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Is there room on the 40-man roster for Joe Nathan?

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The Giants might want to bolster the bullpen with an old friend pitching well in the minors, but they’ll have to be creative.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

I would assume that there was more than one team interested in Joe Nathan. After working his way back with the Cubs and acquitting himself quite nicely in his very limited work, there had to be more teams than just the Giants interested in his services. And if it’s safe to assume that there were other teams interested, it’s appropriate to wonder why he signed with the Giants.

Because they looked like a team that would need another bullpen arm. That’s a pretty good guess. I can’t imagine there were promises made to Nathan, but a clear, realistic path to the majors had to have been a part of the sales pitch.

Which makes this something of a surprise:

A September roster without a third catcher really is a waste, considering that it makes it much easier to use Buster Posey as a pinch-hitter on the days he rests. It’s an open question if the Giants will call up the ear-chomping Miguel Olivo or former prospect-turned-minor league drifter Tony Sanchez, but that’s a post for another time.

With the 40-man full, though, that would mean the Giants would have to make two spots if they want to add Nathan to the roster. And don’t forget that Chris Heston is rehabbing right now, which means the Giants are likely to lose their roster exemption for him before the end of the season, too.

Here’s the 40-man roster right now:

P
Ty Blach
Ray Black
Clayton Blackburn
Madison Bumgarner
Matt Cain
Santiago Casilla
Kyle Crick
Johnny Cueto
Cory Gearrin
Joan Gregorio
Chris Heston (60-day DL)
George Kontos
Derek Law
Javier Lopez
Matt Moore
Steven Okert
Josh Osich
Jake Peavy
Matt Reynolds
Sergio Romo
Jeff Samardzija
Will Smith
Chris Stratton
Hunter Strickland
Albert Suarez

C
Trevor Brown
Buster Posey

INF
Ehire Adrianza
Brandon Belt
Brandon Crawford
Conor Gillaspie
Eduardo Nunez
Joe Panik
Kelby Tomlinson

OF
Gregor Blanco
Gorkys Hernandez
Angel Pagan
Jarrett Parker
Hunter Pence
Denard Span
Mac Williamson

You can see the problems. When a player is removed from the roster, he’s exposed to waivers, which means the Giants probably aren’t going to sneak Madison Bumgarner through. So we’ll have to look at the players who shouldn’t be expected to help the major league roster this year. They’re all pitchers.

Ty Blach
Ray Black
Clayton Blackburn
Kyle Crick
Joan Gregorio
Steven Okert
Josh Osich
Matt Reynolds
Chris Stratton
Albert Suarez

Blach is one of the few starters in the upper minors having success, so he seems pretty necessary. Gregorio and Blackburn are still prospects, so there’s no way they’re getting ditched. Crick’s prospect star is just a weeeeeee bit tarnished these days, but teams would still trip over themselves to claim him, and I’m sure the Giants aren’t keen on giving up on him or Ray Black yet.

Okert and Osich are both young power lefty arms, and the Giants aren’t going to drop them for a September flyer on a 41-year-old.

So I’ll guess at this:

  1. Gorkys Hernandez’s spot is the least secure when Mac Williamson is healthy

  2. Albert Suarez is right behind him

  3. Matt Reynolds probably isn’t in the team’s long-term plans, considering the Will Smith trade and the Osich/Okert combination

  4. Chris Stratton is doing well enough in the tough PCL that the Giants wouldn’t take his removal from the 40-man roster lightly

  5. Injury Between Now And September is probably the most likely way the Giants will make room for any third addition to the 40-man roster.

That last one doesn’t have to be a new injury or something shady. It could be that Gregor Blanco’s rest isn’t helping him heal, that Matt Cain, Williamson, or Heston has a setback, or a new injury. There’s always something unforeseen that makes this kind of speculation look silly two weeks later.

There is a path for Nathan to the majors, though. Whether or not his 91-mph fastball and three scoreless innings in Double-A so far are enough to convince the Giants to clear that path is another matter. They might not be too enamored of his scouting report, and this would all be moot. But if they like what they see from Nathan, and they removed Hernandez, Suarez, and Reynolds from the roster, the Giants wouldn’t be affecting their plans for 2016, much less 2017. And they would get a great look at someone who could solidify a glaring weakness on the current roster.

I hate this kind of speculation because it’s essentially advocating for actual human beings to lose their jobs, so please forgive me. But it's baseball that's the real jerk, here.

There is a path for Nathan to the majors, and it can happen in conjunction with another catcher and the reinstatement of Heston. The Giants just have to want it bad enough. That’s the only remaining question. The answer to that is probably up to Nathan's arm.