time that the Giants gave a starting job to a young, unproven player without looking for a replacement in the offseason -- like, really said, "Okay, show us your stuff, kid." and left him alone for more than a month -- was Lance Niekro.
And after 91 games and two trips to the DL, he was replaced by Shea Hillenbrand.
That's what happened the last time the Giants gave a job to a rookie in the offseason and left him alone. They won't do it again. And I'm on record as being in favor of Crawford starting in the minors. It shouldn't be an option. He's had 107 AAA at-bats in his career. He's had 196 mostly terrible major-league at-bats in his career.
Even for a team that's used to plugging rookies straight into the lineup during the offseason -- the Pirates or Rays, say -- that would make for an unlikely starter. On the Giants? No chance. Brandon Crawford will not be the Giants' starting shortstop in May. He almost certainly won't be the starting shortstop in April. There will be a veteran. There is always a veteran. In this case, it's probably a good idea, with one exception.
Just a guess, of course, but it's one based on a long tradition. Now let's all sit back, hold hands, and pray that Yuniesky Betancourt isn't the starting shortstop next season.