COMMENTARY | By now, everyone knows how good Marco Scutaro was for the Giants in 2012.
For the cost of a fringe prospect, the Giants got a guy who established himself as the second baseman the team had lacked all season long, energized the top of the order, got insanely hot in the playoffs, and ended up driving in the World Series-winning run in Game 4. Not a bad return.
Now, the Giants are faced with a dilemma. In a weak market for middle infielders, Scutaro finds himself in high demand. His postseason performance boosted his profile immensely, and a number of teams are likely interested in his services. The Giants may have to get involved in an unexpected bidding war to retain him and pay more than they might be comfortable with in the end. And they absolutely should.
Bringing back Scutaro is imperative to the Giants, even if it means they have to overpay him on a two-year deal. Yes, Scutaro will be 37 next season. No, he's not likely to repeat his career-best performance from this year when he put up a combined .306/.348/.405 line (including .362/.385/.473 with the Giants). Yes, his price will be driven up by teams desperate for help up the middle. None of that should matter.
If the Giants lose Scutaro to one of those teams desperate for help up the middle, the Giants would immediately become one of those teams themselves, and wouldn't that be some horrible irony? Their non-Scutaro options for second base include Joaquin Arias (better suited to a utility role), Conor Gillaspie (hasn't been able to hit in the big leagues), bringing back Ryan Theriot (doesn't hit enough to play every day), or bringing back Freddy Sanchez (shoulder held together with masking tape). There are no free agent middle infielders in Scutaro's class. The team's top infield prospect, Joe Panik, is probably at least two years away from contributing at the big-league level. There's no help to be had.
On a two-year deal, Scutaro would be an ideal fit for the Giants: a stopgap until Panik (or someone else) is ready to take over, but a stopgap who can still play and contribute. Even if Scutaro's numbers fall and he has an average season at the plate, he's still likely to hit around .275 and get on base at a respectable clip. He plays defense well and has emerged as a clubhouse leader, especially to the team's large number of Hispanic and Latino ballplayers. Even at an advanced baseball age, Scutaro is a valuable contributor to a club in a number of ways. Other teams know it, and that's why such a robust market has emerged around him. Scutaro has become the last package of Twinkies in the snack aisle.
The Giants simply must push their way past the other teams and bring Scutaro back. He's too important to their lineup and their clubhouse to let him walk away, and there's no one currently who could adequately replace him. A two-year deal worth somewhere around $16 million would be ideal, though I'd be comfortable if the Giants had to push the money to $18 million to secure his services. Even $20 million, while pushing it, would be acceptable when you consider the team just spent even more than that for two years of watching Aubrey Huff ground out to second base. Scutaro is no Huff, though, and I'd be OK with it if the team made that kind of commitment to him. Unlike Huff, Scutaro would keep himself in shape and still contribute to the team.
Second base was a wasteland for the Giants in 2012 before Marco Scutaro arrived. Here's hoping the Giants are smart enough to realize that and give him the contract he needs to stick around for a few more years.
Or, they could always bring back Manny Burriss to play second base. That would work out well.
Dave Tobener has been a Giants fan longer than he's actually been alive...it's science. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants or his Giants blog www.GoldenGateGiants.com.
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