SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The San Francisco Giants caught lightning in a bottle with Ryan Vogelsong. They say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but that didn’t stop the organization from bringing back two former players for second chances.
The Giants selected Boof Bonser with the 21st overall pick in 2000 and the right-handed pitcher got off to a promising start to his professional career. While Vogelsong was part of a package deal to acquire Jason Schmidt, who enjoyed immense success as a Giant, Bonser was involved in Brian Sabean’s infamous trade with the Minnesota Twins to acquire A.J. Pierzynski, who lasted one disappointing season in San Francisco.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Bonser said. “People still say it was the worst trade ever for the Giants.”
Now Bonser is hoping to follow in Vogelsong’s footsteps. The two pitchers share a connection other than returning to the team that drafted them before sending them to another organization: Tommy John surgery. While Vogelsong had his in 2001, Bonser is just two years removed from the complicated procedure.
“I feel like our story is about the same,” Bonser said. “He got traded right before I did and came back here to the big leagues. I got hurt and now I’m back here trying to get myself back to the big leagues.”
“Clearly injuries set him back a little bit, but when healthy he’s a guy that could provide that [long relief] role at the big league level,” Giants vice president and assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. “He didn’t sign here to play Triple-A; he signed here to help the big league club. But he’s prepared to go to Triple-A if he doesn’t make the club.”
“I’m not going to sit here and say ‘I want to be a starter or I want to be a bullpen guy,’” Bonser said. “Whatever they need, I want to do. My biggest goal is to be back in the big leagues, that’s the bottom line, regardless of what I’m doing.”
That’s a sentiment that bodes well for any player, let alone one with a history of injuries and inconsistent pitching performances.
Another familiar name in camp this year is Andres Torres, who, like Bonser, is willing to accept any role the Giants deem him fit for. Unlike Bonser, Torres signed a major league contract. But he’s not guaranteed the starting job he held in 2010 and has no qualms with his situation.
“Whatever [Bruce] Bochy needs me for,” Torres said. “I just want to help them. Whenever they need me I’ll be ready.”
That attitude is part of what attracted Evans and the rest of the Giants’ front office to reach out to Torres and Bonser about coming back.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and there’s sometimes not a lot that separates some of that talent from one another,” Evans said. “So you have to consider the fact that you’ve had that talent in your system, you know they’re coachable, you know that they fit in well with your clubhouse.
“They’re guys that have always been players you believe in and have some investment in. There’s some satisfaction for us to bring them back and continue to see the fruit of both the work that’s gone into them in the past, but also the potential for what could come out in the present and future.”
While intangibles like familiarity played a part in the desire to bring back Vogelsong, Torres and Bonser, Evans said that all three offered something the Giants needed.
“There’s always a projection made as to what could this person potentially do if healthy and if successful and [Torres, Bonser and Vogelsong] had relative value. We brought [Torres] back partly after evaluating what he did in 2012 offensively against left-handed pitching. That was something we felt we needed to match up with [Gregor] Blanco.”
The switch-hitting Torres hit .296 against southpaws last season and owns a .291 lifetime average as a right-handed batter. That’s a big reason why he’s back, as is his knowledge of the expansive AT&T Park outfield.
“We look at how we won in 2012 and one of the key components was defense,” Evans said. “Andres being able to play all three [outfield spots], as can [Angel] Pagan and Blanco, it really gave us an advantage to have three guys that are athletes that can cover territory.”
While many Giants fans clamored for an offseason addition with a little more pop, such as Scott Hairston, Evans said the club made an educated decision.
“We weren’t necessarily out there looking for the big bat that was going to play a corner and possibly compromise our defense. There were other options we talked to and other options we made offers to. Ultimately [Torres] ended up being the best fit.”
Torres couldn’t be more excited Evans arrived at that conclusion and brought him back a year after he was sent to the New York Mets along with Ramon Ramirez for Angel Pagan. Now Torres has his locker right next to Ramirez’s in Scottsdale and will flank Pagan in the AT&T Park outfield.
“For me it’s an honor to be back with the 2012 World Champion team,” Torres said. “What they did in the playoffs and World Series was amazing. I’m looking forward to playing with them and helping them win games.”
Torres, barring injury, will certainly get a chance to contribute as early as Opening Day on April 1 in Los Angeles since the Dodgers are scheduled to send left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the mound. But Bonser has a lot of work to do before getting his opportunity. Evans was candid about what he wants to see from Bonser before considering a promotion.
“He’s got a little bit of a ways to go right now,” Evans said. “The only way to get yourself back into the position to do what Vogelsong did is pitch. [Bonser] missed a lot of time in 2011 and a lot of time in 2012. So the goal in a lot of ways for him is to have a healthy 2013 and then the sky’s the limit for what could happen.”
Lucky for Bonser, all he has to do is look at what Vogelsong has accomplished over the last two seasons to buy what Evans is selling.