Well, the Giants made it a bit easier on those of us waiting until the last minute (midnight tonight) to submit our My26ManGuys™ ballot to HaakAway. I know I have a draft version saved so that I can make final changes. Yesterday, the Giants made their second round of cuts, so anyone who was considering adding Steven Duggar or Sam Long to their ballot can cross off those options. For you optimists who were holding out for a surprise Heliot Ramos debut, he got cut, too. We also this week got the sad news that Rule 5 Guy, Dedniel Nunez, is going to undergo Tommy John surgery and that Alex Wood saw a “spine specialist” and had a procedure called an “ablation.”
With these developments in mind, here are the remaining questions I’ll be considering today.
- Is Darin Ruf going to stick on the roster, at least through Opening Day? Ruf had a nice season off the bench for the Giants in 2020, hitting 5 homers and posting an .887 OPS in 100 plate appearances. He’s having an OK spring (.769 OPS with 1 homer) if not as eye-popping as last year’s Cactus League performance. Ruf’s $1.275 million contract is not fully guaranteed. He seems less valuable without a universal DH.
- Is Brandon Belt going to start the season on the IL? Given that Belt has yet to appear in a game and Opening Day is now just 11 days(!!!) off, it seems prudent to think of a replacement for Belt on my ballot. Will that be an extra outfielder (like LaMonte Wade or Joe McCarthy, both of whom are still in major league camp), or will it be an infield utility guy (like Jason Vosler)? Veteran journeyman Jason Krizan, who was having a nice camp, was cut yesterday, so that simplifies decisions a bit.
- With Alex Wood, the only lefty in the rotation, out of the picture for the time being, will his replacement be righty Logan Webb? The most likely lefty starters after Wood, Caleb Baragar, Conner Menez, and Anthony Banda, have all been cut. Another consideration is the schedule. With two off days in the first week, the Giants might not need a fifth starter until April 11. Might they start the season with an extra guy (or Webb himself) in the bullpen, or (again) an extra outfielder?
- Who the heck is going to be in the bullpen? The only sure things would seem to be Matt Wisler, Jake McGee, Jose Alvarez, and Jarlin Garcia–the first three because they were actually signed as free agents for real money and Garcia because he’s valuable and out of options. As for the rest of the bullpen–and you figure at minimum it’s going to be an eight-man bullpen–I’m going to lean heavily on this FanGraphs roster depth resource, which reminds us who’s out of options. I have my guesses about the others, but I’m not putting virtual pen to paper until after today’s game. I figure we can rule out guys who’ve already been cut, like the aforementioned Long, Menez, and Baragar, and 40-man prospects (Camilo Doval, Kervin Castro, Gregory Santos) who have also been reassigned.
So those are the biggest questions that I can think of. I also am trying to mind-meld with the front office as to what principles will guide these final decisions. I can think of four, and they’re somewhat inter-related:
- Preservation of Inventory: Every year about this time, one or more beat writers remind us fans that the Opening Day roster isn’t actually a big deal because it is likely to change quickly. (They don’t know about our contest, in which the Opening Day roster IS a big deal!) But in the Zaidi regime, that roster is just the single step that begins the journey of 1,000 miles. What is needed or working for Week 1 might be different in Week 3 or 5 or 12. Further, there’s the gamesmanship of when to try to sneak someone through waivers, hoping you won’t lose them. Considering all this, I think out-of-options guys with value will have the edge over guys who can still be optioned, even if they had a great spring.
- 40-Man Roster Space: The Giants “gained” a 40-man roster spot by putting Nunez on the 60-day IL, but they promptly filled it by claiming lefty reliever Ashton Goudeau off waivers. By my math, the Giants have 40 (non-IL) on the roster at the moment (20 pitchers, 4 catchers, 9 infielders, and 7 outfielders). They have one potential roster move they can make, which would be assigning minor league outfielder Alexander Canario, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, to the 60-day IL. Other than that, it’s hard to see where they’re going to cut to add, say, McCarthy or Nick Tropeano (or Scott Kazmir or Shun Yamaguchi) to the 40-man. I guess if they decide they’ve seen enough of either Duggar or Jaylin Davis, they could risk putting one of them on waivers. (I suspect Davis would get through waivers and Duggar would not). In short, if you’re thinking of adding a non-roster player to your ballot, you also have to ponder who might be lost off the 40…and see point #1.
- Flexibility: At the university where I work, the phrase “known unknowns” has become popular when talking about how to handle decisions. For example, one known unknown we’re grappling with is when/if international students are going to come back in large numbers, post-Trump and post-pandemic. For the Giants, there are known unknowns, too: When will Belt be able to play? How long will Alex Wood be out? Will Evan Longoria‘s plantar fasciitis keep him off the field, and for how long? Will the high-risk rotation–past successes mixed in with recent failures + injury histories–be a bright spot or a disaster? Zaidi and Co. will likely prioritize not only inventory but flexibility. We’ve already mentioned minor league options as a factor, but positional flexibility (e.g., Vosler playing LF or McCarthy playing 1B or pitchers who can provide “bulk innings” as either starters or relievers or lefty pitchers who can handle pitching to righty hitters well) is important, too.
- Caution with Top Prospects: We should be learning by now that when Zaidi or Kapler says that a prospect is not ready or is not going to be rushed, that’s exactly what they mean. It’s not code for wink-wink, nudge-nudge, “Heliot Ramos is going to be the Opening Day RF,” or (going back to last season) “Now that Buster Posey has opted out for the season, we’re starting the year with Joey Bart behind the plate.” They said those things weren’t going to happen, and they didn’t. Another “known unknown” is how minor leaguers are going to respond to a year off from playing in actual professional baseball games. This is not a problem unique to the Giants, but it will factor. There will be no Opening Day surprises involving valuable youngsters.
So, with all that in mind, send your 26-man ballot to HaakAway by midnight tonight, March 21. You can either email it to him (firstname.lastname@example.org) or reply to any HaakAway comment.
This Week in Cactus League Play
If you’re looking for clues for your ballot decisions, good luck. If you went by how the Giants played this past week, no one would be on the Opening Day roster. OK, maybe I exaggerate a little bit. Evan Longoria is killing the ball and some of the relievers have looked really good. But the Giants’ defense has been awful (20 errors, which is tied for second-worst in MLB). Their pitching has been pretty bad (24th in team ERA and 29th in WHIP), and they have walked way too many hitters (5th in MLB). On the other hand, they are second in MLB in strikeouts. The hitting has been better, and the Giants actually lead the majors in OBP (.365), are fourth in batting average (.270), and tied for third in drawing walks. They kind of went through a “rotation” this week (Cueto, Gausman, DeSclafani, Sanchez), and none of them were all that great, and Cueto was pretty awful. (And is it just me getting tired of a 35-year-old veteran pitcher pointing fingers at a rookie catcher?)
This is why I’m going to use the principles outlined above to complete my ballot. For example, Cueto mentioned that he was working on his change-up quite a bit, and the Rangers appeared to be sitting on it. Veteran starters do tend to work on things (or just build stamina) during spring training games and not worry much about results.
Giants at Dodgers, 1:05 p.m., Camelback Ranch
Scott Kazmir vs. Tony Gonsolin
Radio: KNBR; TV: NBCSBA or MLBN
Revenge game for Kazmir. Check out the photo they picked for him in the MLB.com preview of today’s game.
Don’t forget to send your roster choices to HaakAway today! Lefty out.