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The Devilish Question of Angel Pagan in the Giant Outfield

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I'm tempted to leave the title of my previous post up for a few more days, but naah. I'm only going to repeat that even put-a-fork-in-'em players can make small differences in short time spans, and as noted by the piece I quoted in the previous post, small differences can make big differences in short time spans. 

For all the hand-wringing about Xavier Nady in the past week, complete with prophecies something just short of ice cap disappearance if he were to get lots of at-bats in the Giant left field, let's consider this a lesson. When the cost of acquisition is nil, and the guy being replaced, even temporarily, isn't getting the job done, call off the dogs, folks. For this little risk-free move, the Giants have been rewarded a three-run double, by far the most important moment of Saturday's game, and Sunday, two hits and two walks, with all but one of those appearances sparking a big rally. Any more of this unXpected Xcitement, and we'll have to consider including Nady's call-up in the pantheon of 2012 Giant weirdness. 

Yes indeed, a lot of strange and Giant things have happened this year, and most of them have involved the outfield. There are all things Melky, of course, from the MVP breakout to the testosterone bust to the clownish Web fraud scheme. Of the more run-of-the-mill strange things -- Gregor Blanco's run of Platonic leadoff work then crash back to Earth, Hunter Pence's insect invasion and, so far, unfortunate Aaron Rowand impression -- none is stranger than Angel Pagan's season, perhaps the most extreme month to month performance oscillation I've ever seen: steadily super warm, then icy cold, and now player-of-the-month greatness.

Forgive me for turning my thoughts away from the pennant race for a moment, but all this has made long-range assessment ticklish. After this year, who stays and who goes? In June, a Blanco-Melky-Pagan outfield in 2013, perhaps beyond, didn't seem farfetched. But now? A Melky return would be shocking, and Blanco's a small step ahead of where he was in early March: no longer a roster longshot, an excellent chance to be a backup, but not really a hopeful starter and leadoff candidate. 
The Giants will almost surely have Hunter Pence in 2013. He's due a raise in his final arbitration year, and it's $13 or $14 M the Giants have little choice but to spend because they don't want to enter spring training next year with Frankie Peguero and Roger Kieschnick fighting for the right-field job. (Let's leave the discussion of a Hunter Pence contract extension beyond 2013 for another day.) 

The biggest question buzzes like a fluorescent halo above the head of Pagan. What the hell is he worth? Who is he? Mr. August? Mr. June/July? It's easy to say "somewhere in between," perhaps the contractual equivalent of where his current season stats sit. But try squaring that (and his occasional marvinbenardish defense) with the shape-changing scenarios of first-time free agency. It would be nice to re-up him for another year at a slight raise, but capitalism isn't likely to comply. Then again, look what happened to Cody Ross when he held out for a multi-year contract last winter in his first taste of freedom: one measly year and a 50% pay cut.

Problem is, the Giants can't afford to wait for the ghost of Milton Friedman to smoke out Pagan from his free-agent hole this winter. Without Pagan securely on board, the Good Ship Sabean will sail with Blanco and Pence in the outfield and Frankie Peg-Legs hacking at slop in the scullery. Kieschnick was having a breakout year in AAA before he got hurt in June, but in spring training next year he'll be 26 with less than two months of excellent work on his high-minors resume. Good for him if he can bully his way onto the roster next year, but it's not a scenario that would hold the Giants back from wheeling and dealing for outfield talent this winter. Gary Brown is better regarded as a 2014 arrival. 

In other words, the better Angel Pagan plays in September and, we hope, into October, the more confusing he'll be for the Giants future plans. There was a time, right around the moment Melky Cabrera hoisted the All-Star MVP award and threw the Camaro keys to his 12-year-old cousin, when Pagan's departure somewhere in early December seemed inevitable. Topsy turvy, indeed. 

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