Pitchers and catchers are set for their first workout of the spring on Thursday, and this will be my final post of what has seemed like a very long and boring off-season. Come Thursday, there will be some actual baseball to talk about and even though the Giants are likely looking at their 4th consecutive losing season, spring fever is starting to swing into full effect with Giant fans.
Brian Sabean made an interesting move Monday, signing reliever Scott Williamson to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. This move is a low risk, high reward type deal that could end up giving the Giants a valuable bullpen commodity for the league minimum. Williamson threw well in his brief, injury shortened 2007 campaign. When healthy, he still brings a decent fastball and isn't easy to hit (16 k's and a .235 BAA in only 14 innings pitched last year). At worst, he gets cut or starts the year in Fresno, at best, the Giants have themselves a solid middle reliever. His injury last year wasn't arm or shoulder related so he should be fresh.
The Giants have a few questions heading into the Spring that should be answered over the next 7 weeks. Here is a list of 5 questions/battles regarding the 25 man roster and my best guesses as to what will transpire as we make our way towards opening day:Who's on the Corners?
If nothing changes with this team's roster over the next 7 weeks and all things go accordingly, it appears Kevin Frandsen would start at 3rd with Rich Aurilia starting at first on opening day. The Giants have been linked to third basemen such as Joe Crede and Eric Chavez and could be waiting to see health status on Crede before striking a deal. There's also a chance Frandsen could beat out Ray Durham for the starting second base job. If I had to guess, I'd say Joe Crede or Kevin Frandsen will open the season at 3rd, with Aurilia getting the nod at first.Who's Going to Hit Cleanup?
Everybody's guess (even Bruce Bochy's) at this point seems to be that Bengie Molina will be in the cleanup spot for the Giants on opening day. That would mean that they go from having Barry Bonds, who averaged 40 home runs a year over the last 15 seasons, as their cleanup man to Bengie Molina, a 33 year old catcher who's never hit more than 19 home runs or driven in more than 81 runs in his career. My guess is that Aaron Rowand will take the spot by default as he is now the Giants biggest offensive threat. If Joe Crede is acquired, we'd probably be looking at a middle order of Winn-Rowand-Crede. If not, I'd say Winn-Rowand-Molina will be hitting 3-4-5 come April.Who Gets the Extra Outfield Spots?
There are only 3 outfielders who are guaranteed spots on the roster. Barring a trade, Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand and
Dave Roberts will all be on the roster and most likely in the opening day lineup. If the Giants go with a 12 man pitching staff, which is pretty standard out of spring training, it would leave 2 spots open for competition between Nate Schierholtz, Rajai Davis and Freddy Lewis. Rajai Davis is out of options, and he would likely have to play himself out of a job this spring in order to not make the team. Nate Schierholtz has proved himself at every level and is ready for a shot in the Giants' outfield but if he isn't going to start or get consistent playing time, they may choose to keep him playing everyday in Fresno to start the year. I like Freddie Lewis and what he did over the course of his time in the big leagues last summer. If I had to guess right now though, I'd say Schierholtz and Davis will start the year in San Francisco while Lewis continues to fine tune his game in Fresno.Who Gets the Last 2 Bullpen Spots?
Assuming the Giants start the year with a 12 man staff, they would need 7 relievers. There are 5 guys who have contracts for 2008 and are almost certain to be on the team come opening day. Those five are closer Brian Wilson, set-up men
Tyler Walker and Brad Hennessey and two middle relievers, Steve Kline and Vinny Chulk. Rule V draftee Jose Capellan, Jonathon Sanchez, Pat Misch, Randy Messenger, Kenichi Yabu, Jack Taschner and newly acquired Scott Williamson figure to be the front runners to take up those spots. There are also a couple wild cards in Merkin Valdez, Eric Threets and Billy Sadler who could put their names in the mix with a good spring. My guess is that Williamson will get sixth spot and I will go out on a limb and say Capellan will get the seventh. I hope Jonathon Sanchez gets put into the rotation in Fresno to start the year. I don't think he'll beat out Kevin Corriea for the fifth spot in the rotation, but if Corriea struggles, or somebody gets dealt, then Sanchez should be preparing to be a starter in the minors rather than rotting in the bullpen. The constant revising of his role is likely stunting his development a bit.
Backup Catcher, Utility Infielder?
It also should be interesting to see who else fills out the Giants' bench besides the backup outfielders. Elezier Alfonzo and Guillermo Rodriguez will duel for the backup catching spot behind Bengie Molina for one spot. Whoever isn't starting between Kevin Frandsen, Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia and Dan Ortmeier will get another spot, leaving one open for either a 6th outfielder, or a utility guy. Eugenio Velez came up in September and showed some value to this team as an offensive player and base stealing threat. He should make the team with a good spring. The Giants don't currently have a clear cut first basemen, so Travis Ishikawa could help himself out a lot this spring if he performs. If he outplays Ortmeier, he could end up earning himself a spot on the team.