Giants manager Bruce Bochy likes to invoke that old cliché, “Players make out the lineup,” meaning that performance decides who will play. He should also admit that contracts play a big part in lineup decisions for the Giants.
Case in point: Though Brandon Belt was supposed to start the first two weeks, unless a left-hander were pitching, he was not in the lineup for the second series of the season, nor the first two home games against Pittsburgh.
Bochy explained that he didn’t want Audrey Huff roaming the huge outfield spaces in Denver. I could certainly understand that, especially after watching Huff staggering while trying to catch a foul popup down the first-base line in Friday’s home opener. That one could qualify as a comedy video.
But why even play him? In the opening series in Arizona, neither Belt nor Huff had done much, but we know that Belt is Huff’s superior in fielding and base running, and that he has a big hitting upside. Huff is a fading veteran who will be lucky to duplicate his disappointing 2011 season.
But he also has an $11 million contract this year.
I doubt that Bochy consults with general manager Brian Sabean before he makes out the lineup, but he knows the realities. It’s not the first time he’s played fading veterans, including shortstops Miguel Tejada and Edgar Renteria.
He also stuck with Aaron Rowand when he was clearly inferior to Andres Torres, both in the field and at bat, because Rowand had that ridiculous five-year, $60 million contract. The Giants finally released Rowand last season and no club picked him up, even though they would have had to pay only the major league minimum for the rest of the season, with the Giants paying the rest.
The Giants may have a similar situation this season in center field. They traded for Angel Pagan, but Pagan has shown little, though he did make a great catch in deep center to keep Matt Cain’s bid for a perfect game alive on Friday.
In contrast, Gregor Blanco has looked very good, in the field and at bat, and he did through spring training, too. Blanco looks like the perfect leadoff hitter for the Giants, capable of getting on base, perhaps stealing a base, and setting the table for the 2-3-4 hitters: Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. Cabrera looks like a very good pickup, a hitter who swings only at strikes, a break from recent Giants tradition.
Perhaps Blanco’s performance will yet win him a starting position, but Pagan has a big advantage because of his contract.
Bochy also prefers veteran players, the only explanation possible for his playing of Ryan Theriot at second base early in the season. Theriot was once a fine player, but he has no range left. Emmanuel Burriss is a much better option, offensively and defensively, because of his speed. My guess is that he’ll log the most games at second this year.
But Burriss doesn’t have to overcome a big contract. Belt and Blanco do. I can only hope Bochy makes the right decisions, not the fiscally sound ones, before the season gets away from the Giants.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.