President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said the recent change in the Giants fortunes with regard to the 2019 post-season race after a mid-summer tear put them in striking distance of the second Wild Card spot, forced them to consider other options at second base to inject offensive production into the lineup that Panik wasn’t providing.
The Giants selected Panik in the first round of the 2011 draft and assigned him the role of everyday second baseman in June 2014. The New York native earned a 2015 All-Star nod and a 2016 Gold Glove award at the position, and ultimately offered significant contributions to the team’s 2014 World Series victory.
He will forever be immortalized in October highlight reels for his epic diving stop and glove-flip to longtime double-play partner Brandon Crawford in the third inning of game seven of the 2014 World Series matchup against the Royals, turning perhaps the most important double-play of his career as a 23-year-old rookie.
But his offense cratered in 2018 and this season continued to trend downward. He’s posted a .235 batting average with a 69 wRC+, which is even more unpalatable when compared with utility-man Donovan Solano‘s .341 average and 127 wRC+. In addition to his compelling offensive production, Solano has the flexibility to play shortstop and third base, which Panik lacks.
So on the heels of the Giants trade-deadline acquisition of power-hitting second baseman Scooter Gennett from the Reds, the writing was on the wall.
Of the decision, Zaidi said:
“[The playoff prospects] kind of forced us to look more actively for ways to try to get more production out of that position. And it was part of the thought-process of bringing Scooter in. I think Boch may look to get Solano into the lineup more now as well. So those things all kind of factored in.”
Despite poor production at the plate, Panik continued to provide solid defense up the middle. Fangraphs gives him a 2.1 ultimate zone rating, compared with Gennett, who’s rated at a minus-0.2 UZR.
But since Gennett joined the team in Colorado Friday, Panik was placed in a bench role, pinch-hitting and coming in on double-switches, a redundancy with Solano also available off the bench.
Zaidi said ultimately the roster math just couldn’t be reconciled, and the Giants had to bid farewell to a deeply popular and respected franchise hero:
“For a guy like him, who’s meant so much to this organization and who could still fulfill a useful role on this team, even if he wasn’t an every day or even platoon second baseman— if we could have a 26-man roster [we’d keep him], but at some point, with the roster math, you’ve got to make some of these difficult moves, and that’s kind of what it came down to.”
Bochy said he expects Panik will find a spot on another roster and wished him all the best. The veteran manager said he spoke with his longtime second baseman about the move Monday night and described it as one of the more difficult such conversations he’s had to have as a manager:
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say we both got a little emotional, it’s going to happen because of our time together. …I respect him and of course I appreciate everything he’s done here, so I’m not gonna lie, this was a very tough one. But it should be. When you spend as much time as we all do together and for as long as we’ve been together—it’s gonna be tough. If it’s not, you’re not human.”
Zaidi said Panik has been one of his favorite Giants players even dating back to the executive’s time with the Dodgers and even more so since he met him personally this season. He said it was not an easy decision to make because of what the second baseman has meant to San Francisco:
“Anytime you’re dealing with that caliber of a person, a player that always puts the team first, which he does, I think it makes it harder. I think a lot of the fans’ affection for him is that he’s been a winning player, not what’s on the back of his baseball card but what he helped this organization and team accomplish.”
Bochy said Johnny Cueto (Tommy John) will make his second rehab start in Arizona Friday and throw around 30 pitches. Cueto will maintain an every-five-day schedule going forward and Bochy said as of now he expects the right-hander to make an early-September return.