Best case scenario, Freddy Sanchez isn't out long enough to be missed. He's back in the lineup before taxes are due. His left shoulder feels like $12 million over two years. By the time the Giants take the field for Game 1 of the NLDS, his offseason medical misadventures are long forgotten (think Jeff Kent's wrist in 2002).

Worst case scenario, one or more of the variables in the best case scenario fails to materialize. The Giants are unable to forge their pleasantly surprising 2009 into a pleasantly confirming 2010. Sanchez becomes a magnet for fan dissatisfaction, the Armando Benitez of the 20-teens. If you want to go full doomsday, Tim Lincecum free-falls to third in the Cy Young balloting.

And the whole unfulfilling spectacle costs general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy their jobs.

There might be a patch of middle ground in there somewhere. Say, Sanchez barely contributes but the Giants win 89 games and squeeze into/just miss out on a wild-card berth. But as we speak, this business regarding Sanchez and his shoulder smells like an either-or proposition.

That isn't necessarily the way Sabean saw it Friday during a conference call with reporters.

"He's young enough, he's hard working, he's on a mission," Sabean said. "He wanted to stay with the ballclub and be our second baseman, and that's the way it's going to turn out."


Advertisement

Then again, Sabean is pretty invested in the process, which began July 29 when he acquired Sanchez from Pittsburgh for pitching prospect Tim Alderson. The Giants were dreaming big at the time and led the wild card race by a half-game at the close of business that day.

They wound up four games behind wild-card winner Colorado. For his part, Sanchez played in just 25 of the Giants' final 61 games, missing time with a strained left shoulder and a cartilage problem in his left knee. His knee was surgically repaired in September. The Giants reworked his contract in October — replacing an $8.1 million option for 2010 with a two-year, $12 million deal through 2011.

In early December, Sanchez broke down for the third time in little more than four months, when his shoulder failed to hold up to resumed baseball activity. He had surgery Dec. 23 to repair his labrum. The Giants kept it quiet for almost a month before Bochy broke the news in a radio interview this week.

Will Sanchez be ready to start the season? Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner checked in with a definite maybe.

"That's a goal for Freddy," said Groeschner, who has been overseeing Sanchez's rehab in Arizona. "I know he's working his butt off right now. It's a possibility, but it may not happen."

So many questions. When does Sanchez come back? How will his shoulder hold up? Which player will he be? The guy who won a battling title with 53 doubles in 2006? The guy who hit .304 and made the All-Star team in 2007? The guy who posted career lows in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2008? The ghost who hit a soft .284 for the Giants at the end of 2009? Which body part will break down next?

Sabean, of course, defended the Giants' decision to rework Sanchez's contract last fall while he was between surgeries.

"The nth degree of due diligence was done on the medical side," he said. "This is something we couldn't pinpoint. It shows the medical profession isn't perfect. There's nothing more we could have done."

Perhaps not. But this makes twice Sabean has wound up on the wrong side of a thoughtful decision regarding Sanchez. And while Sabean deserves credit for rebuilding the post-Barry Bonds Giants into a would-be contender, that process has featured some high profile swing-throughs (Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria, Ryan Garko).

Clearly that isn't lost on team managing partner Bill Neukom, who limited to two years the new contracts he gave Sabean and Bochy after last season. Because as we all know, a two-year contract is code for, "You have one year to make something happen."

That the year may start with Sanchez on the bench is an ominous development for the GM and the manager — unless the Giants are deeper than they appear, their young players are older than they look, and Neukom is more forgiving than the contracts he doles out with such calculated restraint.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com.