Without a doubt, one of the biggest questions facing the San Francisco Giants in 2012 will be determining who their fifth starter in the rotation will be.
Shortstop, first base and the outfield are also positions in question for the Giants in 2012. But, for a team built around pitching, the fifth starter is very important.
At the top of the rotation, Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner will all be back. And for the purposes of this article, we will assume that the Giants will bring back 34-year-old Ryan Vogelsong.
Without further ado, we will rank the options for the Giants' fifth starter in 2012.
2012 pitcher free agents: Javier Vazquez, Livan Hernandez or Brad Penny
Reasons for a free-agent pitcher: If the Giants do bring back Ryan Vogelsong, they could add a veteran pitcher to hold down the fifth starter spot.
Each of the pitchers listed above will come at a cheap price, which bodes well for the Giants who would rather not spend a bunch of money on a free-agent pitcher.
Reasons against a free-agent pitcher: The three 2012 free-agent pitchers listed above all had high ERAs (4.13, 4.47 and 5.07 respectively), and are all older than 33.
If the Giants do go with a free-agent pitcher, they will have to cut Barry Zito or use him as a long relief pitcher.
They also will have to do something with Jonathan Sanchez.
Bringing in a free-agent pitcher in 2012 is highly unlikely for the Giants, as they have a few internal options for the fifth pitcher spot.
2011 stats: 9 starts, 3-4 record, 49.2 IP, 5.62 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 20 BB and 28 strikeouts
Reasons for Zito: The Giants are on the hook for at least two more expensive years with a $7 million buyout in 2014. Zito is due to make $19 million in 2012 and $20 million in 2013.
Reasons against Zito: The negative about Zito as a fifth starter heavily outweighs the positive. Zito has not won more than 10 games since 2007, his first season with the Giants.
Zito, 33, was injury-plagued in 2011 and he was only able to make nine starts.
His ERA hasn't been lower than 4.00 since 2006.
After the cuts of both Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada, there were plenty of people asking that Zito be next in line.
Salary cannot be the only reason the for Giants plugging Zito into the fifth starter spot.
2011 stats: 3 starts, 2-0 record, 16.2 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5 BB and 6 strikeouts
Reasons for Surkamp: Surkamp was brought up after both Zito and Sanchez hit the DL, and he has done a decent job. He has given the Giants an opportunity to win in each of his starts, going at least five innings in every start.
His five walks in nearly 17 innings of work speak to the accuracy that the 24-year-old southpaw possesses.
Surkamp's 3.24 ERA in three starts is very solid for someone many thought was not ready for the big show.
Surkamp has shown signs of being a quality major league starter in 2011.
Reasons against Surkamp: As stated earlier, Surkamp is only 24 years old, with very little major league experience. There is no telling if Surkamp will be able to make the nearly 30 starts that would come with the fifth starter spot.
Surkamp is not a power pitcher and does not record many strikeouts. With nearly as many walks as he has strikeouts, Surkamp is still very raw.
The Giants would be best off letting Surkamp develop his skills in Triple-A in 2012.
2011 stats: 19 starts, 4-7 record, 101.1 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 66 BB and 102 strikeouts
Reasons for Sanchez: Sanchez is more proven in recent years than Zito and Surkamp. He is 28 years old and under contract through 2012.
The Giants need to figure out what to do with Sanchez going forward.
Sanchez was the No. 3 starter in 2010 and finished 13-9.
Sanchez records high strikeout totals (205 in 2010) and has a no-hitter under his belt, for what that counts.
Reasons against Sanchez: Walks, walks and more walks have been troublesome throughout his career, as he averages a walk for every two innings.
I want to say that Sanchez may have motivational issues, as he hasn't yet reached his true potential.
Despite the negatives, the Giants will role with Jonathan Sanchez as their No. 5 starter in 2012.