This is my Sunday column on Angel Pagan. WARNING — this is a baseball column. 49ers fans, feel free to skip this.
The Giants need a backup plan to back up their backup plan.
Angel Pagan was supposed to replace Hunter Pence in the middle of the Giants’ batting order when Pence broke his arm. Pagan, typically a leadoff hitter, was going to bat third while Pence was hurt. Pagan was Plan B.
Pagan reported to the Giants’ clubhouse the first day of spring training and held a press conference on his health. He stood in front of his locker and addressed a crowd of reporters who asked about his back. Pagan missed 57 games last season with a herniated disk.
Pagan told us his back felt “perfect.” Pagan told us he was “pain free.” He said he could hit anywhere in the order and that he wanted to play all 162 games this season. You would have thought Willie Mays was standing there instead of Pagan. As he explained how great his back felt, he took his time and looked each reporter in the eye one by one to show how sincere he was. He seemed like he was trying to convince us. Or was he trying to convince himself?
There’s a big difference between standing in front of a locker and playing center field. In the locker room, Pagan seemed vigorous, sturdy, ready to the carry the team. On the field, he couldn’t last two days.
He felt soreness in his neck two days after his press conference. He missed workouts for two days. Then on March 16 he again hurt his back, and he hasn’t played since.
The Giants’ doctors gave Pagan an injection to relieve the pain. The Giants hope he will be able to play soon. They assure us Pagan’s current back injury is not related to his previous back injury. This back injury is in a different place.
Is that supposed to be good? Is that supposed to make people happy? Don’t worry everyone—Pagan’s back is falling apart in two places now.
So far during spring training, Pagan has played seven out of 20 games. He has two base hits in 16 at bats. He seems to have a mind-body dichotomy. His mind is willing to play but his body is unable.
Some Plan B.
The Giants need Plan C. Is Gary Brown Plan C? Are the Giants at the Gary-Brown level? He’s more like Plan Z.
Who is the Giants’ third outfielder? How many positions can poor Gregor Blanco play? Can he play center field and right field at the same time? Is he that fast? He’s supposed to be a backup, too.
The Giants are so desperate they’re recruiting first basemen to play the outfield. That’s the domino effect Pagan’s bad back is having on the Giants. They’re talking about moving Brandon Belt, the man they call the baby giraffe, to left field, which is not the giraffe’s natural habitat.
Soon you could see Buster Posey in the outfield. It’s like the Giants are turning into a Sunday softball team. Can Joe in the stands play left field?
The Giants have no legitimate Plan C. A baseball team can’t have Plan C batting third. The No.3 hitter is one of the team’s best hitters, and he needs to play every day.
The past two years, Pagan played 157 games – not quite one full season. He is a half-schedule guy who has been a one-third-schedule guy so far during spring training.
That makes him a part-timer. Sometimes he’s a center fielder, other times he’s a rehabber and a spectator. During the playoffs last season he seemed to be doing a lot of spectating from his house in Puerto Rico.
The Giants are paying this part-timer $9 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016. He has the third-highest average salary of the position players on the team behind Posey and Pence.
If Pagan were a football player, he would get cut tomorrow. No team wants to be at the mercy of one player, and the Giants absolutely are at the mercy of Pagan. The Giants were 90-67 with him and 74-93 without him the past two seasons. Pagan is the difference between the Giants being a good regular-season team and a bad regular-season team.
Sure, the Giants won the World Series last year without Pagan. But the postseason is different than the regular season. Pitching dominates the postseason. During the regular season, teams need a few position players they can count on to contribute every day and carry the team to October. The Giants can’t plan on Pagan being one of those players. They hope he can play at least some of the time.
The Giants don’t have Plan B. They have Hope B.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.