Boom or Bust: The Giants Final Roster Moves
The chips are down. The deck is stacked. All decisions are final. Before I break into a Kenny Rogers tune, let’s talk some Giants.
Yesterday, the 25-man roster was released. The rotation remains solid, the bullpen looks pretty standard. Dan Otero gets a cup of coffee until Vogelsong gets fully healthy. Good stuff. But then there’s the matter of the rest of the good old boys. The offense. The sluggers, if you will. While searching for a theme to the roster decisions made by the Giants, the words “boom or bust” come to mind. The players chosen by the Giants are mostly unknown quantities, while the guys pushed aside fall into the category of high-floor/low-ceiling. The latter won’t sink your team, but they don’t fill your fingers with rings either. Before we break into who won what spot and why, let’s figure out why the Giants employed this particular strategy in this particular year.
The pitching. The pitching. The pitching. Over the last three seasons, the Giants are third in xFIP (3.86), behind the Braves (3.70) and the Phillies (3.79). Going forward, there is still a Lincecum. There is still a Cain (and for years to come!). Madison Bumgarner could be the best non-Strasburgian pitcher in baseball under 25. The bullpen, though getting a bit pricey, is still stacked with some of the National League’s best relievers. There is little chance that the Giants don’t finish as a top five staff in the majors.
The staff propels the team forward while the offense lags behind. Over the same three year span, the Giants ranked 27th in the majors in WRC+ FanGraphs’ run creation metric (The Giants scored an 87, with 100 being league average). Despite the low average, the roster managed a 95 in their 2010 World Series season. This included production from unlikely and unproven sources. A breakout- and perhaps fluke- year for Andres Torres, and last hurrahs for veterans like Juan Uribe and Pat Burrell fueled the offense to middle-of-pack production. There were busts, too- Edgar Renteria. Jose Guillen, Pablo Sandoval- but the booms won out and everyone got a ring. The Giants have attempted to re-create 2010 in the form of their decisions on Wednesday.
Belt vs. Schierholtz
Nothing has been more frustrating for Giants fans and baseball media than the Odyssey of Brandon Belt. He made the team, he lost his spot, he came back, he broke his wrist, he came back, he got sent down. Can’t a top prospect catch a break? Belt is again on the Opening Day roster, to the tune of pushing Aubrey Huff to left field to ostensibly become the starter at first base. His .378/.420/.608 in Spring Training didn’t hurt his case. While Belt has not produced in the majors thus far (.225/.306/.412 in 209 Plate Appearances), he will receive every opportunity to prove his pedigree can translate into 2012 production. Huff’s move to the outfield, along with the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, has made Nate Schierholtz the odd man out. After a pretty good season in 2011, Nate was told right field was his job to lose and, well, he lost it. His plus defense and average bat weren’t enough to keep Belt in AAA and Huff in the infield. Sorry, Nate. You’re a consistent player in a boom-or-bust year.
Emmanuel Burriss vs. Mike Fontenot
Mike Fontenot is no longer a Giant. Many thought this would be the fate of Burriss, who has been worse at the plate every season since 2008. But with Burriss out of minor-league options, the Giants are giving him one more audition to at least be a stopgap to banged-up Freddy Sanchez before cutting him loose. The true upside for Burriss is his speed- he has 35 career steals in limited opportunities. Though part of his limited opportunities has been his failure to reach base, with just a .253 OBP last season. The Giants are hoping that consistent playing time will allow Burriss to figure things out at the plate, justifying their decision to cut ties with a pretty good utility guy in Fontenot. While he lacks elite tools, Fontenot brings a little pop and position flexibility to a team that has question marks in the middle infield. Once again, Fontenot lacks the upside of Burriss, though Burriss has a much better chance of being a complete disaster.
Hector Sanchez vs. Christ Stewart/Eli Whiteside
Eli Whiteside speared Placido Polanco. Christ Stewart threw some people out and reigned in Tim Lincecum. None of these things were enough to earn a backup catcher role. And while the Giants abandoned the brief idea of carrying three catchers, they did select the pre-season dark horse as their guy- 22-year-old Hector Sanchez. Sanchez posted a .702 SLG, and after a decent showing in late 2011, appears to be the best offensive option to back up Buster Posey, who will play some first base and get extra days off as part of his rehab. Questions remain about his defense and staff-handling abilities, but the potential in his bat gives Sanchez the nod over two below-average hitting catchers in Stewart and Whiteside. Stewart is now with the Yankees, with Whiteside waiting in the wings to give the Giants good defense and Brandon Crawford-like offense if Sanchez does not produce. But for now…upside.
Blanco vs. The Field
Man this guy’s fast. With Angel Pagan struggling at the plate and on the basepaths, Gregor Blanco appears poised to eat up some leadoff at-bats for a Giants team that needs table-setters. Though he won’t start, a month ago it was unlikely that Blanco would break camp on a big-league roster. Then his spring stats jumped off the page- an .818 OPS and 13 steals and just one caught stealing- and he should see plenty of time spelling Pagan and Melky Cabrera. He didn’t exactly put anyone out of a job, but because of his upside, a guy like Justin Christian will have to wait a bit longer to be a fourth or fifth outfielder in the major leagues.
Brandon Belt hits .275/.355/.490. Boom. Manny Burriss actually gets on base and steals 20 bags. Boom. Gregor Blanco unseats Angel Pagan by tearing up the basepaths. Boom. Giants make the playoffs
Brandon Belt hits .235/.310/.415. Bust. Manny Burriss puts up an OBP under .300 and plays terrible defense. Bust. Gregor Blanco was a flash in the pan and is teamless by July. Bust. Freddy Sanchez never comes back. The Giants miss Mike Fontenot. The Rockies pass the Giants and compete for a Wild Card. Bust.
What combination of booms and busts will get the Giants back to the postseason? Let’s find out- together.