July 28, 2012
Scutaro to San Fran
A supplemental first-round pick in 2007, Culberson has been a slow-to-develop infielder whose 2010 step forward looks to be more and more like a product of the California League. He's a thickly built infielder with solid-average power and speed, but he's consistently undone himself with a poor approach, taking an aggressive cut and swinging at far too many pitches outside the strike zone. Culberson has good defensive fundamentals but lacks the tools to play on the left side, and he doesn't have the bat to profile as an everyday player at second. —Kevin Goldstein
Acquired IF-R Marco Scutaro from the Rockies for 2B-R Charlie Culberson and cash. [7/27]
Second base is a position most often occupied by players who lack the tools for another position: former shortstops without the range for shortstop (see Culberson, Charlie) and former third basemen without the arm for third base. No one really wants a prospect to end up at second. Teams put players there when they’ve shown they can’t play anywhere else, and then they hope they hit enough to stay.
Maybe it’s because second is so nebulous that the position has been such an afterthought for so many competitive teams. As I pointed out on Thursday, five contenders have seen their second basemen total at least half a win below replacement level. Before they traded for Omar Infante, Detroit’s second basemen were the worst of the lot, at -2.2 WARP. Once the Tigers found their fix, Giants second basemen (-1.3 WARP) inherited that unenviable crown. Only first base in Los Angeles (which is a nice way of saying “James Loney”) has been a bigger black hole for a contending team in 2012.
With Infante off the market, Scutaro was one of the most attractive options remaining, along with fellow flawed players Darwin Barney, Kelly Johnson, and Stephen Drew. We tied him to the Giants a month ago, and now Brian Sabean has followed suit. But Scutaro probably won’t play second in San Francisco, at least not exclusively. Ryan Theriot has brought some stability to the spot since the bad old days of Emmanuel Burriss (who may have reached the end of his improbably long major-league life), and in the short term, Scutaro might be of more use elsewhere in the infield. With Pablo Sandoval nursing a hamstring strain, Scutaro could start out at third, then rove around the infield for the rest of the season. Before this season, he’d been productive wherever he played: as I wrote back in February, only four shortstops (Scutaro’s previous position) had a higher WARP than Scutaro’s 14.0 from 2008-2011. On the right side of the infield, his bat isn’t really an asset, but his glove plays up: Scutaro’s 7.9 FRAA ranks third among second basemen this season.
At the plate, Scutaro continues to make a lot of contact; only five players with at least 500 plate appearances over the last two season have struck out less often (among them Jeff Keppinger, whom the Giants allowed to leave as a free agent last winter). His power has all but disappeared this season, however, which is the opposite of what you want to see when someone goes to Coors. Away from Colorado, Scutaro’s line—.229/.296/.271—has been especially ugly. Oddly enough, Scutaro has the fifth-highest line-drive percentage of any hitter with at least 400 plate appearances. Ladies and gentlemen, line-drive percentage!
Scutaro’s bat should rebound a bit, but at 36, his starting days are almost certainly over. That’s perfectly fine, since he cost them only a little cash (the Rockies are sending some to sweeten the swap) and a player who probably won’t grow up to be any better than Scutaro is now. As a veteran who’s past his prime, he’ll be embraced by Bruce Bochy, and he’ll give the Giants depth in a utility role for a couple more months before hitting free agency and heading somewhere else. As an answer to the Dodgers’ trade for Hanley Ramirez, it’s an underwhelming acquisition. On its own merits, though, the move makes the Giants a bit better, and in the NL West, a bit could be a big deal. —Ben Lindbergh
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ben_lindbergh