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Maybe Joe Panik won’t be fine

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At some point, the “ought-to-be” numbers can’t overwhelm the actual numbers.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

You could hear the clock start ticking as soon as Rougned Odor’s booming ninth inning home run landed in McCovey Cove on Friday night. Joe Panik’s error on a Will Smith’s 3-2 pitch to Shin-Soo Choo with two outs in the ninth inning gave the Rangers one last chance, and Odor seized it to tie the game at 6-6.

In the tenth inning, Panik and McCutchen chased a pop-up into shallow right field but neither came up with it. By virtue of being the closest player to the ball, I think it’s safe to assume the majority of fans hung that one on that miscue, too. Panik had broken for second base on the pitch as the runner had taken off, so he was turning back to chase after a pop up he ordinarily would’ve caught easily had he not had to move out of position — but still, the optics weren’t great. It added a base runner in an inning that saw Sam Dyson walk in the go-ahead run.

The final out of Friday night’s game came off of Joe Panik’s bat — a sharp grounder to second base. He had gone 2-for-5 in the game including a walk, but had left 4 on base. Never mind that the Giants failed to add any runs after scoring 6 through the first 4 innings. The optics of making the final out weren’t great.

Worse still, he sat for Saturday’s game (against left-hander Martín Pérez) and followed up an error game and a “day off” with an 0-for-4 in a 3-1 win.

Not ten days ago, Henry Schulman wondered, “Whatever happened to the Giants’ Joe Panik?”

In a season that devolved through a hitting decline and injuries to his thumb and groin that cost him 48 games, Panik has become a platoon player, sharing second base with right-handed-hitting Chase d’Arnaud and switch-hitter Alen Hanson.

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When Panik returned from his groin injury July 30, Bochy was straight with him and about his role.

That article gave a very strong sense that the team has all but made up its mind concerning Panik and his role with the team now and going forward. Aside from the Hero Ball he played in the season’s first two games (recall that he was the offense for the first 5 games of 2018), Panik has disappeared off the radar.

As Doug pointed out earlier this week, both Kenny and I have written about how Joe Panik’s lackluster-to-straight-up-bad season line is a fluke and that the peripheral data showed that his batted balls were no different from when he had been successful, therefore, he was going to be fine going forward. Thing is, he hasn’t been. Worse, he’s looked bad while not being fine. Not, “Shoot, that’s some bad luck”, just bad.

He’s at a point where he can’t afford to make any mistakes and he can’t afford to miss out on Hero Ball opportunities. Brian Sabean said this past Thursday:

I think what we’ve learned is that we were very respectful and if not doubled down on our core and for some reason, we couldn’t keep them on the field and for some reason they weren’t playing to their baseball cards this year. So, we’re more open minded than ever — whether it’s now or especially, going into the offseason — to shake things up; and, you know, guys are really playing for their place in the ‘19 team, in my mind, right now.

That’s a pretty easy list to figure out. That core is Posey, Crawford, Belt, Pence, Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Strickland, and Panik — basically, the guys who’ve been here the longest. You could perhaps throw Evan Longoria into the mix, but I think the “doubled down” part makes that very unlikely. Bringing him in was the first bet.

Posey and Crawford aren’t going anywhere. Pence’s contract expires after the season. Cueto is out until 2020. Belt could be moved, but his market-rate contract and extensive injury history makes that tricky. Samardzija is bad and could be moved. Strickland could be included in a deal, too. Injuries have thrown Belt and Samardzija’s season performance into the question mark category, and you could argue that Panik’s season of injuries has similarly done the same thing, but the difference seems to be that Giants probably feel more confident in what they believe they have wit Belt and Samardzija than they do with Panik.

That makes him fungible.

So, this post isn’t about whether or not Joe Panik will be fine at the plate the rest of the season — he very well could be just fine there — it’s about whether or not he’ll be fine with the Giants going forward. Plenty of non-tender candidates have gone on to have great success with other teams, and maybe that’s Joe Panik’s future; however, on a team that’s lost all luster for a franchise that wants to compete every year, his equally disappointing year and contract status suggests his days could be numbered.

Brian Dozier and D.J. LeMahieu are both free agents, the Giants will have money to spend and no hope of getting a power hitter, so overspending for decent pull hitters might just be the way they choose to go. To that end, Panik’s place on the team would’ve been precarious no matter the outcome of his season. He was trade bait last offseason, he very well still could be this year, but certainly would’ve been again if he had put up solid numbers, mainly because his ceiling was always going to be a player who reminded the GM of the 1960s.

Maybe this is just sentimentality creeping in. Joe Panik wearing a different uniform will seem very strange, but he’s effectively played himself out of a role on the team this year, so the chances of him sticking around next year are slim to none. It was fun to watch him at his peak, and already being on the other side of that is just another reminder that baseball is cruel.