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The Lurking Veteran

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Before the season started, we had some kind of indication that the offense would be bad. That's still true, even though it’s much, much better than expected. Heck, almost every non-shortstop is a league-average hitter. We also had some kind of indication that the young pitching would determine if a sub-.500 season would be considered a "success." That's still the cases, and the fine pitching of Jonathan Sanchez has made the expected success even successier. The season has gone as we expected, more or less. We are who we thought we were.

So there weren’t too many sabers to rattle in the winter or spring. There was only the redundancy of Dave Roberts. The crusade started here, and the theme was repeated ad nauseum after that. In an organization with two veteran starting-quality outfielders and two outfield prospects with nothing left to prove in the minors, the last thing the team needed was a non-starting-quality veteran outfielder to gobble up at-bats.

The crusade was postponed, however, when Dave Roberts was injured. Note that this was never something I wished for – it’s beyond ghoulish to hope a player gets injured – but it sure was the simplest solution. Roberts went down, which forced Fred Lewis to get the bulk of the at-bats in left field. Lewis has been a league-average left fielder, and it sure seems like there’s room for improvement in his game. With the emergence of Lewis, the Giants have one less roster spot to worry about when trying to put together a winning team for the future.

Roberts is about to start a minor-league rehab assignment. He’ll be back soon, and this will present the biggest test of Bruce Bochy’s Giants career. With the other veteran v. whippersnapper debates, Bochy could always hide behind the "we’re trying to win ballgames"-argument. As in, yeah, I could get Bowker some at-bats against lefties, but Rich Aurilia is probably the better hitter against lefties, so I’ll start Aurilia in those situations. He really believed that, and, heck, he’s been right for the most part. Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, and Randy Winn have been assets to the 2008 Giants.

With Lewis and Roberts, though, things are easy:

  • Fred Lewis is currently hitting better than Roberts has ever hit in his career.
  • Fred Lewis is a left-handed hitter. Roberts is too. There is no reason to sit one in favor of the other because of platoon considerations.
  • Fred Lewis is part of the Giants’ future, and Roberts isn’t.

Poof. Self-created problem solved in three bulletpoints. Roberts deserves the same amount of playing time that Brian Horwitz has received. Fourth- or fifth-outfielder at-bats, at best. It makes sense in the present, and it makes sense for the future.

So let’s see how deep Bruce Bochy’s veteran appreciation runs. Will he split time evenly between Lewis and Roberts? Or has Roberts been pipped past the point of no return, even by Giant-standards?

I’m curiously optimistic. I think Roberts starts once a week – spotting Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand just as much as Lewis – while popping up mostly as a pinch-hitter or runner. I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong, though.