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The Good, the Bad, and the Great

Good news: Getting Noah Lowry to sign a four-year contract was a brilliant move. Unlike Russ Ortiz, Lowry has the strikeout rates to back up his good ERAs. And unlike Ortiz and Shawn Estes, Lowry's control needs just a little fine tuning, not a complete overhaul. He was my favorite pitcher to watch on the team when he was just working exclusively with a fastball/change combination, so I was thrilled when his curveball started to become a reliable out pitch last season.

It was probably an easy decision for Lowry, too. Pitchers are probably very aware of the hazards inherent in throwing a ball for a living. It's a safe guess Lowry has seen more than a few friends suffer career-threatening arm injuries. Get the guaranteed millions now, hope for good health, and leave yourself open for a Jarrod Washburn-sized payday later on.

Bad news: The Giants got burned playing roster games, losing Jon Coutlangus to the Reds on waivers. I have it on good authority (i.e. third- or fourth-hand information) that Coutlangus showed up to camp looking something like a cross between Livan Hernandez and Mario Batali, and the organization wasn't too pleased. That would be an understandable reaction, and it's hard to be too broken up about losing Coutlangus. He is a low-level converted position player who has about a 5% chance of becoming Scott Eyre. He isn't a young shortstop with a high walk rate, or a first baseman with outstanding isolated power. He's a reliever, and one likely doomed to be a lefty-specialist. There are other ways to find those.

Still, it highlights the importance of 40-man roster space. In order to fit Jamey Wright and Todd Greene on the roster, there needed to be roster shuffling. Angel Chavez was designated for assignment, probably to make room for Kevin Frandsen. While Chavez was certainly not a prospect, he was one of only three shortstops on the 40-man roster. If Jose Vizcaino and Omar Vizquel bonk heads going back for a pop fly, the organization wouldn't have an easy answer to replace both of them.

If 40-man roster space is precious, and it is, I can't wrap my head around these two roster spots:

Jesus Reina - age 21 - 2005 stats in San Jose: 5.16 ERA, 42 walks, 68 innings
Kelyn Acosta - age 20 - 2005 stats in rookie ball and low-A: 2.89 ERA, 3 walks, 15 innings
By putting both players on the 40-man roster, the Giants were either trying to prevent other teams from selecting the pitchers in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, or hoping they could make an impact in the majors this year.

Reina hasn't pitched above A-ball, and hasn't pitched well since rookie ball. Acosta came back from injuries last year, and has pitched little over 100 minor league innings in his career. They aren't going to make the majors this year with the Giants. In order for another team to have kept them through the Rule 5 draft, the acquiring team would have had to keep Reina and Acosta on a major league roster for the whole year. That wasn't a risk. If another team wanted to pay $50,000 for the privilege of having either A-baller make up 15% of their major league bullpen, more power to them.

There are other factors here, perhaps. Maybe Brian Sabean walked in on Allard Baird in a bathroom stall during the Winter Meetings, and Baird was ogling a centerfold of Jesus Reina's scouting report from Baseball America: After Dark. Maybe another G.M. was asking a few too many questions about Kelyn Acosta before the last trading deadline. It's obvious the Giants have a lot of confidence in the abilities in both pitchers, and they wouldn't want to just give them up. I'm not a big fan of blind appeals to authority, but given the choice of listening to a guy who has a cartoon poster hanging in his home of Johnny LeMaster leaning on Smokey the Bear (me), or the general manager of the franchise (not me), there's a good chance the former might be lacking some pertinent information.

This offseason, however, there were two spots filled on the 40-man roster by players who have zero chance of helping the parent club this year, and who were not at all likely to stick with a major league roster this year. When it came time to sort out the non-roster invitees, a nominal prospect had to be parted with because of this. It isn't likely to ever haunt the Giants, but it's one less minor league prospect to pique our interest.

Great news: Now I'll be able to write about games, not roster moves. Opening Day should be a national holiday. Good times.