Once the lockout was over and the rules were temporarily changed to allow for a 28-man active roster, there were two certainties with the players on the fringes of the Giants’ roster coming out of spring training:
• Mauricio Dubón was going to make the team because the Giants didn’t want to lose him for nothing.
• Tyler Beede was going to make the team because the Giants didn’t want to lose him for nothing.
With a 26-man roster, those decisions would have been trickier, but the Giants didn’t have to worry about that until May.
It’s May, and Dubón and Beede are both gone. Even if the moves don’t feel great, they made business sense, and you saw them coming with the looming roster crunch. It’s a 26-man roster again, and the Giants’ decisions are going to get trickier and trickier, so it’s time to look at the possibility of a fully healthy Giants roster.
Here’s a disclaimer before we continue, and feel free to read it in the rapid-style voice of a prescription-drug warning.
Warning: There will never be a fully healthy Giants roster for longer than a couple days. There will never be a fully healthy roster for any of the other teams. The baseball gods are forever playing whack-a-mole and trying to win one more ticket because they want to spend 500 tickets on the pencil sharpener. So they’re going to keep whacking players. There will always be someone with a pulled this or a strained that. It’s baseball. So just assume that the correct answer is “Someone else goes on the IL.”
But the Giants aren’t going to invent injuries to get guys on the IL. Even if it weren’t against the rules — which it very much is — it would be a bad look for an organization to go to a struggling veteran and ask him to chill out on the IL with a bruised ego for a bit. Which means there’s a chance that once Tommy La Stella comes back (probably on this road trip, and hopefully not until after this article publishes), everybody is healthy, and there’s a tricky roster decision to make.
The givens of the current roster look like this:
C – Joey Bart
C – Curt Casali
INF – Brandon Belt
INF – Tommy La Stella
INF – Brandon Crawford
INF – Evan Longoria
INF – Wilmer Flores
INF – Thairo Estrada
OF – Darin Ruf
OF – Mike Yastrzemski
OF – Austin Slater
OF – LaMonte Wade Jr.
OF – Joc Pederson
That’s 23 players of a 26-man roster who absolutely aren’t going anywhere, either because they’re out of options, making too much money, franchise icons, productive players, essential players or some combination of all of the above. Seems like there’s plenty of room. And if you’re convinced that Bart needs time in Triple A, he has to be replaced with another catcher. If you’re thinking that Estrada is hitting his way off the roster, he has to be replaced with another backup shortstop. Those potential moves wouldn’t change these numbers at all.
Except there are some players who aren’t on this list and should be. John Brebbia has an option, but he’s also been one of the steadiest relievers in the bullpen. Zack Littell has an option and got hammered on Sunday, but he’s likely to stick around. And, really, the specific names aren’t as important. The Giants will carry a minimum of seven relievers on their roster.
So we’re at 25 players of a 26-man roster, and it brings us to that tricky roster decision. It might be the trickiest of the Farhan Zaidi era, no hyperbole. Let’s phrase it as a simple question, even if the answer isn’t going to be simple at all:
Do the Giants keep Luis González or a 13-man pitching staff?
It is an absolutely brutal choice for several reasons. González is hitting .349 in a league that’s hitting a collective .237, and while he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, he has enough to start taking him seriously. He raked in spring training, he raked in Triple A and he’s raked in the majors. Even if he’s not a modern-day Rod Carew, it’s very clear that he has a well-rounded skill set that helps tremendously. He can play all three outfield positions, and he brings both speed and plate discipline to the roster.
Don’t forget about his versatility. He’s basically Shohei Ohtani, give or take.
The last National League pitcher to hit a home run is no longer Logan Webb. The answer to the trivia question is now … Luis Gonzalez.
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) May 16, 2022
González has a .397 OBP, a .492 SLG, two home runs and three stolen bases, but none of those numbers are as important as this one: One option.
So that takes us to the other contender in this roster battle, which is the 13th pitcher. It’s not important to name the pitcher because it will never be a single pitcher. It’s going to be Yunior Marte, Sam Long, Sean Hjelle, Gregory Santos or Kervin Castro. Once Jake McGee is healthy, it might be Littell.
And, really, labeling them Pitcher 1 through Pitcher 13 might help you worry less about the specific players on the roster and more about what the organizational strategy is. It’s a strategy that is built entirely around the idea of a 13-man pitching staff. That’s how they’ll get enough innings to cover for a modern starting rotation. Here’s a breakdown of the Giants’ 34 starts this year:
7+ IP: two
6+ IP: seven
5+ IP: 14
Fewer than 5 IP: 11
This was the plan all along, and it’s important to remember that it’s working. Even after the Sunday debacle, the Giants are still leading the National League in FIP, and they’re near the top in ERA and runs allowed per game. The roster was built for five-inning outings. It was counting on them, even.
This plan requires a 13-man bullpen. While they have enough pitchers on the 40-man roster to yo-yo them back and forth and forth and back, essentially creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a 13th pitcher, don’t forget about the other rule change that limits options within a season.
There is no permutation of a Giants roster that includes just seven relievers. Not when the bullpen is expected to absorb four innings every game.
So this is less of an exploration of a roster battle and more of an explanation about why the Giants might send down one of their most productive hitters. If it happens, you’ve been warmed.
There is a precedent to this kind of decision, too. On June 22, 2021, LaMonte Wade Jr. was hitting .265/.344/.470. He was hitting for power, drawing walks and capturing the hearts and minds of Giants fans. He had an option, though, and he was sent down over the howls of Giants Twitter.
Wade was back three days later, and he hit the first of approximately 70 late-game winners on June 26. He was back because someone else got hurt, so if you’re preemptively mad that González is going away, re-read that disclaimer from up there. This will work itself out. It almost always does.
It’s still helpful to look at the constraints of a fully healthy Giants roster, though. This is not a roster that’s always designed to accommodate surprise performances from someone like González. It’s not a roster that’s designed to incorporate players in Triple-A Sacramento having a monster season, like David Villar. It’s probably not going to be a roster that can add a Kris Bryant-like acquisition at the deadline without a change to someone’s health status. The Giants can fill a 26-man roster with players they really, really like and still feel bad about the 27th player.
It’s not a bad problem to have, especially when you consider that the effective replacement for González is going to be La Stella, and he’s turning baseballs into a viscous liquid in Triple A (.310/.429/.586 in 35 PA). But a fully stocked roster and relatively open IL is going to make for uncomfortable roster decisions for the 2022 Giants, and it’s about to get hairier than ever.
(Photo of Luis González: Rick Ulreich / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)