The Giants have two backup-infield spots to hand out. There are three contenders for those two spots, one of whom is out of options and would be lost on waivers. As the old joke goes, "Joaquin Arias, Matt Duffy, and Ehire Adrianza walk into a bar ..."
Oh, I thought you knew it. I sure as heck don't know the punchline. We'll find out in a week.
Start with the obvious: Adrianza is on the team unless there's an injury. It's 2015, and here in the future, we respect our defensive masters. Adrianza is hitting .238/.373/.310 this spring, and while that's an on-base percentage that's probably a little too lofty to sustain, it's a pretty good representation of his offensive skills. Low average, a little patience, and limited power. With plus defense at short, though, that's a valuable player. It's certainly not one a team should fritter away like they grow on trees, giving them away on waivers for nothing. He's not going anywhere.
That leaves it between Duffy and Arias. The former is impressing folks in his first big-league camp, winning the Barney Nugent Award for the best newcomer. The latter will make $1.45 million, regardless of whether he's on the team or not. This is a good battle ... in theory?
In practice, though, Duffy is almost certainly the better baseball player. Arias doesn't really have a plus tool -- his one tool is that he's without a completely awful tool. He doesn't have average power, but he's not Emmanuel Burriss. He doesn't have a lot of speed, but he isn't Bengie Molina. He has a feh glove at short, but he's not Russ Davis at third. He's more than the sum of his parts. The sum of his parts is "no," so that's damning with faint praise, but there's a certain utility to his evenly distributed below-average.
Duffy can probably hit for average. If Arias doesn't have a tool, it's at least possible that Duffy has one. Baseball Prospectus has his median projection at .257/.314/.353, and I'll take the over on his batting average. It's easy to forget just how good Arias was in 2012 (.270/.304/.389 with acceptable defense over 319 at-bats), but that almost looks like what I'd project for the typical Duffy season.
Here's where the money comes in. The Giants sure know about sunk costs. I'm not sure if the owners who were mad about Aaron Rowand's release know about sunk costs, but the Giants get it. They're going to pay Arias if he's good, bad, hurt, healthy, happy, or sad. So they might as well pay him to go away if they have a better option. Simple.
Except we're talking about a backup infielder, here. That's a position good for, what, 200 at-bats, maximum? The difference between the two players might be an extra win. It might very well be negligible, though. And if the difference is negligible, the Giants will save $507,500 by sticking with Arias (the major league minimum they would be paying Duffy).
What does $500,000 buy in baseball today? It was easier to answer this in the past because that money might have been the difference between a draftee going to college and or signing with the Giants. It's harder to buy out a college commitment under the new draft rules, so that $500,000 will have to be applied somewhere else. It's probably not going to be the tipping point for the next Jon Lester or Yoan Moncada, but it will help the Giants' ledger in some capacity. If the difference between the two players is negligible over 200 at-bats, an extra half-million is a fine tiebreaker.
You have to decide if that difference is negligible, then. An extra .3 WAR, or whatever, or an extra $507,500 for the WAR chest? Tick tock, tick tock. Tick tock, tick tock.
I'll go with Team Duffy because I don't think the Giants are in a position to give away a fraction of a win if they can help it. They'll need to scrap and claw for those .3 WARs. They'll need to have .3 WAR worth of grit and desire. They'll need Bruce Bochy to get in everyone's ear and yell, "Is that all the win over replacement value you can offer this team? I need .3 more, you jerks!"
Mostly, though, they'll need the best 25-man roster they can possibly stretch for. Their margin for error in the National League is so slim, they can't mess around. I understand the siren song of the extra clams, but I'm a Duffman.
We'll see if the Giants agree.