Molina move necessary for Giants

Thursday, July 1

SAN JOSE (from the airport terminal, about to leave for Denver) — Bengie Molina’s tenure with the Giants should be remembered for the two Willie Mac awards he won, the admirable hitting he provided from the cleanup spot despite being miscast for the role and for the respect he commanded and received from his teammates and coaches.

That said, his departure from the Giants will accelerate whatever progress they make this season — and, boy, do they need some progress right away.

Moving Buster Posey behind the plate to replace Molina will help manager Bruce Bochy establish a semblance of a regular lineup. Without that, as general manager Brian Sabean indicated Tuesday night, San Francisco’s hopes of winning the National League West — which, if you examine the standings, can be revived by even a half-decent winning streak — are gone.

Establishing Posey as the everyday catcher should have a positive ripple effect. I initially wrote “will” instead of “should” in that previous sentence, but everything depends on which shape the Giants’ lineup takes.

If Aubrey Huff returns to first base, the Giants can add defense and a little bit of dash to their lineup by reinstalling Nate Schierholtz in right field, moving Andres Torres to left and reinstating Aaron Rowand in center field. I’ll await readers’ criticism and abuse at the mere mention of Rowand. But if he’s playing moderately well, he improves the Giants’ chances of winning, particularly when flanked by two capable all-around outfielders.

Or the Giants can continue to play Pat Burrell in left field while deciding whether to have (1) Rowand in center and Torres in right; (2) Torres in center and Schierholtz in right; (3) Torres in center and Huff in right. Option 3 doesn’t do much for the Giants if they want to re-emphasize pitching and defense. Even if Burrell goes to the bench, he’ll likely continue to start intermittently as Bochy looks for opportunities to capitalize on his bat.

If Huff remains in the outfield, that obviously affects the infield. We’d continue to see the contingent of third baseman Juan Uribe, shortstop Edgar Renteria, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and first baseman Pablo Sandoval. Since this foursome has begun appearing regularly, the Giants have gone from breathing down San Diego’s neck to fourth place in the division. Bochy might want to consider employing the infield that was in place when the Giants were thriving, featuring Huff at first, Sanchez at second, Uribe at shortstop and Sandoval at third. If it’s important to continue finding playing time for Renteria, Bochy can accomplish that by occasionally resting Uribe, Sanchez or even an outfielder (with Huff moving to one of the outfield corners).

Posey faces the challenge of learning how to handle the Giants’ pitching staff, a facet in which Molina excelled. But Posey’s intelligent as well as talented. It won’t take him long to establish working relationships with Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain (Eli Whiteside probably will keep catching Jonathan Sanchez, and Posey already has a rapport with No. 5 starter Madison Bumgarner). We may see some instances of poor pitch selection in the coming weeks. But those will become less frequent as the season’s second half evolves.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers are getting a catcher and a leader who could help them fend off the Angels in the AL West. Good luck, Bengie.

— Chris Haft  

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