It’s tempting to pretend like a team’s bench doesn’t matter, at least in the offseason. They’ll figure it out in the spring. They’ll mix and match. They’ll eventually stumble upon an acceptable permutation. Maybe. Hopefully.
But it matters! One of these players will get 300 or 400 at-bats because of an injury or unexpectedly awful performance or other calamity. That player could be Gregor Blanco in 2012 (good!) or it could be Gregor Blanco in 2016 (not good!) So the GIants have to be careful with whom they pick.
With that, let’s take a look at the bench battles we’re expecting in the spring. Who has a lock on a job? Who will surprise everyone and make the team? Just how exciting are the bench battles going to be?
Let’s look at every battle and guess how exciting they’ll be. The scale is from 1-to-5, with 1 being the forgone conclusion that was Hector Sanchez vs. Guillermo Quiroz and 5 representing the hot, hot, hot Mike Fontenot/Jeff Keppinger debates that kept us up at night.
Candidates: Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson, Michael Morse, Justin Ruggiano, Hunter Cole, Carlos Moncrief, Wynton Bernard, Kyle Blanks
Rating: 1 (not exciting)
This job will go to either Jarrett Parker or Mac Williamson, and probably both, assuming both are healthy. Parker is out of options, and Williamson is not, so that leaves Parker with about a 99.999999-percent chance of making the team, and Williamson with about a 99.99998-percent chance.
Morse is a great story, and an injury could help him. But that, or Williamson being a part of a trade, would be the only scenarios I could see that get him on the roster.
Backup center fielder/5th outfielder
Candidates: Gorkys Hernandez, Austin Slater, Justin Ruggiano, Hunter Cole, Carlos Moncrief, Wynton Bernard, Steven Duggar
Rating: 3 (kinda up in the air)
Hernandez has the inside track. He’s on the 40-man roster. He’s out of options. He was very impressive defensively, which is important for a team with an older center fielder and corner outfielders without a lot of experience in center.
On the other hand, Ruggiano is a veteran with a proven ability to hit, so long as he stays healthy. The question is if the Giants would sacrifice a little cost certainty and defense for a little offense? You’re less likely to get a full season from Ruggiano, but he would be the lefty-thumper the Giants are looking for.
Slater seems like the kind of player who would hit .399 in the spring and just miss the team, only to come up with the first injury in April or May.
Utility infielder (backup shortstop variety)
Candidates: Ehire Adrianza, Kelby Tomlinson, Jimmy Rollins, Orlando Calixte, Ramiro Peña, Juniel Querecuto
Rating: 5 (Fontenot v. Keppinger deathmatch)
The best of the bunch. Adrianza is out of options and has a guaranteed contract, which would seem to put him in the lead, but Tomlinson is almost certainly the better hitter, and it’s not like Brandon Crawford needs a defensive caddy. I’m on #TeamTomlinson, but you knew that already.
Edit: Adrianza’s contract is only partially guaranteed if he doesn’t make the team. If he’s cut at the end of spring training, the Giants will owe him just $150,000, which should make for a much more intense battle, I would guess.
Rollins is a Morse-level story, and I suppose a good, bouncy spring would give him a shot. Calixte is already on the 40-man roster, plus he adds versatility as a reserve outfielder, too. The other two are the longest of the long shots, but the Giants had to tell them and their agents something to get them to sign.
Utility infielder/outfielder/etc. (non-shortstop variety)
Candidates: Conor Gillaspie, Miguel Gomez, Chris Marrero, T.J. Bennett, Rando Moreno, one of the candidates in the above category
Rating: 2 (not really up in the air)
It’s probably more of a battle between the lose of the Ehire-Kelby race and Gillaspie, but just in case the Giants are looking for someone who is more of a Serious Pinch-Hitter than a versatile utility option, there might be a battle for the role, with Gillaspie in the lead.
But, well, yeah. Gillaspie isn’t going anywhere. He has the whiff of nostalgia now, and he did slug .440 last year, which is pretty danged good for a Giants player. He’s a very, very limited player, considering his defense and speed. But I don’t begrudge the Giants for seeing if he can thrive as a professional pinch-hitter.
Candidates: Trevor Brown, Tim Federowicz, Josmil Pinto
Rating: 4 (a mighty fine battle)
This was an offseason surprise. The Giants’ pitchers liked throwing to Brown last year, but the team has been aggressive on the minor-league free agent market, signing Federowicz, who has much better minor-league numbers than Brown ever did, and Pinto, who has better minor- and major-league numbers.
If these same pitchers enjoy throwing to Federowicz and/or Pinto, I could see a change. Brown probably isn’t going to hit a lick, even by backup-catcher standards, and Posey’s getting to an age where he’ll need substantial rest.
My guess at the bench:
Ehire Adrianza - SS
Mac Williamson - OF (platoon)
Gorkys Hernandez - OF
Conor Gillaspie - PH
Tim Federowicz - C
I’m about 40 percent confident in that prediction, which means the spring should be a lot of fun for those of us who enjoy watching bench battles. There are options for the Giants. We’ll see how they choose to deploy them.