The Giants have a whopping 71 players in Major League Spring Training this season — a testament to an active offseason in terms of minor league free agency and also a reflection of the lack of certainty on a roster that is still being retooled by a new regime. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi appeared on KNBR’s Murph & Mac Show yesterday to discuss the state of the roster, echoing at multiple points that “competition is going to be the theme of this camp” (full audio of the 18-minute interview).
Not surprisingly, Zaidi dubbed both Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, who each signed one-year Major League deals this winter, as likely members of the rotation. As for the fifth spot behind Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Gausman and Smyly, the Giants’ president named right-hander right-handers Tyler Beede, Logan Webb and Dereck Rodriguez as well as lefty Andrew Suarez as possible options to win the job.
While there’s really only one spot available on the starting staff, that’s far from the case with respect to San Francisco’s relief corps. “Our bullpen is going to be pretty wide open,” Zaidi acknowledged. “…We’ve had some guys really impress. Matt Carasiti, Rico Garcia were both really impressive a couple days ago.”
That open competition is partly by design and partly by circumstance. The club surely hoped that righty Reyes Moronta would anchor a high-leverage spot in 2020, but shoulder surgery late in the ’19 campaign will sideline him for most, if not all of the upcoming season. Will Smith departed via free agency, taking an early three-year deal with the Braves. Zaidi & Co. traded both Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson, each of whom was controlled through 2020, at last year’s deadline. What was arguably the Giants’ greatest strength entering the 2019 season quickly became a blank canvas for 2020.
So, who’s in the mix? Likely closer Tony Watson and out-of-options righty Trevor Gott are the only two relievers on the roster who threw even 30 innings out of the ’pen last season. It’s possible that any of the aforementioned quartet of fifth-starter candidates could transition to a relief role. Tyler Rogers, Sam Coonrod and Jandel Gustave all received auditions in the bullpen last year, with Rogers (the twin brother of Twins closer Taylor Rogers) looking particularly impressive. Elsewhere on the 40-man roster, waiver claim Jarlin Garcia is out of minor league options, and Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez is in a similar make-the-team-or-get-the-boot scenario.
The Giants moved prospect Shaun Anderson to the bullpen last year, and his name was notably absent when Zaidi discussed potential fifth starters. That’s also true of veteran non-roster invitees Trevor Cahill and Tyson Ross. One shouldn’t necessarily read Zaidi’s omission of those names in an off-the-cuff setting as a clear statement that they’re being viewed as bullpen-only pieces, but both Cahill and Ross have worked as relievers in the past, and it’s clear the bullpen offers a broader avenue to making the team. Beyond Carasiti and Garcia, both named by Zaidi, the Giants have veterans Jerry Blevins, Nick Vincent and Andrew Triggs in camp on non-roster deals.
Zaidi spent less time discussing the battles on the position-player side of things, but he did offer some insight into the role of Mauricio Dubon. It’s been suggested that the Giants will get the former Red Sox/Brewers infield prospect — acquired in last summer’s Drew Pomeranz/Ray Black swap — some work in center field. Zaidi made the organization’s plans for Dubon rather clear.
“He’s really embraced that possibility of moving around,” Zaidi said of the 25-year-old Dubon. “He obviously he played shortstop the first day [of Cactus League play]. Hopefully we get him out there in center field pretty soon. … He knows the more spots he can play, the more options he’s going to give Gabe and the staff, and the more at-bats he’s going to get. He’s fully embraced that.”
Playing Dubon all over the diamond will allow the club to take a longer look at non-roster invitee Yolmer Sanchez for second base. The Giants also have veteran utilityman Donovan Solano and former Rays prospect Kean Wong (younger brother of the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong) to evaluate. And with an outfield mix that is, by Zaidi’s own admission, somewhat unsettled in its own right, a successful acclimation to outfield work by Dubon (even on a part-time basis) would help shore things up.
With such a wide level of options already competing for roster spots, one might assume the Giants are done adding, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Giants’ catching depth took a hit when presumptive backup Aramis Garcia suffered a hip injury that required surgical repair — possibly sidelining him for the whole season. Rob Brantly and Tyler Heineman had already been inked as depth options behind Garcia, but that duo is now battling for a spot on the Opening Day roster … unless the Giants acquire another option.
“[Brantly and Heineman] both have legitimate shots,” Zaidi said. “But we also told those guys, ’Hey, we may go out and get somebody else. Either somebody else who’s in the competition or maybe even jumps to the front of the line.’ So those guys are aware of that, and we’ll keep an eye out. We’ll keep looking for the best possible option.”
The catching market has been largely picked over, although Russell Martin stands out as a notable veteran option who still boasts quality on-base and defensive skills. Any number of veterans who signed minor league deals elsewhere could potentially opt out of said deals or be cut loose, replenishing some of the open-market options. The waiver wire, of course, always presents another avenue from which Zaidi has never shied away. The bulk of the Giants’ offseason work in terms of player acquisition is done, but Zaidi and his staff still have a landslide of decisions to make over the next four weeks.