After cuts Monday, San Francisco Giants’ battle for final roster spots heats up.

San Francisco Giants’ Steven Duggar heads to third from first on a single by Brandon Crawford during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Maryvale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The San Francisco Giants made a round of cuts Monday, reducing their spring training roster to 45.

But as far as making the final 25-man roster with the season opener a little more than two weeks away, the real list of candidates is more like 37 – the 31 players on the Giants’ active roster, plus six key non-roster invitees.

Here is the rundown of the final 37.

*-denotes player has minor-league options left / Rule-5 players must be kept on 25-man roster, or sent back team he was selected from

PITCHERS (19 / final roster likely will have 12 or 13)

  • RH Tyler Beede*
  • LH Travis Bergen (rule-5  player)
  • LH Ty Blach*
  • RH Ray Black*
  • LH Madison Bumgarner
  • RH Sam Dyson
  • RH Trevor Gott
  • LH Derek Holland
  • RH Mark Melancon
  • RH Reyes Moronta*
  • LH Steven Okert
  • LH Drew Pomeranz
  • RH Dereck Rodriguez*
  • RH Jeff Samardzija
  • LH Will Smith
  • RH Chris Stratton
  • RH Andrew Suarez*
  • SH Pat Venditte*
  • LH Tony Watson

Manager Bruce Bochy suggested the Dereck Rodriguez had secured a spot in the rotation, along with Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz. That leaves 14 candidates for the remaining seven or eight spots, depending on how many pitchers the Giants opt to carry. Traditionally, the Giants have kept 13 pitchers on the roster to open the season. But with new management and a wealth of bullpen depth in the organization, that could change. Given that starting five, it would likely relegate Andrew Suarez to Triple-A. With Smith, Watson, Melancon, Moronta and Dyson virtual locks, it leaves just two or three spots left. One will be lefty, as the Giants will choose between Okert (out of options) and Bergren (rule-5).

CATCHERS (4 / final roster likely will have 2)

  • Buster Posey
  • Aramis Garcia*
  • Rene Rivera (non-roster invitee)
  • Stephen Vogt (non-roster invitee)

It’s a three-man battle to serve as Buster Posey, which seemed like a very important job when spring training started. It’s still a key job, but Posey has recovered well from his hip surgery, faster than expected. The Giants like what they’ve seen in prospect Garcia, but ultimately may choose to go the veteran route with Rivera or Vogt. Vogt is a bit more versatile, but he’s also recovering from shoulder surgery.

INFIELDERS (8 / final roster likely will have 6)

  • Brandon Belt
  • Brandon Crawford
  • Alen Hanson
  • Evan Longoria
  • Joe Panik*
  • Pablo Sandoval
  • Donovan Solano (non-roster invitee)
  • Yangervis Solarte (non-roster invitee)

This looks like four guys battling for two spots – Sandoval, Hanson, Solarte and Solano – and it seems like Sandoval’s position is pretty strong. Hanson looked like a good bet, but then the Giants added Solarte, who brings a similar skillset to Hanson with more big-league experience. He’s also shown himself to be more capable as a right-handed batter. It’s possible that the Giants go with a four-man outfield and keep three reserve infielders.

OUTFIELDERS (6 / final roster likely will have 4 or 5)

  • Steven Duggar*
  • Drew Ferguson (rule-5 player)
  • Austin Slater*
  • Mac Williamson
  • Cameron Maybin (non-roster invitee)
  • Gerardo Parra (non-roster invitee)

After falling short in pursuit of Bryce Harper, the Giants appear headed for a starting outfielder of Williamson in left, Duggar and Maybin in center and Parra in right. With Slater having options, they could keep Ferguson as a fifth outfielder. Or they could go with four outfielders knowing that Solarte, Hanson and even Belt could provide outfield depth.

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Weighing options: 2019 San Francisco Giants who still have minor league options left

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Chris Stratton delivers against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 1, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

One of the greatest mysteries of major league baseball, at least to many fans, is the rule surrounding minor league options.

It’s a topic that comes up every spring as teams’ roster decision often include whether or not a player can be optioned back to the minors, or placed on waivers if the player doesn’t make the Opening Day 25-man roster.

So here’s a breakdown of the option rule, in as the most simple terms I can describe.

Once a player is placed on a team’s 40-man roster, he is given three minor league options. So if a player on the 40-man roster during spring training is sent to the minors, he has been “optioned” to the minors. If the player remains in the minors for at least 20 days, he burns one of his options.

Now the option applies to the entire season, this is why it is often referred to as an “option year.”  So if a player on the 40-man roster is optioned to the minors to start the season, then gets recalled to the majors in June, spends a month in the bigs, then gets optioned back to the minors, he does not burn a second option.

A player keeps these “option years” until they accrue five years of big-league service time, then they go away.

So, for example, Joe Panik was called up to the majors during the 2014 season. He has never been optioned to the minors since then. So he still has three options remaining. But he also has 4.1 years of big-league service time, so if he spends this season on the Giants’ 25-man roster, he will no longer be eligible for options by the end of the 2019 season.

Is that clear enough? I hope so.

The problem with options is trying to figure out just where players stand with their options can be really hard to find.

So I’ve done the hard work for you. The following players on the Giants’ 40-man roster, with fewer than five years of big-league service, are out of options, meaning if the Giants don’t include these players on their Opening Day 25-man roster, these players will have to clear waivers before they can be sent to the minors – outfielder Mac Williamson, pitchers Sam Dyson, Chris Stratton, Steven Okert and Trevor Gott and infielder Alen Hanson.

Hanson and Dyson seem locks to make the 25-man roster, but it will be pivotal spring for Williamson, Stratton, Okert and Gott.

The Giants have also signed several veterans to minor-league contracts, like outfielder Cameron Maybin and Gerardo Parra and infielders Donovan Solano and Yangervis Solarte and catchers Rene Rivera and Steven Vogt. Most veterans who sign these minor-league deals have a clause in their contract that allows them to opt out of the contract if they are not given a big-league contract by a set date, usually 10 days before the start of the season.

One other thing, before we get to the Giants with options still left.

The Giants have two players on their 40-man roster who were Rule 5 selections in December – outfielder Drew Ferguson (Astros) and relief pitcher Travis Bergen (Blue Jays). While both players have options left, the Giants can’t send either to the minors for the entire 2019 season. So either the Giants put these players on their 25-man roster to open the season, or send them back to their original franchise (or the two teams can work out a trade, which would then bring the options back into play).

So here are the other players on the Giants’ current 40-man roster who still have minor league options:

  • IF Breyvic Valera (1 option left)
  • P Pat Venditte (1)
  • P Ray Black (1)
  • P Jake Barrett (1)
  • P Reyes Moronta (2)
  • C Aramis Garcia (2)
  • IF Ryder Jones (2)
  • OF Austin Slater (2)
  • P Jose Lopez (2)
  • P Tyler Beede (2)
  • P Ty Blach (2)
  • P Andrew Suarez (3)
  • IF/OF Chris Shaw (3)
  • IF Abiatal Avelino (3)
  • OF Steven Duggar (3)
  • 2B Joe Panik (3)
  • P Dereck Rodriguez (3)
  • P Logan Webb (3)
  • P Melvin Adon (3)
  • P Sam Coonrod (3)

Roster battles for 2019 San Francisco Giants

Bruce Bochy

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) looks on as a group of mostly catchers return during spring training baseball practice on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The San Francisco Giants are back in Arizona for spring training, so I guess it’s time to start blogging about Giants baseball.

The 2018 season ended on a sour note, as for the first time since 2008 the Giants didn’t reach the postseason in an even-numbered season.

Their 73-89 final record looks uglier than 2018 season. It is largely a by-product of the late August decision that they would not contend for a postseason berth and threw in the towel after trading away Andrew McCutchen (previous to that move, Buster Posey decided to end his season by having surgery on his hip).

The Giants in 2018 were basically a .500 team all season through August, when they never deviated more than five games over or five games under .500. In September, they went 5-21.

The offseason has been more about departures – or impending departures – than additiions.

Gone are the likes of Gorkys Hernandez, Hunter Pence, Hunter Strickland, Gregor Blanco, Nick Hundley. Hardly all-stars.

Then came the announcement the manager Bruce Bochy would retire after the 2019 season – not terribly surprising as that’s when his contract expires.

So what kind of hand with Bochy be dealt for his final go-around with the Giants?

New team president Farhan Zaidi hasn’t exactly shook the world with moves this winter.

Offseason acquisitions have included ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte, utility infielder Breyvic Valera, left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz and right-handed relievers Trevor Gott and Jake  Barrett. The Giants also re-signed left-handed pitcher Derek Holland.

They’ve also bolstered their roster by signing veterans to minor-league deals. Battling for jobs this spring will be outfielders Cameron Maybin and Gerardo Parra, infielder Donovan Solano and catchers Rene Rivera, Cameron Rupp and Stephen Vogt.

So here is how the battle for the Giants’ Opening Day 25-man roster looks like right now.

 

STARTING PITCHERS

LOCKS:  LH Madison Bumgarner, RH Dereck Rodriguez, LH Derek Holland

HEALTH QUESTION: RH Jeff Samardzija (shoulder)

IN THE MIX: LH Drew Pomeranz (could start or be in pen), RH Chris Stratton, LH Andrew Suarez

 

BULLPEN

LOCKS: RH Sam Dyson, RH Mark Melancon, RH Reyes Moronta, LH Will Smith, LH Tony Watson.

IN THE MIX: LH/RH Pat Venditte, Stratton, Pomeranz, LH Ty Blach, RH Jake Barrett, RH Ray Black, RH Trevor Gott, RH Jose Lopez

 

CATCHERS

LOCK: Buster Posey

IN THE MIX: Aramis Garcia, Stephen Vogt, Rene Rivera, Cameron Rupp

 

INFIELDERS

LOCKS: Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria

IN THE MIX: Alen Hanson, Donovan Solano, Pablo Sandoval, Abiatal Avelino, Breyvic Valera

 

OUTFIELDERS

LOCK: Steven Duggar

IN THE MIX: Cameron Maybin, Gerardo Parra, Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw, Austin Slater

Giants drop dead weight off by trading Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin to Rangers

Jax

Over the past month, it had become clear that the last player manager Bruce Bochy wanted to use off his bench was Austin Jackson – and that’s saying a lot considering that Hunter Pence is also on his bench.

And it also became clear the last pitcher he wanted to use in a high-leverage situation was Cory Gearrin.

On Sunday morning, the San Francisco Giants dropped some dead weight for their roster by trading both Jackson and Gearrin to the Texas Rangers.

And what did the Giants get in return? Well, in short, nothing – at least for now.

The trade involved the Giants sending Jackson, Gearrin and pitching prospect Jason Bahr to Texas for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

And it appears the Rangers have little interest in Jackson. The team reportedly informed the outfielder not to report to the club right away. The Rangers have little use for another outfielder and will look to flip Jackson to another team, or potentially designate him for assignment if a trade partner can’t be found.

So why in the world would the Rangers take on more than $6 million in guaranteed salary when most of that money is going to a player they don’t even want or need?

Well the answer is they must really like what they’ve seen in Bahr.

Bahr is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who was drafted in the fifth round by the Giants in the 2017 draft out of Central Florida.

After posting a 3.55 ERA in seven starts (13 appearances) for short-season A Salem-Keizer last summer, Bahr has had a solid first full season in the minors with the Giants’ two full-season Class A clubs.

Bahr was 6-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 13 starts for low-A Augusta, striking out 88 and walking 21 in 68.2 innings. He was recently promoted to high-A San Jose, where he went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three starts, fanning 15 and walking just two in 16 innings.

Last winter, the Giants signed Jackson to a two-year deal, hoping the veteran outfielder could play all three outfield positions and be a big threat in the lineup against left-handed pitching.

Well, Jackson did hit 100 points higher against lefties than righties, but that’s largely because he hit just  .188 against righties this season.

Jackson started the season in a lefty-righty platoon in center field with Gregor Blanco. But Blanco was eventually sent to Triple-A, and Jackson went to the bench when Gorkys Hernandez, who also bats right-handed, proved a better options offensively and defensively in center field.

Jackson is still owed $3.5 million in 2019, plus a $500,000 buyout in 2020. Add the back half of his $3 million salary this season, and the Giants were on the hook for about $5.5 million to Jackson.

Jackson had made just two starts – 15 plaste appearances — since June 13.

Likewise, Gearrin has spent most of the past six weeks being called on to pitch when the Giants were trailing or leading by a large margin.

Since May 20, Gearrin had made just one appearance with the Giants holding a lead of three runs or fewer, and that came on July 1 when he was asked to get one out in the fourth with the Giants up on Arizona 4-3.

Gearrin is making $1.68 million this year and has one more year of arbitration left.

By clearing Jackson and Gearrin off the books, the Giants open room on their payroll to potentially add another veteran player in a trade, if they decide.

It also opens up room on the roster to look at two players performing well in the minors – outfielder Steven Duggar and reliever Ray Black.

Duggar was a sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Clemson. He impressed the Giants in the spring, particularly with his glove, as he challenged for a spot on the roster.

He was eventually sent to Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .272 with a .354 OBP in 78 games. He still strikes out a butt-ton of times for a guy who doesn’t hit for power – 103 in 356 plate appearances.

It seems odd that the Giants, who are currently carrying just one reserve infielder and have two other infielders who can play the outfield (Alen Hanson and Brandon Belt) that the Giants would add a second reserve outfielder. But Duggar is a plus defender and gives the Giants a left-handed option off the bench, which they have been lacking.

The more exciting addition to the roster is Black, a 28-year-old righthander who was drafted out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2014.

Black can touch 100 mph on the radar, something the Giants really haven’t had in their bullpen before. Black battled injury and control problems in his five seasons in the minors.

But this year has been different. He started out at Double-A Richmond, where he posted a 0.90 ERA in 10 outings, striking out 20 of the 38 batters he faced, while walking just four.

After a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, he had a 2.91 ERA in 22 outings, striking out 38 in 21.2 innings, while walking seven.

Both Duggar and Black were added to the Giants’ 40-man roster and activated after the trade Sunday morning.

A long time coming: Mark Melancon saves win for Madison Bumgarner

Buster Posey, Mark Melancon

When the San Francisco Giants signed Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million deal in December 2016, they saw the move a missing piece to make the Giants competitive.

After all, the Giants were coming off a 2016 season that saw them blow 30 saves, and that didn’t inclue the two they blew in the Division Series against the Cubs.

But with Melancon at the back of their bullpen, the Giants foresaw the following scenario playing out over and over again – ace Madison Bumgarner pitches well, leaves the game with the lead and Melancon comes in the ninth to lock down the win.

The Giants thought that scenario would first play out on Opening Day 2017 when Bumgarner pitched seven solid innings against the Diamondbacks and left with a 5-3 lead. The lead was 5-4 when Melancon enter the game in the ninth.

Melancon gave up two runs and the Diamondbacks won 6-5.

Melancon didn’t get another opportunity to save a Bumgarner win before Bum hurt himself in a dirt bike accident three weeks later.

Bumgarner would spend almost three months on the disabled list. By the time he returned in mid-July, Melancon was on the DL with a pronator strain.

Melancon came off the DL in August, but did not pitch in the closer role, which had been turned over to Sam Dyson. Melancon’s season ended in early September.

Both Bumgarner and Melancon started the 2018 season on the DL.

Melancon made his season debut on June 3. Bumgarner made his debut two days later.

However, Melancon made his first seven appearances of 2018 in a non-closer role as the Giants worked him back into form.

With the Giants’ bullpen in flux after closer Hunter Strickland punched a door and broke his hand, Melancon got his first save opportunity on Thursday against the San Diego Padres. It came after Bumgarner threw eight shutout innings on 100 pitches.

With a 3-0 lead, Melancon got three outs, allowing just one hit, to record his first save since May 27, 2017.

And it was his first save of a Madison Bumgarner win, the sight the Giants have been waiting 18 months to see.

It was Bumgarner’s first win since beating the Dodgers on Sept. 23, 2017. It was his first outing without allowing a run since July 30, 2017, and his first eight-inning outing since April 8, 2017.

 

 

 

 

With Longoria out, Giants will turn to Sandoval and nasty left-right splits

Evan Longoria

San Francisco Giants’ Evan Longoria warms up during batting practice prior to a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in San Diego, Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Ooooh, that looks really bad.

That was my first reaction after watching Evan Longoria get hit on the hand by a Dan Straily pitch on Thursday in Miami.

There are many factors that can lead someone to make a conclusion like that … how the player reacts, the angle that the ball deflects after hitting the player, the location of where the player got hit.

All of those factors with Longoria led me to believe it was bad.

But then Longoria shook it off and headed to first base. The trainer came out to have a look, but Longoria stayed in the game.

Then I felt “Oh, maybe we dodged a bullet there.”

But then while standing on first, I say Longoria gesture to the dugout.

After the game, Longoria said he decided to stay in the game because he didn’t need his hand to run the bases. But as he stood at first, he felt his hand get worse, not better.

So he exited the game and Alen Hanson took over at third base.

Typically what happens in cases like this is the player goes for X-rays. If the report is good, the club will make an announcement a couple of innings later saying that X-rays were negative and the player is day-to-day.

But no such report came. And the game limped on for SIXTEEN INNINGS.

So when the game finally ended and we learned Longoria had a fractured pinkie, it was no surprise.

And now Giants fans are left to ask a question they’ve been forced to ask all season.

Now what?

The 2018 season has been a minefield of injuries. Here’s a look at the top 16 players on the Giants’ payroll and the time they have spent on the disabled list this season.

TimeonDL

Try to find a week when at least three Giants were on the shelf at the same time.

The timeline for Longoria’s stint on the DL is about six weeks. That would put his return around Aug. 1.

With Brandon Belt making a rapid return from an appendectomy, the front line to step in to fill Longoria’s absense falls to Pablo Sandoval.

Bruce Bochy said so much on Friday. But that could be a cause for concern.

The 2018 version of Sandoval is not the same Sandoval from the Giants’ three tile runs. But the Panda has been productive in 2018.

In fact, from one viewpoint, Sandoval has been about as good as Longoria. To date, Sandoval has about half as many plate appearances as Longoria. If we doubled Sandoval’s production to match Longoria’s plate appearance, they are pretty comparable.

EvvPanda

But with any statistical analysis, the deeper you go, the more catches you find.

In Sandoval’s case, 78 percent of his plate appearances have come as a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching. And that’s because recently his switch-hitting splits have been very wide.

In his entire career, Sandoval has been better from the left side, batting .295 as LH batter and .251 as a righty. Of his 130 career home runs, 111 have come from left season.

This season as a lefty, Sandoval is hitting .301/.359/.484. But as a righty, he’s .160/.276/.200. That horrendous split is the main reason Sandoval has stopped becoming an everyday player the past couple of seasons.

When you consider that more than one-third of the starting pitchers the Giants will face over the next six weeks are lefties, an alternative must be sought.

The first choice would seemingly be switch-hitting Hanson, who has been a bright spot this season as a minor-league signee in the offseason.

Hanson’s splits are better, but not great. Some 77 percent of Hanson’s plate appearances this season have come from the left side, where he’s been very good — .357/.390/.768. But from the right side, it drops to .267/.333/.400 in a very small sample size.

Over his brief big-league career, Hanson’s split have been pretty even, even if the lion’s share of PAs came as a lefty.

So a possible option for the Giants is to have Sandoval start against righties, and Hanson against lefties.

Another option is to recall Kelby Tomlinson and give him some at-bats against lefties. But he’s actually hit righties slightly better this year.

Against lefties, Tomlinson is .209/.277/.256.

One more option is to recall Ryder Jones, who is hitting .286 in Triple-A. But he’s a lefty batter and last year his .312 Triple-A average became a .173 big-league average.

Right now, it’s Sandoval first. We’ll see where that goes.

Johnny Cueto will be out at least six weeks, and Giants fans breathe sigh of relief

Johnny Cueto

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto throws to the plate during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The second opinion Johnny Cueto went to get on Monday on his elbow wasn’t nearly as bad as most San Francisco Giants thought it would be.

And who could blame them?

Normally when a player goes to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion, it almost always comes back “Yep, you need surgery.”

But that’s not what Andrews said on Monday.

Cueto, the Giants’ ace of 2018 so far, was diagnosed with a sprained elbow ligament on Monday, and Andrews’ prescription was rest.

That means Cueto will be sidelined six to eight weeks. He won’t be pitching for the Giants again until late June at the earliest.

On the surface, that seems bad. But when you consider surgery would have meant Cueto would have missed the rest of 2018 and likely half of 2019, rest sounds pretty good.

Cueto was reported to have been “ecstatic, excited and pumped” by the news, which lends credibility to speculation that the first opinion Cueto got on his elbow was much more ominous.

Need further evidence? Manager Bruce Bochy said Cueto asked to pitch in Atlanta last weekend before seeing Andrews. That translates into he expected the worst from Andrews and figured he couldn’t do any more damage by pitching through the pain, which he had done very well in his previous two starts before going on the DL.

Now Cueto and the Giants hope the elbow responds to rest and rehab. That doesn’t always happen, and a real possibility of surgery being somewhere in Cueto’s future still exists.

So what will the Giants’ do between now and late June, while Cueto rests.

Well, Andrew Suarez will remain with the big club for at least late May, until Madison Bumgarner returns from his broken thumb. Suarez will get the chance to prove to deserves to remain beyond that.

Suarez is 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA in three starts with the Giants this season. He has 18 strikeouts against two walks in 17.2 innings. That’s one fewer walk than what Jeff Samardzija allowed in the first inning on Monday in Philadelphia.

Four of the six runs Suarez has allowed have come on home runs. Once Suarez figures out what pitches he can’t throw to big leaguers, he could be really, really good.

The Giants hope he is, because the depth pool for starting pitching in the organization gets a little thin after Suarez. Tyler Beede would be next up, but he’s not dazzling with  his 1-2 mark and 4.84 ERA at Triple-A.

Beyond that, you’re looking at Dereck Rodriguez (4.26 ERA), Casey Kelly (9.25), Tyler Herb (5.59) and Jose Flores (4.50). Matt Gage got promoted from Double-A Richmond in April and has allowed just one earned run in 11 innings in two starts at Sacramento, so that’s something to watch. None of those pitchers are on the Giants’ 40-man roster.

And, of course, the Giants could kick the tires on Matt Harvey, who was designated for assignment by the Mets last week.

In the meantime, they’ll stick with the pitchers they have now, and hope the offense can give them good support, which they’ve been doing of late.