The Giants acquired Ryan Garko after the All-star break in the 2009 season in order to bring in a bat that would help the Giants in their playoff push. In acquiring Garko from the Cleveland Indians, the Gmen gave up pitching prospect Scott Barnes for Garko's services.
The 28-year old first baseman was suppose to be the offensive power that the Giants needed to get into the playoffs. In the 2008 season, Garko put up good numbers: a .333 wOBA and a .346 OBP. The guy could get on base better than most players in the MLB, which was excellent for the Giants, who had one of the league's most anemic offenses.
Sadly, Garko was poorly misused in San Francisco. He started for about 10 games until Bruce Bochey essentially sidelined Garko for Travis Ishikawa. Ishikawa better with the glove, but was weaker offensively. By the end of the season, Garko was rarely seen, even as a pinch hitter.
What happened? The Giants barely gave the guy a chance. Moreover, he is exactly the type of player this team needs: a guy who can consistently get on base. Granted, Garko's first several games in San Francisco did not go well for him. He hit with a .235 avg, .289 wOBA, and .307 OBP. It was probably for these, misguided, reasons that the Giants decided to drop Garko so prematurely.
However, it shocks me that the Giants management would make a judgment on Garko's offensive ability in so few games. Garko was never given an honest and true chance to show he could hit and to adjust to the National League (Garko had spent his entire professional career with the Indians in the American League).
Little has been said about Garko for the 2010 season. When asked about the status of Garko, Brian Sabean said he was "on the bubble." I suspect the Giants are looking to trade Garko for one of the big bats they need. Considering one of the premier free agents the Giants are pursuing is Nick Johnson, who plays first base, it would make sense if the Giants could trade Garko to another team for a bat (I know the Giants have been hot and cold on Dan Uggla, although I don't know how and if Garko could help out that team). Barring any great deals to trade away Garko for a better bat, however, I think the Giants should retain him and give him another chance for 2010.
One thing that alarms me is how wedded the Giants management is to the idea of starting Eugenio Velez next year in LF. Let me be brutally honest: Eugenio Velez sucks. I don't want to hear about how he went on that impressive hot streak in 2009. Batters can be hot and cold, however to truly and accurately judge a player's talent you need to look at a larger sample size. Offensively, Velez is a joke. He hit with a .301 wOBA in 2009. That is awful, especially considering Garko generally hits far above and beyond that. Yet, for some reason the Giants are dedicated to giving Velez another shot at the starting job. It is probably because the Giants have this old-fashioned belief that your lead-off hitter needs to be a speedy guy. Let me make this clear to the Giants management: A leadoff hitter needs to be good at getting on base, not being fast. Eugenio Velez cannot get on base enough for his speed to even matter. At best, Eugenio Velez should be a pitch hitter/runner and a fourth outfielder.
So what should the Giants do with Garko? Almost no matter what the Giants do to upgrade their infield, someone else will be playing at first. If they sign Nick Johnson of Andy LaRoche, then those players will be a first. If they sign Adrian Beltre, then he will play third and Pablo will move to first. If they trade for Dan Uggla, then Freddy Sanchez will move to third, while Pablo will move to first. So almost no matter what we do, someone else will be at first. That means, if we are to give Garko a starting job, then he will have to move elsewhere.
The outfield is the only spot that makes sense. Garko has played a few games out there. Admittedly, he is not a good defensively player. This is where Velez has the advantage over Garko. In 2009, Garko played 20 games in the outfield. He racked up a -2.4 UZR. Velez, on the other hand, played 59 games in the outfield and had a 3.5 UZR. First of all, we are dealing with small sample sizes, so there is not much weight that we can put into these numbers. However, from we do have, we can make an unscientific, educated guess that Velez will be the better defender. However, Garko's offensive numbers will hopefully make up for his lack of defense ability in LF. To contract, Jason Bay had a -13.0 UZR with the Red Sox last season (although Bay's offense is much better than Garko's).
If we put Ryan Garko in the outfield and signed Nick Johnson we could have a lineup like the following:
(1) N. Johnson (1B)
(2) F. Sanchez (2B)
(3) R. Garko (LF)
(4) P. Sandoval (3B)
(5) N. Schierhotlz (RF)
(6) A. Rowand (CF)
(7) B. Posey (C)
(8) E. Renteria (SS)
Not bad, I'd say. If Renteria's injury last season really was the force that was causing him to underperform then we might see a bounce back next year. If so, he could hit higher up in the line-up. It is something to think about. Ryan Garko could be a solution to our offensive woes, and it is a solution that we already have in our dugout.