Hector Sanchez to the DL, Eli Whiteside Called Up

Earlier today, the San Francisco Giants placed Hector Sanchez on the 15-day DL with a left knee strain, with Eli Whiteside coming up from Triple-A Fresno to replace him. Sanchez’s injury isn’t supposed to be all that serious — it won’t require surgery, and he should be fine within a week, but according to Baggs, with Sanchez likely out for a week, the Giants felt it made more sense to just DL him and go with Whiteside as the backup for the time being.

Most are likely bemoaning the return of Whiteside, and understandably so. He’s spent the entirety of 2012 in the minors, in a hitter-friendly environment, and all he has is a .292 wOBA to show for it. That said, the dropoff in backup catcher production from Whiteside to Sanchez won’t be all that significant over the course of a couple weeks. And for what it’s worth, Whiteside is easily the more advanced defender — and that difference is perhaps understated. Earlier this year, Max Marchi published an article at Baseball Prospectus quantifying the cumulative effect of catchers’ defensive skills, and he found that Eli Whiteside had saved +35 runs from 2008 to 2011 (5146 PAs) — largely because of his game-calling. By this measure, he’s one of the better defensive catchers in baseball.

Not that any of this really matters — again, the difference between Whiteside and Sanchez over a few games is minimal at best. The bigger implication of this injury is how it affects Brandon Belt. Just yesterday, Bruce Bochy was asked if he believed Sanchez’s bat is preferable to Belt’s. His answer?

“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Wouldn’t you?”

It’s difficult to infer exactly what Bochy means by that statement, but it is quite telling. Hector has been receiving steady playing time at the expense of Belt, and frankly, at the expense of the team. When Hector catches and Posey plays first, the Giants are worse off both defensively and offensively. Belt (110 wRC+), by all accounts, is a better hitter than Sanchez (78 wRC+). Posey needs his rest obviously, but it’s gotten to the point where Hector is starting nearly as many games as Belt. In July, Hector has started five games; Belt has started six. If it’s merely for the sake of giving Posey rest, why not give him actual rest by letting him sit on the bench? And if it’s not merely that — if it’s to get Sanchez’s bat in the lineup more often — then why?

So the silver lining here is that Hector’s injury opens the door for Belt to get consistent playing time at first base the next couple weeks. He’s been scuffling lately, but this might give him ample opportunity to seize back an everyday role — a role which he really shouldn’t have to fight for. The good news is that there’s just no way Whiteside will get the kind of playing time Hector has been getting. These next couple weeks could prove to be very important, though. There’s already talk of the Giants trading for a first baseman, or Belt himself being traded with the deadline approaching.

Brian Wilson to Undergo Tommy John Surgery Tomorrow

Brian Wilson has officially been “out for the season” since Sunday, but today it was reported that he will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday.

Wilson hasn’t been the same pitcher since the 2010 postseason, during which time he’s posted pedestrian numbers (109 ERA+ and 1.70 K/BB in 57 innings — most of that work coming in 2011). While the loss of Wilson is certainly a blow to the team, they have the bullpen depth to handle it — and Wilson, assuming he would have posted something similar to his 2011 numbers, is pretty replaceable. As of now, the team is employing the closer-by-committee approach, but I’d expect Santiago Casilla carries the bulk of the load when it comes to closing. Ideally, this would mean an expanded role for Sergio Romo as well, which would go a long way toward making up for the loss of Wilson.

Anyway, Brian Wilson had a 3.33 FIP last season. Santiago Casilla, his likely replacement, had a 3.10 FIP last season. In the month or so during which Wilson didn’t pitch last year (mid-August to mid-September), the Giants blew one save. And that blown save was 1) Guillermo Mota‘s doing, and 2) only because of a weird quirk in the save rule. Satchel Price wrote up a piece over at Beyond the Box Score last year on how the Giants would do just fine without Wilson (and they did do just fine), and it applies for 2012 as well. I’m not too concerned.

None of this, of course, is meant to disparage Wilson. His 2010 season was fantastic, and even more impressive was the postseason that followed (11.2 innings, zero earned runs). He is, and will forever be a huge part of the reason the Giants were able to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2010. But the post-2010 version of Wilson has been a much less dominant (yet still effective) pitcher, and given the strength of their bullpen, the Giants are still in pretty good shape without him.

The most interesting issue that arises from this is what the future now holds for Wilson and the Giants. He’s arbitration-eligible for one last time next season, and if the Giants choose to tender him a contract, at minimum they’ll be offering around $6.5M. Is he worth that kind of money? Heath Hembree should be ready to seize the closer role by that point, and furthermore, Wilson would be coming off his second Tommy John surgery. It seems like an easy no.  And while trading him at the end of this season might have made sense before he blew out his elbow, it seems silly to do that now that his trade value is at a dead-low (though there’s no harm in gauging interest).

I think I’m with Lefty Malo here in that the best option is probably to non-tender Wilson and subsequently negotiate a low-base highly-incentivized contract. The upside’s still there for Wilson, but it wouldn’t be worth the risk of tendering him a contract.