Now that Brandon Belt is signed for the next six years, the San Francisco Giants find themselves in an envious position, with their entire infield under team control for the rest of the decade.
And with outfielders Hunter Pence and Denard Span signed through 2018, the Giants will have just one position to address next offseason, when left fielder Angel Pagan is due to hit free agency. But other than that, the only other financial commitments they have to consider will come when their young stars reach the arbitration years.
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That conversation begins with second baseman Joe Panik. The third-year second baseman is off to another solid start (of course, it’s just one week), after batting over .300 in each of his first two seasons.
Despite not being much of a power hitter—though he is proving capable of double-digit home runs—Panik has the all-around offensive game to easily carry an .800 OPS. His on-base skills are impressive (.378 OBP in 2015), and had he not gotten hurt, limiting him to just 100 games last year, he was on pace for more than 40 doubles.
That’s an impressive showing for player who was just 24 years old, and even more so considering the position he plays.
That said, Panik isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2018, so the Giants probably aren’t in any rush to sign him to big money. They didn’t sign Brandon Crawford long-term until after his first year of eligibility. Then they bought him out of his final two arbitration years and extended him an additional four years for a total of $75 million.
Brandon Belt went even deeper into his arbitration years, as his new contract only buys him out of his final year of arbitration.
So Panik is probably a couple years away from seeing the big money.
Once Panik is taken care of, third baseman Matt Duffy, who is entering his second season as a major leaguer, would be next. Or maybe they would both be addressed in the same offseason, perhaps heading into 2019.
Between the long-term contracts and the years of control over their younger players, the Giants’ infield is set for the foreseeable future; not many other teams can boast about having solid homegrown players at each infield spot, with all five showing all-star potential.
Buster Posey, who is signed through 2022, is already at the all-star level (duh), as he’s the best all-around catcher in baseball. And Brandon Crawford is one the best fielding shortstops as well as one the better power-hitting shortstops out there. (Who would’ve thought that a couple seasons ago?)
Though it wouldn’t be a total shock if they reached all-star level, Belt and Duffy are not quite there yet.
Panik technically already is an all-star, though if Bruce Bochy hadn’t been managing the National League team in last year’s Midsummer Classic, Panik almost certainly would not have made the team. Still, he likely will play in several more all-star games, regardless of who is managing; he has batting-title potential while playing a traditionally weak-hitting position.
And with Pence and Span under contract, the Giants’ first seven spots in the batting order could potentially remain the same for three seasons.
The pitching staff also boasts some long-term stability. While Jake Peavy is a free agent after this season, second-year major leaguer Chris Heston can slide into the fifth slot of the starting rotation.
That leaves the bullpen as the Giants’ only big question mark for the near future: mainstays Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo—all of whom have been with the club since at least 2010—are all free to seek employment elsewhere after 2016.