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Monday, March 14, 2011

99 Problems and a Roster Spot is One


You know how people say some problems are good ones to have? Like, if you have two attractive girls interested in you, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s a good problem to have.” Or if you’re trying to decide between two kinds of cupcakes for dessert. Or trying to decide between spending your money on Jordan 11 Concords or Space Jams. “Oh, man, those are good problems to have!”

No, man, those are not good problems to have. There’s no such thing as a good problem. There are varying levels of problems, yes, but never any good ones. What if you choose the wrong girl? What if the cupcake isn’t as good as it looks? What if the Space Jams’ icy bottoms are yellowing? Problems.

The Giants are facing a similar situation as Spring Training nears its end. But instead of awesome shoes and delicious desserts, they’re deciding between a handful of players competing for the limited roster spots that are left. From the looks of things, it’s going to be an awfully tough choice. Good players are going to be left off the roster, and the Giants have to hope they’re making the right decisions when doing so.

Yeah…fantastic problem.

The way I see it, the guaranteed roster spots shake out like this:

Starters: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito (5)

Relievers: Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Ramon Ramirez, Santiago Casilla (6)

Catchers: Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside (2)

Infielders: Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Miguel Tejada, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Fontenot, Mark DeRosa (6)

Outfielders: Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Pat Burrell, Nate Schierholtz (4)

Total: 23

That leaves two roster spots open, presumably one pitcher and one position player. Let’s take a look at who’s contending for each spot:

Position Player

Aaron Rowand: Most articles would probably have Schierholtz in this spot and Rowand on the roster, but I think it’s the opposite. Schierholtz plays too important of a role as both a defensive replacement and a left-handed bat off the bench to not make the club. If Rowand makes the team, it’s a financial decision and nothing more. He accepted his role as a bench player gracefully last year, but has already started to sound not quite as thrilled with that same role this season. Rowand can still play, but he’s not going to reclaim a starting spot on this team. His salary makes moving him a tough pill to swallow, but the Giants might bite the bullet and try to find a team that needs him while eating most of his contract in the process. He's struggled during the spring, too, so it's not as if he's setting the world on fire at the plate and making it hard for the Giants to justify getting rid of him.

Travis Ishikawa: Ishikawa found his niche last year as a pinch-hitter, batting .319 with a home run and 6 RBI’s over 47 AB’s. He plays above-average defense at 1B, and has logged some innings in the outfield this spring to try and give himself better flexibility as a player. Having a pinch hit specialist on the roster is a luxury only championship-caliber teams can usually afford, so expect the Giants to make every effort to find a spot for Ishikawa. But if they don’t have the guts to part ways with Rowand, Ishikawa may find himself battling with Schierholtz for the role of left-handed bat off the bench.

Emmanuel Burriss: Burriss has had a nondescript spring, but he makes this list simply because the Giants lack a true backup SS to play behind Tejada. There’s talk of Fontenot or DeRosa filling that role, but there are questions as to whether either of them can play the position effectively. Burriss has always played Major League caliber defense, but his suspect bat could keep him in Fresno unless the Giants decide a defensive replacement is more important than a hitter.

Brandon Belt: It’s a matter of when, not if, when discussing Belt’s Major League debut in 2011. It doesn’t look like my prediction of Belt starting the year in San Francisco will come true, but his natural tools will help force him onto the roster at some point during the season. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when he does, as the Giants will have an even bigger roster crunch than they do now.

Pitcher

Ryan Vogelsong: I wrote about Vogelsong’s rebirth in an earlier post, and since then he’s added another impressive outing to his already impressive spring. He could easily fill the role of long reliever/spot starter for this club.

Jeff Suppan: Suppan is in a head-to-head battle with Vogelsong for the last spot on the staff, and has pitched well enough this spring (as of today) to warrant serious consideration. As I mentioned in the Vogelsong post, the Giants may give Suppan an edge because of track record and experience; still, Suppan hasn’t had a good year since ’06 and is 36 years old. Plus as good as his spring has been up until today, Vogelsong’s has been better.

Guillermo Mota: Mota’s had a decent enough spring, but I’m having a hard time seeing him make this roster as it stands currently. He pitched well in spurts last year, but showed himself to be a guy who pitched better when he was used sporadically. The Giants need a guy who can eat innings in their bullpen, and Mota isn’t that guy. They might try to stash him in Fresno, but Mota had offers from other clubs over the winter and may seek a job elsewhere if he doesn’t make the team.

There are other names to think about- Darren Ford, Dan Runzler, Marc Kroon- but the Giants are likely thinking about the players mentioned above the most. So who’s going to make the roster, and who’s going to be left out?

If I had to guess with my heart, I’d say Ishikawa and Vogelsong make the final club. Ishikawa’s bat is too valuable off of the bench to lose, plus his defense at 1B would be needed in the late innings with Tejada and Sandoval on the left side of the infield. Rowand and Burriss don't do enough things well to warrant a spot, and Belt is likely going to play every day in Fresno for at least a month or two. Vogelsong making the roster would be a great human interest story, but he’s pitched well enough to earn the spot, period. His stuff has looked sharper than Suppan’s, and he’s the better option as a long man. The Giants already have guys on the roster that can do the same things as Mota, only better. Vogelsong makes the most sense.

If I had to guess with my head, though, I’d say the Giants are going to go with Rowand and Suppan. I don’t think they want to take the financial hit that comes with cutting or trading Rowand, and would rather keep him as a reserve than pay him to go away. That’d mean that Ishikawa and Schierholtz would battle each other to make the roster, and it’d be a shame to lose either of them. As for Suppan, I think the Giants still value experience more than most clubs and Suppan has that in spades.

So to review: my heart says Ishikawa, Schierholtz and Vogelsong, and my head says Rowand, Ishikawa/Schierholtz, and Suppan. I’m hoping my heart is proven right.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to go look at some shoes.

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