After acquiring Marco Scutaro from the Colorado Rockies last July, the San Francisco Giants have gotten more than a fair return on their investment. Despite only costing a prospect that was ranked outside the organization's top 20, Scutaro hit an unbelievable .362 in his 61 games with the club, and led the team to a World Series with his heroics in the NLCS. His contribution was in no way overlooked or under-appreciated by team management.
In December, general manager Brian Sabean signed the second baseman to a three-year extension worth $22 million after bonuses. Giants' CEO Larry Baer cited his veteran presence and leadership as the main reason they wanted him back.
"Culture is important, and Marco is a wonderful influence with our players, especially the Latin players," Baer said.
Marco Scutaro, 37, is a steady player, who displays excellent bat control and good defensive abilities. His style of play suggests he will be solid even after the age other players would decline. He is also a positive influence in the clubhouse and has never caused problems off the field.
However, what most people don't realize is that 2012 was an anomaly in Scutaro's career. In fact, last season was the only time that his batting average finished north of .300. He also set career highs in hits and runs batted in. There is a reason he has been on six teams over his career instead of being locked down by a franchise or two. He is a career .275 hitter and is off to a similar start in 2013, hitting .271.
One reason why he was extended is that the Giants didn't have much depth in their middle infield at the end of 2012. Ryan Theriot wasn't going to be resigned and the farm system was rather thin. A three-year contract would allow the team to have a steady bat in the lineup while buying time for a long-term replacement to be found. Unfortunately the answer may have appeared sooner than expected.
Nick Noonan has emerged as a player the Giants once hoped he would become. After being the team's first-round selection in 2007, the same year as Madison Bumgarner, Noonan has been stuck in the minor leagues without so much as a day on the major-league roster.
Last year at AAA Fresno, Noonan hit .296 with nine home runs and 62 RBI. He continued his solid approach at the plate over the course of spring training, and forced his way onto the active roster for the 2013 season. After making an appearance in seven games, Noonan is 6-12 with a pair of runs batted in. Although seven games is an extremely small sample size, he has shown the the ability to hit line drives to all fields.
Given one start so far this season, Noonan went 3-5 with two runs scored.
"He did a great job of making us re-think our thinking that we didn't need another utility player," said manager Bruce Bochy. "It's early in the season, but right now he's done fine. It's good to give him a start here. It's not an easy start, playing in these [cold, rainy] conditions. But that's going to be his role."
The starting job is no doubt Scutaro's for the length of the season, barring an injury or some unforeseen extended slump, but Noonan could make a push for the position as soon as next year. By having Scutaro under contract through 2015, the Giants may have to decide between slowing Noonan's progression and benching a player still owed $6+ million per season.
The Giants surely believe having too many good players is a problem they don't mind dealing with, but deal with it they must. This will be an interesting story-line to follow as the season progresses.