Matt Cain will start the Giants' opener in Los Angeles
Opening Day is less than a week away and the San Francisco Giants are making their final roster decisions. Manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean have a few tough decisions to make for the final few big-league jobs.
The Giants brought back all of their core players from their 2012 world championship team. There are a couple of utility jobs and bullpen jobs available. Injuries have also complicated the process and may also force some players to the disabled list. This would potentially open up more spots on the Opening Day roster.
Let's take a look at the Giants' key position groups and determine who makes the final 25-man roster.
Ryan Vogelsong was ready early, as he pitched in the World Baseball Classic.
The Giants' starting rotation is set and one of the biggest strengths of the team. Matt Cain, author of a perfect game last year, leads the way and will start the season opener against the Dodgers.
Cain threw 219.1 innings, the sixth consecutive season he has been above 200 innings. He had a record of 16-5, with an ERA of 2.79 and WHIP of 1.040. Cain struck out 193 batters, while walking only 51. Perhaps the most impressive thing is how the soft-spoken Cain has developed into a well-respected leader of the team.
Following Cain will be Madison Bumgarner, who is still only 23 years of age. Bumgarner had some struggles toward the end of the season, as he may have fatigued and lost some confidence. Still, he compiled a record of 16-11, with an ERA of 3.37 and WHIP of 1.114.
Slotted into the third position in the rotation is Tim Lincecum. He came to camp with a new haircut and was in the best shape of his life. Lincecum suffered a blister, which set him back a bit, but he is now on track to start the final game of the opening series in Los Angeles.
Lincecum had a terrible year in 2012 and is determined to right the ship. He finished the year with a 10-15 record, 5.18 ERA and 1.468 WHIP.
Lincecum excelled in the postseason as a reliever and helped the Giants get through the playoffs and win the World Series. This should give him some confidence heading into the season.
This is a contract year for Lincecum and could very well be his last in San Francisco. If he has a great year, he will likely price himself out of San Francisco. If he struggles, the Giants will let him walk.
Barry Zito has the fourth spot in the rotation and is coming off his best year as a Giant. Zito won 15 games in 2012, while losing only eight. He also came through with several big-game performances throughout the year.
Ryan Vogelsong rounds out the rotation and the long-time journeyman has found a home in San Francisco. Vogelsong came through with a record of 14-9, an ERA of 3.37 and WHIP of 1.228.
The entire Giants' starting pitching staff all started over 30 games in 2012. If they are able to stay healthy and duplicate this performance, the Giants will be very tough to beat.
Sergio Romo opens the season as the closer.
The Giants' bullpen was a huge asset last season. They lost closer Brian Wilson after only two appearances, but the rest of the relief corps came together and got the job done. The Giants will carry seven relief pitchers, as has been their custom under Bruce Bochy.
Sergio Romo will be the Giants' primary closer. He is extremely effective, but is not overly durable. He generally will not pitch three consecutive days, as Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti are very careful to make sure Romo is not overworked.
Santiago Casilla held the closer job for the first half of last season, after the Wilson injury. He did an excellent job until he suffered blister problems, which affected his performance. When Casilla struggled, he also lost confidence, which caused him to lose his closer role.
Casilla finished the year with 25 saves, which led the Giants. He will be the Giants' primary set up man from the right side, and will get some chances to close.
Left-handed relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez give the Giants two outstanding lefties in the bullpen. Affeldt is used against both right and left-handed hitters. Lopez is a situational lefty focused on getting one or two big left-handed bats out, in crucial situations.
The Giants traded reserve catcher Chris Stewart to the Yankees for George Kontos. This turned out to be a very important deal for the Giants, as Kontos pitched very well.
Non-roster invitee Chad Gaudin has made the team. He had a very good spring and will be joining his tenth big league team. Gaudin pitched 16 innings in spring training, allowing only five earned runs, compiling a 2.81 ERA. Gaudin will handle the long reliever role.
The final roster spot belonged to Dan Runzler, but once again, inconsistency derailed his chances. Runzler pitched very well early in the spring, which coincided with Jose Mijares' elbow injury. Then, in his last two outings, Runzler imploded and was sent to the minors.
Mijares is back pitching, although he is behind where he needs to be at this stage of the spring. If Mijares can continue to build his arm strength and display command on the mound, he will open the season with the Giants.
Buster Posey is the reigning NL MVP.
Buster Posey will handle the vast majority of the catching duties. He will likely start somewhere around 115 games behind the plate and another 30 at first base. With the increase of interleague play, Posey will also get a few starts as the Giants' DH.
Posey is the reigning NL MVP and helped lead the Giants to their second world championship in three years. He finished 2012 with a batting average of .336, which led the league. Posey also hit 24 home runs and had 103 RBI.
Posey's value goes far beyond offense, as he does an excellent job working with the Giants' pitching staff. Posey threw out 30 percent of steal attempts.
The backup job has been up in the air as Hector Sanchez reported to spring training out of shape, then proceeded to get injured. At one point, veteran Guillermo Quiroz was tabbed as the backup, but Sanchez appears to be recovering from the shoulder and calf injuries he was dealing with.
If Sanchez has any relapse, Quiroz will get the nod. Manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean might be looking for a way to send a stern message to Sanchez, so if he is not ready, he could start the year in Fresno.
Sanchez had a productive season in 2012, He hit .280 with three home runs and 34 RBI. Early in the year, Sanchez had problems blocking balls in the dirt, but his defense steadily improved as the season progressed.
Sanchez is feeling better and has resumed normal baseball activity. Barring any further problems, Sanchez owns the job.
Pablo Sandoval came to camp overweight and out of shape.
The Giants' starting infield is set with Brandon Belt at first base, Marco Scutaro at second, Pablo Sandoval at third and Brandon Crawford at shortstop.
Sandoval has been battling an elbow problem, which could force him on the DL to start the season. He has trouble throwing, but has said that he's feeling better over the past couple of days.
Sandoval has battled the injury bug over the past two seasons. In 2011, he played only 117 games and only 108 games last year. Sandoval has ulnar neuritis and bone spurs in his elbow. He is hoping to be rady for the regular season.
If Sandoval is unable to start the year, super-utility player Joaquin Arias will start the season at third base. Arias is solid and will do an adequate job if Sandoval isn't ready.
The final utility infield job looks like it will go to Nick Noonan. He has beaten out veteran Wilson Valdez and fellow minor league infielder Brock Bond.
The Giants hoped Tony Abreu would have seized this job, but he has struggled with injuries all spring. Abreu has played in only one game this spring.
Angel Pagan became a fan favorite in San Francisco.
Hunter Pence joined the Giants just before the trade deadline last year. Although he hit only .219 in the final 59 games of the regular season, Pence found a way to drive in 45 runs.
Pence is in the final year of his contract and appears poised to have a big year. He wants to stay in San Francisco on a long-term deal, so his performance this season will go a long way to determining his future.
Angel Pagan had an excellent year in 2012, batting .288, with eight home runs and 56 RBI. He solidified the leadoff position for the Giants and scored 95 runs and stole 29 bases. Pagan also set a franchise record with 15 triples.
After some shaky moments early in the season, Pagan became more comfortable and did a fine job defensively in center field.
Defense in left field will not be an issue as long as Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres are platooning. Blanco will get the majority of the playing time, as he will play against right hand pitchers. Facing lefties, Andres Torres will get plenty of starts.
The fifth outfield job was up for grabs at the start of spring training. Roger Kieschnick, Brett Pill, Francisco Peguero and Cole Gillespie all were in the mix.
Kieschnick played himself out of the job by hitting only .194. Pill is also out, as he will start the season on the DL, following knee surgery.
Out of Peguero and Gillespie, Peguero has had the best spring, hitting .333, compared to Gillespie's .288. The issue for the Giants is that Peguero is only 24 years of age and they would like him to play every day to get consistent at-bats.
Since the at-bats for Peguero would be severely limited, especially early in the season, expect him to open the year in Fresno. Gillespie makes the team based on his experience as a reserve outfielder. Gillespie is 28 years of age and handled the reserve role with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010.
This is a tough call, but in the interest of Peguero's long-term development, he needs to play every day, which would not happen in San Francisco. Gillespie opens the year on the Giants' big league roster.