Among the offseason decisions the Giants will have to sift through starting next week is one concerning outfielder Nori Aoki.
The Giants hold a $5.5 million team option on Aoki for 2016 and will weigh whether to bring back the 33-year-old outfielder, whose first season with the Giants was something of a mixed bag.
When healthy, Aoki was a sparkplug leadoff hitter for the Giants. He started hot and through the Giants’ first 70 games hit .317 with a .383 on-base percentage, but June 20 he was hit in the leg by a pitch in Los Angeles and broke his fibula. At the time, Aoki was among the top vote-getters among National League outfielders for the All-Star Game.
Aoki played in just 26 more games the rest of the way between the broken leg and the concussion he sustained after being hit by a pitch Aug. 9 in Chicago. Aoki missed a week in mid-August and has not played since Sept. 3 because of recurring symptoms. He’ll end the season with a .287/.353/.380 slash line and 42 runs in 93 games.
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Aoki just rejoined the Giants following a visit to a concussion specialist in Pittsburgh, and manager Bruce Bochy said Aoki “did well on the tests” and is “doing a lot better.” There was some talk that Aoki might be available to pinch-hit this weekend if cleared, but it sounds as if that won’t be an option.
Asked to weigh Aoki’s contributions this season, Bochy said, “I think you have to look at what he did in the first half.
“He was on his way to making the All-Star team, with his on-base percentage and things he was doing before he got hurt. After that it was a rough go. Break the fibula, get hit in the head, get a concussion – you can’t get a fair evaluation after those injuries.
“So I think he showed what he’s capable of doing when he’s healthy.”
The Giants’ outfield could be an interesting mix next spring – Angel Pagan is still under contract but is coming off of an injury-plagued season, while Hunter Pence and Gregor Blanco are expected to return healthy. The Giants may consider bringing back Marlon Byrd, who performed well in Pence’s absence, and they have intriguing young options in Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, who are both getting a long look from the Giants in the final two weeks of the season.
Aoki last month told the San Jose Mercury News that he has an interest in returning to San Francisco, saying he enjoys the clubhouse and the playing atmosphere. Should Aoki return healthy in the spring as the productive leadoff hitter the Giants saw during the first half of this season, a reunion could make a lot of sense.
▪ Bochy shared an interesting fact Friday – he actually prefers carrying three catchers, even though the Giants haven’t done it much. Recently the top three options have been Buster Posey, Andrew Susac and Hector Sanchez, but another player has joined the mix.
That’s Trevor Brown, who has come up and made a strong impression on the Giants in just the past few weeks. Brown was not expected to be a September call-up, but joined the Giants due to injuries and has basically become the everyday catcher, handling the Giants’ veteran pitching staff as well as the staff could have expected.
“Our concern was he hasn’t caught a lot in the minor leagues, and now we’re going to ask him to handle major-league pitching,” Bochy said. “And he passed that test easily.”
According to Bochy, some of Brown’s biggest supporters have been the pitchers he has caught the past two weeks, many for the first time. The Giants have a seasoned pitching staff that offers a lot of different styles, and Brown has adapted well. He caught Mike Leake’s two-hit shutout in Leake’s final outing of the season, and Jake Peavy went out of his way to praise Brown’s work after his last start.
“The veterans, they’ve come up to me saying, this kid does a great job, follows the plan, they like the way he sets up,” Bochy said. “So this is probably the best thing that could have happened to Trevor Brown.”
Brown hadn’t caught much in the minors because he’s a converted infielder. He played mostly infield at UCLA and in his first seasons in the Giants’ system, and Bochy said that defensive versatility could make Brown a real asset. Bochy made it clear he’s not putting Brown on next year’s roster already, and pointed out Brown would need to put in a lot of work before games to be an option both catching and on the infield.
“But to have played the way he has and handled himself with the bat the way he has, he’s in the mix,” Bochy said. “These are things we’ll talk about once the season’s over.”
▪ Otherwise, Bochy didn’t have much news Friday. “As far as I know,” he said, “nobody is retiring.” (Reliever Jeremy Affeldt announced his Thursday on the same day Tim Hudson made his final major-league start).
Instead, it’s rookie Chris Heston making his final start of the season for the Giants against the Colorado Rockies, trying to become the first Giants rookie since Matt Cain in 2006 to have a 13-win season. Heston comes in 12-10 in his first big-league season. The Giants’ lineup behind him Friday night:
And the Rockies’ lineup: