On outfield rumors and Gregor Blanco-related panic

Jason O. Watson

Everyone's eager to replace Gregor Blanco with the first 15-homer guy they can find. Hold on there, everyone.

Garrett Jones was designated for assignment on Monday. The 32-year-old is a clomper's clomper in the outfield, a rough first baseman, and an inveterate hacker. But he hits about 15-20 dingers per year, and dingers are rad. This means you'll get comment threads like this, where mostly reasonable people trick themselves into thinking he's a good option as a starting outfielder.

Jones is not a good option as a starting outfielder. As part of a DH platoon or American League bench, he would be fine, but he needs to stay the heck away from the Senior Circuit. And he especially needs to stay away from AT&T Park, where his left-handed power would molder and die and make the whole place smell like warm goat cheese.

But go on Giants forums and bulletin boards and Tumblrs, and you'll notice Jones is a name that's bandied about frequently now. It's like people have a Google news alert for "dingers outfield released."

There's a name for this delusion, a clinical diagnosis. It's called xavier fever. Symptoms include being unable to look at any of the non-dinger columns on Baseball-Reference.com, ignoring hideous displays of clomping, and saying things like, "You know, he's not the worst option out there." There were people okay with Xavier Nady on the Giants in 2012. "Can't hurt. What's the harm? Worth a shot. Throw it to the wall, see if it sticks. Can't hurt. What's the harm?"

It used to be called guillenitosis, you know, but that scared the kids too much. Also, apparently when the Giants are afflicted, they win the World Series. Huh.

But xavier fever usually strikes after a few months of completely miserable play at a position, whether it's outfield or first. The can't-hurt, what's-the-harm talk becomes seductive, mostly because there really isn't a harm in replacing a wretch with a wretch. It's like the old saying, "like shuffling the awful, sticky, stained seats on a Greyhound." It's not going to hurt because nothing is going to help.

I'm seeing signs of xavier fever in Giants fans, and not just with Jones, but with Mike Morse and Corey Hart. I'm actually not opposed to Hart as a first baseman if he's healthy, but there's a rush to sort the free-agent trackers by dingers and highlight the names at the top, regardless of overall talent. This is something fans do when they follow a team with a completely miserable option at the position.

So let's put this in writing: Gregor Blanco is not a completely miserable option in left field.

Do I want the Giants to upgrade? Of course. Does Blanco excite me as a healthy part of a balanced lineup? Not in the slightest. But he's not so bad that I feel like the Giants need to scramble around and pick up the next Xavier Nady because of the can't-hurts. It can definitely hurt to replace Blanco with Jones or Morse.

Or, to put it another way:

Buster Posey 26 5.2
Brandon Belt* 25 4.4
Hunter Pence 30 4.1
Gregor Blanco* 29 2.5
Pablo Sandoval# 26 2.5
Brandon Crawford* 26 2.4
Marco Scutaro 37 2.4
Angel Pagan# 31 1.0

No one believes it's a good idea to take WAR totals as gospel, especially for a single season. At least, no one worth listening to. And it's not a good idea to pretend they're hyper-accurate, either. Was Blanco really .1 wins better than Brandon Crawford? What in the heck does that even mean?

That's not the point, though. The point is that there's a strong chance that Blanco adds more value than you expect because of his baserunning and defense. He also had a .341 OBP in an extreme pitcher's park in a year where the league OBP was .315. That's pretty danged okay. Really, Blanco's only weakness is that he has middle-infielder power. He's a flawed player, sure. The Giants would be improved if he were a fourth outfielder and someone better were starting in left. But he shouldn't be a root cause of xavier fever.

It's the beginning of the rosterbation season. There will be months of speculating about this guy and that guy, especially when there are dingers involved. Some of the ideas for left field will make sense. Some of them will be preferable to the current setup. But don't fall into the trap of thinking Gregor Blanco is a blight on the team and a blight on the starting lineup. If Blanco and his OBP are hitting seventh or eighth in the order, it's probably not a bad lineup.

Replacing Blanco just to replace him is a bad idea. The cure for xavier fever is to remember things like this:

Whoops, wrong video.

That's the one. Blanco can hit a little bit. Not a lot, but a little bit. But he can field and run a lot of bit. That's a nice player to have if there aren't better options available. Which, at least on the free agent market, there really aren't.

(Unless you're talking about Carlos Beltran ...)

(Come baaaack, Carlos. Come baaaaaaack ...)

(You're still cool, Gregor.)

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