The Giants need at least a partial changing of the guard, and when it happens, if it happens, it won’t be as pretty as the formal ceremony of the same name at Buckingham Palace.
No dignity and pomp. If the Giants are lucky, they’ll pull it off with a minimum of lemon meringue on the face.
The problem is that Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson, basically half the Giants’ bench, are not producing. Both are substandard defensively, and offensively both appear to be on the downside of their careers.
Meanwhile, two young sluggers are a 90-minute car ride away, playing ball in Sacramento. Steven Duggar and Austin Slater are both scorching the ball.
The fix would seem to be simple. Trade Pence, release Jackson, bring up the two kids, stand back and enjoy the fireworks.
Of course, it’s not that easy. The Giants gave Jackson a two-year contract, $6 million total, so they’d be eating close to almost 5 mil. That would not be a good look for general manager Bobby Evans, who might not have the greatest job security.
But GMs are paid on results, too, as in wins and losses.
As for Pence, if the Giants traded him, they’d have to eat most of his $18.5 million salary (he’s a free agent after this season). And they would need to find a trading partner.
When manager Bruce Bochy penciled Pence into left field Wednesday against the Marlins, giving Andrew McCutchen a rest, the skipper and the GM might have been hoping Pence would show a spark, something to catch the interest of a young team in need of a strong, upbeat veteran presence.
Mission accomplished. Sort of. Pence sliced a two-out RBI single down the right-field line in the sixth, then came around to score to cap the five-run rally. In the eighth he singled home another run with a little broken-bat pop into short left that would have been caught had the infielders not been playing up on the grass.
But it looks like two line-drive RBI hits on paper, and that might be enough to make would-be trading partners overlook that Pence came into the game riding a 1-for-16 slump, that he’s no longer a homer threat (zero this year), and that he grounded out and struck out lunging in his other two at-bats.
Defensively, Pence and Jackson are liabilities.
In the second inning, the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas flared a ball into short left field. A speedy outfielder would have had a chance to snag the ball. Not an easy play for anyone, but Pence had zero chance.
Once, he was a more-than-capable right fielder who would give you the occasional circus catch. But the wheels are not what they once were.
Nor is the power. Not only has Pence not hit a homer this year, in 31 games, his OPS after Wednesday was .463, easily last among Giants position players.
Of course, everyone loves the Right Reverend Pence. Everyone remembers what he contributed on the field and in the clubhouse to two World Series championships.
The more recent memories are not as joyful. The numbers don’t lie, and Pence’s awkwardness, endearing when he’s knocking the cover off the ball with that lunging swing, make him a handy target for impatient fans, many of whom were celebrating the guy not that long ago.
Letting go of Jackson would be far less emotionally wrenching for the Giants’ front office, and for Giants fans, and is the more likely first move.
Jackson wasn’t expected to be a star or even a full-time starter, but he has not come up to even modest expectations. He’s hitting .243, with the same number of homers as Pence (0), and 27 of his 34 hits are singles.
Meanwhile, the kids are heating up in Sacramento. Although they’re not exactly kids — Duggar is 24 and Slater is 25.
Duggar is batting .284, with 19 RBIs and three homers in 63 games. He has 21 doubles and a .793 OPS.
Slater is batting .340 in 52 games, with a .981 OPS. He’s got 24 doubles and five homers, and could provide a big right-handed bat to ease the absence of Evan Longoria, making the Giants less vulnerable to lefties.
Slater, especially, seems ready. And he’s on the 40-man roster; Duggar is not.
How long can the Giants wait to make a move — out with Pence and/or Jackson, in with Slater and/or Duggar?
Most fans would vote for “now.” The Giants as an organization preach patience and place faith in veterans, but that philosophy is going to get tested.
The Giants are in the middle of the pack in the NL West, in a could-go-either-way mode. Young call-ups are always a gamble, but the relative sure thing — that two vets are unlikely to contribute much — doesn’t seem like a sexy option.