Jeff Suppan, a 36-year-old right-hander, is desperately trying to prove once again that he can help a major league team win. This time, it's with the World Series champs.
Suppan, now with his seventh team after 16 seasons in the majors, is trying to regain the pitching form that led him to back-to-back 16-win seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 and 2005.
Though his career has had its ups and downs, Suppan did post a 3.84 ERA over his last 15 games with the Cardinals to finish 2010 at 3-8 with a 5.06 ERA. The numbers do not look pretty, but Suppan brings experience and perhaps the best control of his career into spring training.
Coming into the 2011 season, I believe Suppan has a very good chance of making the San Francisco Giants' opening day roster.
Here are 5 reasons why.
After signing a minor league contract with the Giants, Suppan stands to make just $1 million if he makes the 40-man roster. For a guy who was on a four-year, $42 million deal with the Brewers, that's a bargain.
Granted, Suppan did not pitch well in Milwaukee. Fine, understatement. He did worse in that town than a prohibition advocate. However, the guy can clearly pitch and if he's not too bad and willing to do it cheaply, then opening day looks promising.
Additionally, with the contracts of Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito weighing down the team's options for free agent signings or trades, Suppan makes sense.
Financially, the Giants signed him for a reason. Think of Suppan as $1 million insurance on Barry Zito should the worst happen.
Yes, I know, $1 million compared to Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal sounds ridiculous, but that's the thinking behind Suppan's presence in Scottsdale.
No, not that kind of flexibility.
Though he has spent his entire career as a starter, taking the hill to begin the game at least 30 times every season from 1999-2009, Suppan came into camp with an open mind.
He does not expect to start for this team, but he can easily fall back into a starting role should the situation arise.
The Giants understand that they do not need pitching experience to win, with last year's starters all under age 30, including Zito. They don't need Suppan's experience to win, but they could use a reliable long reliever in the pen or a spot starter.
The team sees Suppan as a better, more flexible version of Todd Wellemeyer, which is pretty much what they are going to get. I'm not saying he's a great option, but he can be used effectively.
As Brian Sabean has noted recently, there are not too many options for starting pitching down in Triple-A. If there were any, those players would have been up with the big club to end last season.
Part of the lack of depth in Fresno is Sabean's own doing, trading away starters Joe Martinez and Kevin Pucetas.
At this point, the only option at starter outside of the main five is Dan Runzler, and he has not pitched in that role since coming into the Giants organization. Runzler (pictured) is potentially a good option with a plus fastball and killer slider, but until he has shown that he can extend his innings and maintain a high K/BB ratio, he won't be used in that role.
Suppan knows what he's doing as a starter (to some extent) and would always be ready to fill in if needed.
Barry! Barry! Barry!
Those chants, though originally reserved for Mr. Bonds, became an integral part of San Francisco baseball when Barry Zito arrived from across the Bay. Many thought the chants would just keep on going.
Now, in 2011, we know they have only been heard sporadically throughout Zito's career as a Giant. The last time was almost a year ago when Zito's pitching briefly returned to Cy Young form. Nothing, other than $126 million, is guaranteed for Barry Zito.
Back to the issue at hand. If anything, Suppan's presence in the clubhouse will serve as motivation and a warning for the Giants' defunct number 5. If Zito should fail to perform...again...then Suppan can step in. If Suppan's long-inning appearances in Zito's starts become more and more frequent, Suppan might be put in for a start.
Once again, insurance.
Suppan will be that sixth starter, waiting for his chance to shine (or at least reflect some amount of light) should the Giants bring him along for the ride.
This is a man with control.
The biggest issue with the current Giants starters, by far, has been control.
Zito, Jonathan Sanchez and even Tim Lincecum have gone through accuracy troubles as members of the Giants. With their stuff, manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti are more than happy to let opposing hitters try to put one in play against them.
To date, Suppan has given up all of one hit in a total of six Cactus League innings, earning a win last Friday. A few good innings in spring training is nothing to get overly excited about, but when Bochy gives you a gem like this, you must be doing something right:
"He has such good command of the strike zone and uses all his pitches with that control. That's what you want to see—a guy punching the strike zone like he does."
An accurate sinkerball pitcher like Suppan can cause a lot of ground balls, and all the Giants want in a spot starter is to give the defense a chance to make some plays. Suppan should give them just that.
Besides, doesn't he look like a man with control?