1. Backup Catcher (easier decision than we thought)
Hector Sanchez vs. Andrew Susac probably wasn’t as difficult a decision as most would think. Susac has the opportunity to be one of the top 15 catchers in Major League Baseball, but he wasn’t going to improve all that much as the guy who caught once or twice each week, especially if his main assignment was Tim Lincecum. That’d be like having a 15-year-old do his or her driver’s ed training in a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle with no breaks.
“You’ll have to use the manual transmission to slow down, kid. You’ll get the hang of it, it’s not that hard — especially when you’re going uphill!”
Sanchez is “in the best shape we’ve seen him in,” according to Bruce Bochy, and since we’ve had enough time to figure out what he is offensively (as a hitter, he’s a backup catcher), there’s no reason to send him to Triple-A for seasoning. In fact, with his magnetic tendencies and concussion history, an everyday assignment would be asking for something bad to happen. Sanchez’s job — and it could be a short-term gig that ends before the Summer Solstice — is to catch Lincecum and be upwardly mobile enough to back up Buster Posey on the other days in case of injury or fatigue.
That’s a terrible assignment for Susac. They’d need a third catcher to use Susac as a right-handed hitter off the bench, and that still doesn’t keep Susac’s skills sharp as a game-caller and receiver. It just so happened that Susac gave the Giants a little added reason to keep him in Triple-A to start the season when he missed time due to a tooth infection and a wrist injury.
Verdict: While this looked like an intriguing battle earlier this Spring, the Giants’ desire to give Lincecum one final chance in the rotation made it pretty easy in the end. It doesn’t hurt that Susac can boost his trade value even higher with a couple strong months in the hitter-friendly PCL, either.
2. Last Bullpen Righty (flip a coin)
We knew every single reliever with options would be sent back down to the minors, leaving Jean Machi, George Kontos and Erik Cordier. Cordier suffered a forearm strain that allows the Giants to start his season on the disabled list, leaving Machi and Kontos.
While I don’t know which way the Giants will go here, this is really just based on who they think is healthier and throwing better. When it comes to most relievers like this, we have no idea what the right answer is. Machi could be great, he could be horrible. Same for Kontos.
- SPRING TRAINING: Both have allowed two home runs and six runs, while striking out two and walking eight. Machi’s ERA is lower, because he’s pitched 12 innings compared to Kontos’ 10, and one of his runs was unearned.
- GIANTS CAREER: Machi has pitched 126 innings with an ERA of 2.71 and a 3.10 FIP. Kontos has pitched 131.1 innings with the Giants with an ERA of 3.36 and a 3.36 FIP (his numbers aren’t affected by the fielders around him, apparently).
- POSTSEASON: Machi’s ERA is 7.94 in 5.2 playoff innings, while Kontos has an October ERA of 6.75 in 5.1 innings. Not that the sample size makes this a valid measure of comparison, but these guys are pretty danged similar.
Verdict: Probably Machi, since he contributed more to the big club last year (in part because Kontos had options, but Machi was getting All-Star buzz in the first half of the season … well, from Giants homers, but still), and at 33 years old he probably doesn’t have quite as much trade value as the 29-year-old who posts tweets with a lot of exclamation points about how he shops at Lulu Lemon. But does it even matter who they choose? Neither one will probably be an above-average eighth inning guy in his career, let alone a closer. And if the guy they go with flounders over the first month or two, they have several relievers in the minors who could step in.
3. Last outfielder (easiest decision)
The Giants made it all-but-official (Update: it’s official) that Justin Maxwell would make the Opening Day roster, which came as a surprise to no one because Juan Perez was awful this month.
“He came in bigger and stronger but it’s evident he’s not at the top of his game,” Bochy said. “Defensive or offensively, he has not been on top of his game.”
Ouch. Maybe Perez just needs a few months to get acclimated to his new muscle mass, but there was no way he was making the team with his numbers (.239 average with no homers this Spring). Gary Brown’s numbers are even worse: .154/.250/.256. Brown did hit a homer, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
So Maxwell is this year’s Tyler Colvin, only right-handed. He’s hitting .316/.361/.526 in the Cactus League, and averages 16 home runs per 162 games as a major leaguer. He made a positive impact in 2012 with the Astros and 2013 with the Royals, then fell flat in 2014 with Kansas City with five singles and a double in 40 at-bats. 40 at-bats is nothing, but the Royals had plenty of capable outfielders last season.
Maxwell was available this offseason for a reason, but he’s kind of toolsy. The Giants have had decent luck with guys in similar situations (like Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias) who’d shown flashes but couldn’t stick with a team for whatever reason. And Maxwell has some power (two home runs in the Cactus League and 18 in 2012 with the Astros), something this team desperately needs.
Verdict: Total no-brainer.
4. Last infielder (this one’s a doozy)
We’ve been hearing why the Giants can’t part with Ehire Adrianza for a long time. Their system is nearly devoid of shorstops who can play in the big leagues, either now or within the next two years. If the Giants made Adrianza available, another team would grab him in a heartbeat.
Then you have Matt Duffy, an unlikely success story who skipped Triple-A and stuck with the Giants from the trade deadline through the World Series parade. I’m not sure he’s old enough yet to get the “gritty” label, and he’s probably too tall for that descriptor as well. Can we go with “moxie”? Duffy seems to have moxie to spare, and he was just named the 2015 Barney Nugent Award winner for being “the player in his first big league camp whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit, much like Nugent did in his time with San Francisco.” Previous guys who’ve received that honor include Brandon Belt and Tim Lincecum, but mostly it’s been guys like Mark Minicozzi and Brian Bocock.
Duffy has options. Adrianza does not have options. Duffy hit in the Cactus League (.383/.420/.681 with two home runs). Adrianza (.238/.373/.310) hasn’t, although eight walks in 51 plate appearances is an interesting shift since he walked five times in 106 plate appearances with the Giants last season.
In a perfect world, the Giants could just cut Joaquin Arias, slide Duffy into Arias’ role and hold onto Adrianza as a backup shortstop. But Arias is slated to make $1.45 million this season, so the Giants will keep him around despite how sluggish he’s looked for quite a while.
One could make the same argument for keeping Duffy in Triple-A as I mentioned earlier in this post in regard to Susac, but Duffy seems like a guy who can handle a utility role without all those off days affecting his skill set negatively. Maybe Susac could as well, but working with a big league staff is different than fielding grounders at multiple infield spots. Plus, Duffy might have been Bochy’s most trusted hitter off the bench in September and October, which is insane considering his career arc.
There’s no way the Giants would make a decision based on anything like what I’m about to write … but here goes. I was walking through Golden Gate Park on Sunday listening to Giants-Dodgers, and Adrianza made a poor throw. Jon Miller mentioned how Adrianza’s glove is strong and he’s got excellent range, but his arm is merely average.
I immediately thought, “If Adrianza’s arm isn’t all that great, why would the Giants keep him on the roster if he’s not much of a hitter and his baserunning/hustling decisions are extremely suspect?”
On the other hand, shortstop is a wasteland in MLB these days. I took part in a couple fantasy drafts (don’t worry, I won’t talk about my team, although I did land Posey in the fourth round last night …) and finding a shortstop was a brutal task. It sounds crazy because his numbers don’t jump off the page and none of us have ever seen him do anything all that spectacular, but if the Giants released Adrianza there’d be a few teams who’d gladly give him the chance to be their backup shortstop with a chance to start.
Verdict: Forget that “DFA Arias” idea, actually. In a perfect world, the Giants could trade Adrianza and either Kontos or Machi for an elite third base prospect! Unfortunately, that’s about as likely as Brian Wilson replacing Mike Krukow in the booth.
Because Adrianza is in a no-man’s land of being good enough to want to protect, but not quite good enough to get much of anything back in a trade, Duffy will probably start the year in the minors. But I’m not confident in that prediction at all — maybe there’s a 45% chance the Giants say “screw it,” let some other team end up with Adrianza, and let Duffy stand with the rest of the team on Opening Day. That’s what makes this the team’s most difficult decision. Their only difficult decision, really.