There’s a bad taste in the mouths of the San Francisco Giants (64-54), their fans, and baseball in its entirety. Melky Cabrera (.346 AVG., 11 HRs, 60 RBIs in 113 games) is most likely done for the season after committing the most selfish atrocity that a baseball player can do. The 2012 All-Star Game MVP tested positive for testosterone, violating Major League Baseball’s drug prevention program, and will miss the Giants’ final 44 games of the season. His suspension stretches 50 games in total; Cabrera would be eligible to return to the Giants if the team reaches game 5 of the NLDS or game 1 of the NLCS.
That seems unlikely now. It’s even more unlikely that the Giants would activate a hormone depleted cheater in the midst of a pennant chase. Nevertheless, the Melk Man led the major leagues in hits (159) and runs (84) upon his suspension and was monumental in generating offense for a team that ranks mid-level in that category.
The Giants look to move forward without Cabrera, who had entered MVP candidate conversations and was coveted as one of the most dynamic impending free agents in recent memory. All of that is done with now, and the Giants know it.
The immediate response of shock and disparate agony is overshadowed by the fact that the Giants still have to play baseball. The season isn’t over, regardless of how jubilant the Los Angeles Dodgers (65-54) have abruptly become. Still, the Giants immediately take a back-seat to the Dodgers as unofficial underdogs. But, none of that is going to deter the backbone of the team:
“We have to approach the rest of the year with a chip on our shoulders,” explained Buster Posey (.330 AVG., 19 HRs, 76 RBIs) to reporters after a 6-4 loss to the Nationals on the day Cabrera’s suspension took effect.
It’s apparent that the Giants won’t be able to replace Cabrera’s level of production, although it’s entirely possible that the potential “solution” is already in the clubhouse. It has to be.
According to Giants GM Brian Sabean, there is nobody “too compelling or interesting” on the waiver wire to motivate the front office to acquire another outfielder via trade.
The Giants have already done that. They acquired lanky outfielder Hunter Pence before the non-waiver trade deadline to bolster the outfield and strengthen the lineup. Since then, Pence has compiled a .177 batting average in 62 official at bats for the Giants. If the Giants are going to overtake the Dodgers to win the NL West, then Hunter Pence (.259 AVG., 18 HRs, 70 RBIs) needs to perform to his expectations because the orange and black attack are officially void of a player with 4.5 wins above replacement.
Hunter Pence can’t do it alone, but he needs to ascertain his career averages. Pence is a career .288 hitter and has hit at least 22 home runs in each of his last 4 seasons. He’s on pace to match his career level of run production, although his batting average has dropped significantly. Pence is hitting just .210 in 143 at bats against left-handed starters this season, which is compelling because the Giants are 22-11 on the season when facing left-handed starting pitchers. This is alarming considering Pence’s career .285 average against lefties, which is essentially on level with his .289 average when facing righties.
If Pence is going to be effective in a melk-less lineup, then he needs to improve against left-handed pitching. He also needs to walk more often. Pence has earned just 3 free passes while striking out 19 times in 66 plate appearances with the Giants.
Melky Cabrera’s 2012 production cannot be matched or replaced, but it can be substituted for, and it’s entirely practical for Pence to fill the void.
As for the Melk Man: his earnest spirit and taunting grin should land somewhere outside of San Francisco when spring training rolls around, regardless of how “affordable” his seeming talents have become.
“There’s got to be respect for the game,” said former Giants’ first baseman J.T. Snow in a radio interview. Melky Cabrera publicly disclosed his “mistake,” while indirectly apologizing to the Giants’ organization, his teammates, and the fans. But, the Melk Man isn’t apologetic, really.
Cabrera chose to cheat in the prime of his career in fear of never achieving a gigantic contract. That feat is now realized. Cabrera’s value has plummeted and his recent accolades are tainted. And in spite of it all, the Giants are going to move forward.