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Nate Schierholtz on the Trading Block as the Giants Reshape their Outfield

ESPN.com columnist Jerry Crasnick reported today that the San Francisco Giants have made it known they are actively shopping outfielder Nate Schierholtz. The Giants have to make a roster move in the next week when starting center fielder Andres Torres comes off the disabled list, and Schierholtz has no minor league options left. The bid to move Schierholtz provides insight into what the Giants are thinking in terms of how their outfield shapes up for the remainder of the first half of the season and beyond.

Schierholtz, 27, has been a late inning defensive replacement in right field for the Giants, a role that may be completely eliminated as the team draws up a long term plan for their 2011 outfield alignment. He’s hitting .226 this season, and hit .242 in 227 ABs in 2010. Schierholtz has a .710 OPS over his five year career, and has never been able to put up anything near the offensive power numbers expected from a starting right fielder. 

Two factors are in play here: first, the signing of Cody Ross solved the defense/offense issue that has plagued the Giants in right field for the past six years, during which the front office alternatively settled for a good glove/bad bat solution (Randy Winn, Schierholtz) or a potential power bat/bad glove solution (Jose Guillen, John Bowker, Fred Lewis, Moises Alou).

During late September 2010, and throughout the 2010 playoffs and World Series, Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would start Cody Ross in right field, then late in the game move Ross to left field as a defensive replacement for Pat Burrell, replacing Ross in right with Schierholtz. It worked well at the time, but now everything has changed.

Putting three critical starting line-up issues together may give a clue to how this could all play out: 1) Pat Burrell is a huge defensive liability in left field, and adds best to San Francisco’s offense by coming off the bench everyday and maybe starting once a week. 2) Aubrey Huff had a terrible start to the season trying to replace Ross in the outfield, and it appeares to have affected him at the plate. Huff is obviously much more comfortable at first base; in fact, the entire team seems more settled with Huff at first. 3) Highly touted rookie first baseman Brandon Belt has been playing left field for the Triple A Fresno Grizzlies since his demotion last week– a position Belt has experience playing in his minor league career.

Brandon Belt will be rejoining the Giants sometime in the next month or so, and it will likely not be as the team’s starting first baseman. With an outfield of Belt in left, Torres in center, and Ross playing all nine innings in right, the Giants could finally stabilize their outfield for the first time in years.

The rest of the outfield becomes a matter of money. After the front office apparently could not find a buyer for Aaron Rowand and some piece of the $24 million remaining on the final two years of his contract, he appears to be the fourth outfielder by default. A career center fielder, Rowand has grudgingly started to play in both left and right field which adds to his team value; but the Giants should not give up trying to trade Rowand, especially since his hot start at the plate could make him a more attractive buy.   

Speedy 25 year old outfielder Darren Ford is currently on the roster, but even if the decision is made to demote Ford to Triple A Fresno when Torres returns, Schierholtz’s days are still numbered with Belt in the wings.

If the Giants hope to get any value for Schierholtz they need to move him now, before it becomes obvious that he no longer fits into the long term outfield scheme. Otherwise Schierholtz could end up being designated for assignment and simply released.