Fred Lewis was once viewed as one of the Giants' best prospects, a young outfielder with top notch tools and developing patience at the plate. In 2007, after mashing in Triple-A for over 700 plate appearances, and established himself as the team's replacement for Barry Bonds in left field. He came up to San Francisco and posted a 113 wRC+ over 701 plate appearances during 2007/2008, but fell out of favor with the club as contact issues made him one of the team's most inconsistent performers in 2009, where his numbers dipped to slightly below average.
Lewis is already 29, so there's no longer really any room to project for improvement. But he projects as a slightly above average hitter with an above average glove in left field, making him a roughly league average player over the course of a full season. Right now, the Giants' outfield is set up with Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand, John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez, which is about as exciting as a NASCAR race.
DeRosa and Rowand obviously are keeping their spots in the lineup, thanks to the large commitments to them, but it would seem to me that there should be a spot on their roster for Mr. Lewis. Lewis will be competing against two very similar players (Bowker, Schierholtz), a clearly inferior hitter who's only advantage is the ability to play second base (Velez), and a superior defensive outfielder that can't hit righties (Torres). If San Francisco is planning on keeping the four best players from that five-man group, then Lewis should continue to be a Giant in 2010.
Schierholtz and Bowker are the most interesting players in the group. Schierholtz, 26, has shown some nice power and hitting ability in Triple-A, but he doesn't walk much and he has to play a corner outfield position, which limits his value a good deal. Bowker projects to be about as good as Lewis offensively, with a few less walks but a bit more power, and slightly worse on defense and the basepaths. He turns 27 during this season, so now's pretty much his time to shine after he landed a spot on the roster with a big spring training. Unfortunately, they'll both very similar to Lewis, as corner outfielders that can't hit lefties. Frankly, these two guys are probably deserving of their roster spots for the time being, but given that Bowker has options remaining, he seems like a decent bet to see time in Triple-A this season.
But what about Torres and Velez? They're both out of options, so they would have to pass through waivers in order to get sent to Triple-A. But is losing Lewis really worth keeping these two? Velez is a soon-to-be 28-year-old utility man that doesn't play any position particularly well, doesn't walk much, and doesn't have much power. Torres is a 32-year-old career Quad-A hitter that plays plus defense in the outfield but offers little offensively.
They're going to keep these four guys on the roster in favor of Lewis? I mean, I know that the Giants need someone to back-up Juan Uribe at second base while Freddy Sanchez is out, but couldn't DeRosa man that emergency position, essentially making Velez a superfluous sixth outfielder? DeRosa's not much of a second baseman defensively, but Lewis is better in left field so that would offset some of the lost defensive value.
Guys like Velez and Bowker might have value to someone, they're not completely worthless players. But among the group of Lewis, Bowker, Schierholtz, Velez and Torres, only Bowker can be sent back to the minors without passing through waivers first. If the team doesn't want to choose between Lewis, Velez and Torres, sending Bowker down to Triple-A may be the best option.
When it comes down to it, I'm not sure how both Velez and Bowker keep their spots in San Francisco for long. Velez made the roster on the legs of his versatility, Freddy Sanchez's injury, and his lack of options, but he continues to show that he's just not that good. Bowker has shown some ability, but his skills are rather redundant with Lewis and Schierholtz around. At the very least, Torres gives the Giants a switch-hitter and a damn good defender to back-up their starters, which is important considering that nobody is going to confuse San Francisco's outfield defense with Seattle's or Oakland's.
Lewis is going to get activated soon, and suddenly the Giants will have to decide between three very similar players, an all-glove fifth outfielder and an underwhelming utility man for four roster spots. But when the Giants are forced to make a decision regarding their lack of roster spots, it should come at the expense of Velez or Bowker, not Freddy Lewis.