When the latest MLB offseason began, Joe Panik’s standing with the San Francisco Giants was entirely unclear.
Much has happened since then, but Panik’s hazy future with the Giants remains the same.
When Farhan Zaidi took over as president of baseball operations, it was fair to wonder if Panik - who was an All-Star so recently - was going to be non-tendered. But Zaidi opted to keep the second baseman around, and the two sides avoided arbitration.
It immediately felt like a low-risk move with a trade in mind. Keep Panik at a low salary, hope he has a decent few months, and then trade him. Quite reasonable. Inspiring, perhaps.
Panik has, indeed, had a decent few months. And now the question is: Should the Giants actually be trying to trade him?
Panik is not Will Smith or Tony Watson, two Giants who will almost surely be shipped off in the coming weeks. He’s not well into his 30s, like Watson, or about to enter them, like Smith. He’s not an impending free agent - he still has a year of arbitration remaining.
If the Giants fail to trade Watson or Smith (or Sam Dyson or Madison Bumgarner, arguably) they’ll be giving up something for nothing. Such is not the case for Panik. Keep him through October, and you get to arrive at another moderate salary, and welcome him back next spring.
Zaidi seems optimistic that the Giants can be competent in 2020, and quite good as early as 2021. Panik could, conceivably, but a part of that. He’s not the All-Star he once was, but he’s still the toolsy contact bat that Zaidi covets, with a near one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, and stellar defense.
That doesn’t need to be a chip used to retool a team. It can just be a part of retooling the team.
On the other hand, Panik represents the only Giants infielder not owed huge sums of money for the foreseeable future. They’re not going to trade Buster Posey or Brandon Crawford. They won’t get anything if they trade Evan Longoria. A return package for Brandon Belt would likely be uninspiring.
If the Giants want to get better in the infield, second base is basically the only opportunity. Clearing the spot while getting some farm boosters in return wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
The assumption should be that Zaidi will field all calls, and only make trades based on the potential returns. But all this time I’ve assumed that Panik is merely on the roster to be traded - a necessary bridge to the next good roster.
But maybe Panik - a perfectly capable, albeit uninspiring player - is just part of the plans, as is. For a retooling team, he certainly occupies an odd gray area.