The San Francisco Giants head into spring training with a number of unresolved questions. Here are the five most important ones to answer.
Spring training is upon us, and the San Francisco Giants have quite a few things to sort out before their season opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With that in mind, we set out to identify the five biggest questions the team needs to answer before they start playing games that count.
There is certainly a long list to choose from with numerous holes on the roster. In many cases, the team does not have a clear solution, but they will have to trot someone out there on Opening Day.
These questions span the entire roster, from the lineup, to the bullpen, to the rotation, to who is playing what position at the start of the year.
The Giants themselves probably do not know the answer to most of these questions, and they are hoping that spring training can provide some clarity so the team heads into the year with a clearer picture of the roles of their players.
There will be numerous roster battles for starting gigs, bench spots, backup roles, bullpen roles, and spots in the rotation. It will certainly make for a more interesting spring training, but ideally, you would like to have a few more things set in stone before exhibition games begin.
Alas, these questions will linger throughout spring training and probably throughout the regular season as well. So let's take a look at the five most pressing questions the Giants will need to answer by the end of spring training.
Who will be the closer?
The vacant closer job might be the most pressing question facing the team this spring.
We all know that 2020 could be a long season for the rebuilding Giants, and it would feel a lot longer if they struggle closing out games.
Will Smith was excellent in the role last season, but he left in free agency. Tony Watson enters spring as the early favorite for the gig, but depending on how he fares, he may not last long in that role.
Gable Kapler has refused to publicly commit to naming a closer at this time, which makes sense this early in spring training. He also spoke about how the roles of relievers are evolving, and guys should not expect to be solely a seventh inning, eight inning, or ninth inning guy.
So goes modern baseball. But at some point, the team is going to have to commit to someone as the closer. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than a closer-by-committee situation, especially to begin the year.
Of all the questions the Giants have to answer, naming a closer should be a top priority, not just to provide some clarity to a weak bullpen, but also to provide some sanity to the fan base.
Who will bat leadoff?
There are quite a few candidates for lead-off hitter, and chances are the team will cycle through lead-off hitters throughout the season based on who is hot and who is getting on base at a high rate.
Brandon Belt led off for the team for a good chunk of last year, but I wouldn't expect to see that again this season. By the end of the season, Mike Yastrzemski was batting leadoff quite a bit, and Mauricio Dubon seems like another guy who, with solid speed, could be a good table setter.
Then there is the question of whether Billy Hamilton can make the team. If he can, even though his 2019 OBP of .289 was pretty dismal, he still remains a threat at the top of the lineup. A walk to Hamilton could turn into the equivalent of a double pretty fast with his base-stealing ability.
The Giants certainly have options for leadoff hitter, which is a good thing. Yaz as the leadoff man against righties and Dubon against lefties makes sense to me, but I am sure there will be a lot of mixing and matching throughout the year to see what works best.
Nonetheless, the leadoff picture needs to become a little clearer by the end of spring.
Who will play center field?
Once again, the center field job is up for grabs. With Kevin Pillar gone, the team will need to replace the player who led the team in most offensive categories for the Giants last season.
Duggar dealt with injuries and underperformance last season, but his value as a defender is abundantly clear. Davis has played just 17 games at the MLB level, but he slugged 35 home runs in the minors last year, so his offensive upside is appealing.
Billy Hamilton, whose speed, experience, and defensive prowess make him a solid candidate for the role, is also very much in the running for the job.
There have also been reports that Mauricio Dubon could play some center field in spring training. Even if he is not utilized as the every day center fielder, expanding his defensive versatility would make him that much more valuable to the team.
There's plenty of time to sort things out, but we are still far from knowing who will be the starting center fielder on Opening Day at this point.
Who will win the fifth starter spot?
It seems likely as of right now that Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gausman, and Drew Smyly will occupy the first four spots in the starting rotation. Smyly might have a more tenuous grip on his spot, but it would make sense for the Giants to have at least one lefty on the staff.
The rotation will likely be in flux for most of the year, so it may not matter a whole lot who wins the fifth rotation spot out of spring training, but for the first few weeks of the season it will matter.
There are a ton of candidates for this final spot, but I think the favorites as of right now are Tyler Beede, Tyson Ross, and Trevor Cahill. Logan Webb will probably start the season in Triple-A, even if he has a solid spring, as a way to limit his innings. And others like Dereck Rodriguez and Shaun Anderson will probably start the season in Triple-A or in the bullpen.
Beede is the favorite because he showed promise last season and the Giants want to see if he can be a part of the rotation going forward. But the competition is still very wide open. If one of the veterans shows he still have something left in the tank this spring, he could start the season in the No. 5 starter role.
Who will be the 26th man on the roster?
The 2020 season will be the first year that will feature a 26-man roster, so it will be interesting to see how the Giants use that extra roster spot.
Conventional wisdom might lead one to believe that having a pitcher as the 26th man makes sense, especially with as weak of a rotation and bullpen as the team has.
However, there has been some speculation that Pablo Sandoval could be used in that spot solely as a pinch hitter. He would not be able to field for that time because he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he could prove to be valuable coming off the bench to hit in late-inning scenarios.
To begin the season, they may just go with an extra reliever for the bullpen, but once Sandoval is fully healthy, I think he should definitely be the 26th man just for what he provides defensively, with the bat, and as a service to the fans and the clubhouse.
So there you have it, five questions the Giants need to answer by the end of spring training. Let's hope that the preseason brings some added clarity to these questions so the Giants have a set roster heading into the season.