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Breaking Down San Francisco Giants' Key Position Battles

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Breaking Down San Francisco Giants' Key Position Battles
Stephen Lam/Getty Images
Young right-hander Heath Hembree is one of many candidates for only a couple bullpen spots.

Some managers will have to make some really tough decisions with really important roster spots this spring. 'Tis a beast, and this is its nature.

San Francisco Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, however, shouldn't be one of them. The Giants may have entered camp with three iffy situations for three important roles, but it would appear to be a stretch to say there's competition for said roles.

Left field could be an adventure in 2014, but Chris Haft of MLB.com noted in February that the arrangement the Giants have in mind is for Mike Morse to be the regular starter and for Gregor Blanco to be an occasional platoon partner.

Ryan Vogelsong struggled last year, but assistant general manager Bobby Evans said last month in an interview on KNBR's Murph and Mac Show via (SFGate.com) that Vogelsong wasn't re-signed to compete for the fifth spot in the club's rotation. It's his job to lose, and he's helped himself by looking good early on this spring, according to Haft.

That would seem to leave Yusmeiro Petit in limbo. That, according to MLB.com, he has a 27.00 ERA this spring would seem to put him even more in limbo. But at the same time, we know that:

  1. Spring training results mean little, and even less when they're early spring training results.
  2. Petit entered camp as the Giants' top rotation depth option after pitching to a 3.56 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) down the stretch last year.
  3. Petit has plenty of experience pitching in relief in the majors and fits the description of a long reliever.
  4. As Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com noted last month, Petit is out of options. 

With Petit looking like a hard man to budge from the Giants' 25-man roster on Opening Day, it's currently shaping up like this:

San Francisco Giants' Projected 25-Man Roster
Position Player Salary
C Buster Posey $11,277,778
1B Brandon Belt $2,900,000
2B Marco Scutaro $6,666,667
3B Pablo Sandoval $8,250,000
SS Brandon Crawford $560,000
LF Mike Morse $6,000,000
CF Angel Pagan $10,250,000
RF Hunter Pence $16,000,000
Bench-OF Gregor Blanco $2,525,000
Bench-INF Joaquin Arias $1,150,000
Bench-C Hector Sanchez ~$502,500
Bench?
Bench?
SP Matt Cain $20,833,333
SP Madison Bumgarner $3,950,000
SP Tim Lincecum $17,000,000
SP Tim Hudson $11,000,000
SP Ryan Vogelsong $5,000,000
CL-RHP Sergio Romo $5,500,000
RHP Santiago Casilla $4,500,000
LHP Jeremy Affeldt $6,000,000
LHP Javier Lopez $4,000,000
Long-RHP Yusmeiro Petit $845,000
Bullpen?
Bullpen?

Salaries: Cot's Baseball Contracts

If this is how it is, then all Bochy has to do is figure out two bench spots and two bullpen spots. And since, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Giants GM Brian Sabean wants to carry five outfielders this season, that means Bochy is specifically looking for a fifth outfielder, a utility infielder and two relievers.

Let's meet the contestants for these jobs.

 

Fifth Outfielder Candidates

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB's official YouTube account.

The Giants entered camp with a half-dozen candidates to nab the fifth outfielder job. But according to Andrew Baggarly, two of those candidates were cut on Thursday: Mac Williamson and Javier Herrera.

That narrows it down to four candidates: Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick and Gary Brown from the 40-man roster, and Tyler Colvin from the Giants' non-roster invitees.

Only Colvin has extensive major league service time. Brown has yet to crack the majors. As such, it's hard to introduce the four candidates with appropriate numbers. So this will have to do:

Giants 5th Outfielder Candidates
Player Age Bats Years GP PA OPS dWAR
Tyler Colvin 28 L 5 384 1167 0.743 -0.7
Roger Kieschnick 27 L 1 38 95 0.521 -0.1
Juan Perez 27 R 1 34 97 0.650 1.1
Gary Brown 25 R 4 414 1910 0.767 N/A

Baseball-Reference.com

Note: Brown's numbers encompass what he's done in the minors.

If it's experience and power Bochy is looking for, Colvin could be his man. He's logged far more time in the majors than any of his competitors and owns 47 career homers. That he can play all three outfield positions is another feather in his cap.

What doesn't work so well in Colvin's favor is that the Giants already have a lefty-hitting outfielder lined up for their bench in the person of Blanco. Also, Bochy told this to MLB.com:

Ideally, you'd take a guy who's versatile, with the bat and defense. ... A lot of it will be determined by who we're playing and the game situation. On the whole, we definitely need a guy who is going to give us some defense.

That last part is music to the ears of the other three, but more so for Perez and Brown than Kieschnick. He's only played the corners as a professional, and Defensive Runs Saved and UZR saw him as basically average in 189.2 innings' worth of work in left field last year.

Perez, on the other hand, tallied 10 Defensive Runs Saved and a 13.7 UZR across only 218 innings. We don't have metrics for Brown's defense, but he's typically been graded as a plus defender.

And while I'll re-note that spring training stats are largely useless, it does add to the intrigue to the situation that both Perez and Brown have been hitting well so far. Per MLB.com, they're both carrying an OPS over 1.000.

The trouble is that this could be a two-edged sword where Brown is concerned. Rather than convince the Giants that he could handle a role as a reserve, it could convince them that Brown is a future starter after all. To prepare for a role like that, he'd be better off logging regular at-bats in the minors.

All we can do at this juncture is guess. But if you want my best one, it's that Perez is going to be the guy who breaks camp as the Giants' fifth outfielder.

 

Utility Infielder Candidates

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com

The Giants entered camp with plenty of infielders. But strip away the first base/third base types, and they really only entered camp with five infield utility candidates.

And now that Joe Panik has been cut, the list is down to four: Tony Abreu, Ehire Adrianza and Nick Noonan from the 40-man roster, and Brandon Hicks from the non-roster invitees.

Behold what they've done in the majors:

Giants Utility Infielder Candidates
Player Age Bats Years GP PA OPS dWAR
Tony Abreu 29 S 5 221 611 0.661 0.5
Brandon Hicks 28 R 3 55 98 0.493 0.0
Nick Noonan 24 L 1 62 111 0.499 0.2
Ehire Adrianza 24 S 1 9 20 0.708 0.1

Baseball-Reference.com

It looks good on Abreu that he has edges in both experience and production. And while both he and Adrianza are switch-hitters, Abreu has the edge in versatility. He has major league experience at second, third and short, where Adrianza has only played short in both the minors and majors.

However, Adrianza is working on that this spring. As noted by Henry Schulman, Adrianza has been working at second base in hopes that he can win Bochy over.

Between that and Adrianza's 1.125 spring OPS, his mission is going pretty well. According to Schulman, Bochy called Adrianza "the most impressive guy in camp so far" earlier this week.

Since Abreu and Adrianza both offer versatility at the plate and in the field, it's going to be tough for either Hicks or Noonan to gain an edge. The two of them are versatile defensively, but they can't switch hit and haven't helped themselves with their production at the big league level.

Because he's the safe pick for the job, Abreu looks like the man to beat in my mind. But given what Adrianza's up to this spring, this is one of those "stay tuned" situations.

 

Bullpen Candidates

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Fair warning: This is where things get really messy. 

As most teams do, the Giants entered camp with something like 147,943 pitchers to sift through. That number has since gotten smaller with the cuts of six hurlers on Thursday, but the list of relief types trying to get into Bochy's Opening Day pen is still long.

Ready for it? OK, here it is:

Giants Bullpen Candidates
Player Age Throws Years GP IP ERA WHIP K/BB
Kameron Loe 32 R 9 322 569.0 4.49 1.44 1.9
Juan Gutierrez 30 R 5 203 222.2 4.65 1.41 2.2
Jason Berken 30 R 4 110 248.2 5.36 1.65 1.8
George Kontos 28 R 3 103 105.0 3.51 1.25 2.9
Dan Runzler 28 L 4 89 72.1 3.86 1.51 1.8
David Huff 29 L 5 69 323.0 5.32 1.50 1.8
Jean Machi 32 R 2 59 59.2 2.87 1.11 4.2
Jake Dunning 25 R 1 29 25.1 2.84 1.22 1.5
Mike Kickham 25 L 1 12 28.1 10.16 1.98 2.9
Heath Hembree 25 R 1 9 7.2 0.00 0.78 6.0
Mason Tobin 26 R 1 4 5.1 6.75 1.88 0.0
Mitch Lively 28 R 7 252 439.2 3.48 1.26 2.2
Adam Reifer 27 R 6 229 245.1 3.45 1.28 2.2
Erik Cordier 28 R 8 166 573.1 4.29 1.52 1.4
Brett Bochy 26 R 3 121 148.2 2.78 0.97 4.3
Hunter Strickland 25 R 6 115 388.0 3.80 1.28 3.2
Derek Law 23 R 3 93 140.0 2.57 1.06 5.1
Jose De Paula 26 L 6 89 401.0 3.82 1.26 3.6

Baseball-Reference.com

Note: Once again, the highlighted figures are minor league figures.

If it's conceivable candidates to crack the Giants bullpen we're talking about, the list includes all of the above. But if it's realistic candidates we're looking for, we can narrow it down.

As Chris Haft noted, two of the lefties have been impressive this spring: Jose De Paula and Dan Runzler. They've combined for 4.2 innings, allowing no earned runs with four strikeouts and no walks.

The challenge facing them and fellow southpaws Mike Kickham and David Huff, however, is that the Giants already have two really good lefties locked into jobs in Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. It's therefore not surprising that Bochy told Haft that the Giants aren't committed to carrying a third lefty.

Further complicating Huff's situation is that he profiles more as a long reliever than as a situational guy. Having both him and Petit in the bullpen makes little sense. It's possible that Huff's lefty arm will look better and better if Petit continues to struggle this spring, but for now it's probably going to take an injury for him to crack the Opening Day roster.

Regarding the right-handers, meanwhile, there are four guys in particular who stand out as favorites: Jean Machi, George Kontos, Heath Hembree and Derek Law. The first two have the experience, and the other two have the upside.

Machi's the best bet to earn one of the two open spots. As noted by Haft, the veteran righty is out of options. He also backed up a 2.38 ERA in 2013 with a 2.29 FIP and 2.78 xFIP, and he was able to avoid a scary platoon split by holding lefty batters to a .642 OPS (that's Machi's splitter at work). 

As far as the other three, that Kontos was so up and down in 2013 (4.39 ERA and 4.08 FIP) helps Hembree and Law. That Hembree was as impressive as he was in his big league cameo last year certainly helps him.

But don't think that Law can't edge Hembree. The young righty has only advanced as far as High-A, but all he did at that level was notch 45 strikeouts and one walk in 22 outings. And with a funky delivery, mid-90s heat and a dangerous slider, he has the usual trappings of a shutdown reliever.

I'd put the smart money on Machi and Hembree earning the last two bullpen spots. But if anybody's going to crash the party, it's going to be Law.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. Salaries courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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