Opening Night is just over a month away, and while that might be very soon in terms of days and nights and other things that happen as the earth rotates around the sun, it’s still a long time in terms of Spring Training evaluation.
Among other things, the San Francisco Giants have 28 games that don’t count between now and the games that do count. And they’ll learn a lot in that time.
And so will we.
But alas, I would be a rather boring sportswriter if I wrote an article titled, “What will the Giants Opening Day roster be? I dunno, we’ll find out in about a month, see you all then,” even though it’s a tempting idea.
So instead let’s try and figure out right now what the Opening Day roster will be. And in the process, laugh at how wrong I am before we even know how wrong I am.
I’m going with a very basic criteria: I’m only including players that are currently under contract with the team (no Yasiel Puig trolling from me today), and I’m assuming full health for everyone who might be fully healthy by Opening Day (which is to say Brandon Belt is available and Tyler Beede is not).
So let’s dive in.
I was open to unconventional roster allocation, but ultimately the one that I felt made sense was the most conventional with a 26-player, non-DH roster: 5 starting pitchers, 8 relievers, 2 catchers, 6 infielders, and 5 outfielders. I would not be surprised in any way if the Giants did something different, like 7 relievers, or if they got funky with 7 infielders and 4 outfielders.
I’m going to go in order from categories I’m most sure about, to most clueless about.
The “one choice and one choice only” tier
The Giants plan at the catcher position is abundantly clear. Buster Posey is the starter. Curt Casali is the backup. Joey Bart is the hot prospect who needs to be getting further development in Sacramento. Chadwick Tromp is the trusty name on the 40-man roster who can hang out on the taxi squad and fill in if there’s an injury so that Bart can stay in Sacramento getting regular reps.
That could change throughout the season. But even if Bart hits .600/.700/1.200 in the Cactus League, he’s starting in AAA, and even if Posey and Casali combine to go 0-for-109 with 108 strikeouts, they’ll be on the Opening Day roster. And Tromp will be the bridge between it all.
The “this feels really obvious but the Giants do weird stuff so often that I don’t feel fully comfortable with it” tier
The Giants have slowly been adding starting pitchers, and as they did, we’ve had to slowly adjust and evolve our idea of what the rotation would look like. Initially it looked like they’d have two or three sure thing starters and get funky and creative with the rest.
Now, with the recent signing of Aaron Sanchez, they have a pretty clear rotation of five starting pitchers who they have reason to be excited about.
But. There has to be a but, especially when we’re talking about Farhan Zaidi and rotations.
These may be the clear top five right now, but it’s not like the Giants signed five starters to long-term, high-AAV contracts and wrote them down with pen. There are other players knocking on the door. The team remains high on Logan Webb, and seemed comfortable running with him as the fifth starter prior to signing Sanchez. They just signed an interesting reclamation project in three-time All-Star Scott Kazmir. Fellow recent signings Nick Tropeano and Shun Yamaguchi have history starting. So does Anthony Banda. Caleb Baragar, one of the surprises of the 2020 bullpen, asked the team to give him a look as a starter, and they’re obliging.
Barring bad health, there’s still five clear favorites for the rotation. But there are a lot of players who will try and make it interesting.
The “this feels right but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I’m missing something” tier
Tommy La Stella
Logic suggests teams should carry six infielders, and the Giants have six who are a clear cut above the rest. There’s always the chance of a trade, but there’s zero chance that any of these players simply fail to make the roster.
Five of these six players were really good last year, and the sixth is still owed a minimum of $24.5 million after this season.
If they become enamored with someone else in camp — and Jason Vosler is kind of the only option for that — maybe they make a trade. Maybe they carry seven infielders. Maybe Belt isn’t healthy and the decision is made for them. Yeah, that’s definitely it.
But expect all of these players to play prominent roles in 2021. Sure, only one player can comfortably play shortstop defense, and only one player can comfortably play third base defense, but ... they can hit!
The “wait, this project is neither fun nor easy” tier
LaMonte Wade Jr.
This is where it got impossible. But before I go further, I need to throw in the disclaimer that the distinction between “infielder” and “outfielder” is getting more and more blurred by the day. Mauricio Dubón was a full-time middle infielder this time last year, and is reportedly starting to take reps at third base. Darin Ruf is listed on the Giants official website as a first baseman. I would be shocked if no one that I put in the “infielders” category spent time in the outfield grass this year.
But we’ll keep the distinction anyway.
I see three of these players — Dubón, Alex Dickerson, and Mike Yastrzemski — as locks, health permitting. That leaves Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., Austin Slater, and a host of mystery options to battle it out for the other two spots — if there are two other spots!
Of those three, Slater is the player I’m most wanting to see. But my thinking was this: Slater has options, and Yaz, who hits lefties as well as he hits righties, will be an everyday player. It would make sense if they want to split the other four outfield spots so there are two righties (Ruf and Dubón) and two lefties (Dickerson and Wade) so they can tailor the lineup for every game.
I have no confidence in this thought process. But I have no confidence in any other thought process or alignment, either.
The “shrug emoji” tier
Go ahead and tell me how wrong I am. You are correct. You may not know where or how I’m wrong, but I’m absolutely wrong. The bullpen will not look like this on Opening Day — in fact, it will probably look nothing at all like this.
But it’s what I’ve got.
I did myself a favor by procrastinating this article for a while. When I first started writing it last week, I reluctantly had Trevor Gott in the bullpen at the expense of Dedniel Nuñez. Then Gott was DFA’d, and Nuñez had his spot.
So let’s get to the controversial parts. There are certainly some no-brainers — Matt Wisler and Jake McGee are locks, while Jarlin García, Reyes Moronta, and Tyler Rogers all feel close to it — but there are some question marks.
First off, where is Logan Webb? With Aaron Sanchez pushing Webb out of the rotation, he would seem a perfect candidate for long relief, spot starting, or maybe even closing.
My thought is that they’d rather get him throwing five or six innings every fifth day in Sacramento than transition him to a bullpen role. Webb still projects as a starter, and I suspect the team is more interested in developing players in their optimal roles than forcing them onto the big league squad in a role they shouldn’t have.
Second, Nuñez? Will the Giants really put a player who has never played above high-A on the Opening Day roster?
The Giants like to give their Rule 5 selections a chance, even if that chance is really a “chance.” I fully expect Nuñez to get the Connor Joe and Dany Jiménez treatment, which is to say he’ll make the Opening Day roster, play once or twice, and then get designated for assignment while we all wonder what the point of that was.
In a tier where I feel clueless and ignorant, it’s nice to have confidence in something.