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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Roster Decisions and Injuries: What will the Opening Day roster look like?

There's 10 days before games start to count. And the Giants are going to need to start making some tough decisions. Luckily, these decisions are not typical of most teams. They're decisions of World Series champions.

Right now the Giants have about 3-4 guys on the bubble of making the Opening Day roster. If they don't make it, it likely will end their Giants careers. So let's take a look at the guys competing for the last few precious spots:

Travis Ishikawa

Ishikawa has been a good Giant. He's one of our own. And he had some nice contributions to the teams of '09 and '10. However, his role on the team is in jeopardy because he's redundant and expendable. In 2009, Ishikawa had a chance to seize the first base job and claim it his own. He didn't, mostly for not displaying a whole bunch of power and for hitting like a pitcher on the road (his home average was Ruthian). In 2010, he was pushed aside for Aubrey Huff, but was still a valuable piece due to questions about Huff's defense at first. Unfortunately for Ishi, Huff proved adept at first and as the season wore on, Ishikawa's need as a defensive replacement dwindled. However, even though he didn't give Bochy a whole lot of flexibility as he could only play first, he became the Giants best pinch hitter. But this year, the Giants have more depth due to Brandon Belt's explosion in the minors last season. Belt is being touted as a Gold Glove first baseman and also hits lefthanded. He has a much higher ceiling than Ishikawa ever had and he could push Travis off the roster and onto another team. Or Bochy could prefer to keep him as a lefty pinch hitter. The Giants have tried to make Ishikawa into an outfielder as well to give him more value but given the dearth of outfielders and guys that can play first base, Ishikawa has to be the guy feeling the most heat about making the team. Unless...

Aaron Rowand

Aaron Rowand as of right now provides little value to the Giants. He still plays a decent centerfield but he hasn't been warm to moving to a corner outfield spot to add flexibility. The Giants like having flexibility. Rowand is a subpar hitter at this point. He had his worst season last year but he was a good sport about being benched for Andres Torres. However, with a roster crunch, the Giants seriously have to consider cutting ties with Rowand. The only problem is the 24 million he is still owed for 2011 and 2012. Even if the Giants eat most of his salary, he's hard to trade because other teams know he could potentially be had for the minimum if the Giants simply release him. And like I said, he doesn't have much value. AT&T Park sapped a lot of Rowand's hitting ability, but if you put him in a hitter friendly park, he could be useful. He was when he played for the White Sox and Phillies, two teams that play in very hitter friendly stadiums. Andres Torres is the starting centerfielder now. And Cody Ross can play center on days Torres needs a rest. Rowand as a pinch hitter isn't that great either. In essence, if he makes the team, it'll be at the expense of someone who is likely more valuable overall and solely for the reason that he makes 12 million a year. However, the Giants keep saying their decisions will be baseball ones and not business ones and if they stick to that word, Rowand will be one of the odd men out.

Nate Schierholtz

Nate is a fan favorite despite never really living up to his hitting potential. He is an excellent defensive outfielder and he's not atrocious with the bat, but he's not very good either. He doesn't have much plate discipline and his power is limited. His assets are his cannon arm and his base running smarts. He also provides a lefty bat off the bench and as the season wore on, he became a better pinch hitter. But because Nate has a couple of tools, he also could be the most tradable asset. The Giants desperately need a backup shortstop and Nate could be the piece Sabean uses to acquire one. It would weaken the Giants defensively on the bench and unless Schierholtz gets traded, I think he still makes the team, especially if Burrell is the starting leftfielder.

Brandon Belt

Belt is pretty much the key to the whole roster crunch. He really has a chance to mess everything up in a good way. The Giants had no intention of having Belt start the season on the 25 man roster. After a ferocious first year in the minors (he did the full tour: A, AA, AAA, and the AFL and hit at every stop) Belt has asserted himself in Spring Training. He has been as advertised and has seriously made Bochy and Sabean reconsider him for a spot on the roster. Belt was going to be a part of the 2011 team at some point, but no one expected it to be this soon. If Belt makes the team, he undoubtedly pushes Ishikawa off and makes Burrell a bench player. That's a lot of clout for a prospect. Experts believe the Giants could have another Rookie of the Year candidate ready to go with Belt. And the debate is whether he'll get the Posey treatment or if he'll simply force himself onto the roster. Unlike Posey, he has no defensive work needed to be done at the minor league level. He could start at first base immediately. If I were a betting man, I'd say Belt still opens at AAA. But, he might just force the Giants hand. It was evidenced in today's Spring Training game where Bochy, for the first time this spring, had Huff in LF and Belt at 1B. It shows they're seriously considering the possibility.

There has been a small wrench in all of this. Mark DeRosa's wrist has been acting up and he may not be ready to go Opening Day. Couple that with Brian Wilson's disconcerting oblique injury and the Giants might have two spots open on the roster due to the disabled list. Giants fans don't want to see either DeRosa or Wilson open up on the DL, especially Wilson, but wrist tendinitis and oblique injuries are not easy to deal with. This also affects the bullpen picture. Where there was a 4 man push for 1 spot in the pen, it now looks like there could be two spots open. Jeff Suppan and Ryan Vogelsong have faltered and Dan Runzler had an excellent outing to get a leg up for that last bullpen spot. But Guillermo Mota was a key cog last year and Bochy seems to like his veteran presence and if Wilson has to open the season on the DL, it's a good bet the Giants would elect to have Mota on the squad over Suppan and Vogelsong.

A lot can happen in 10 days and it'll be interesting to see what the Giants do to get their roster down to 25. It's a real possibility that Scottsdale will be the last chance Giants fans have to see Ishikawa and Rowand in Giants uniforms and possibly Nate Schierholtz as well. With the Giants likely opening with 12 pitchers, the position battles for two bench spots (or in Belt's case, starting spot) are going to be the only real thing to watch in what has been a relatively drama free Spring Training.

2 comments:

  1. Belt should start in AAA. He didn't have many at bats at that level last year and lets start his arbitration clock a year later by calling him up late May. We are good enough to be in 1st place without him.

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  2. Good job Joe. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say I hope Rowand gets caught making love to Lou Seal in the equipment closet which will then violate his contract stipulations. As far as Belt goes, he'll start in AAA and the rest of the guys will make it on some injury loophole like they usually do.

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