President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi doesn’t expect there to be too many surprises when the Giants unveil their Opening Day roster next week.
“I feel like we may have a little less drama with our Opening Day roster maybe than in some years past,” Zaidi said Thursday during a Zoom call with reporters. “On the position-player side, if some of our guys who are kind of working their way back to health continue on the current positive trajectory, it’s pretty straightforward. Obviously, we’re really happy with the way guys are swinging the bats. You can never count on that momentum going into the season, but it's been really quality at-bats. I think that the roster fits together pretty well.”
Brandon Belt is the biggest question mark on the position-player side, but he made his first start of the spring at first base against the Brewers on Thursday and has been on an upward trajectory since recovering from a bout of mononucleosis that caused him to miss the first couple weeks of camp. Belt said Wednesday that he’s feeling back to normal and is hoping to log enough game reps over the final week of Spring Training to be ready for the Giants’ April 1 opener in Seattle.
Manager Gabe Kapler said Belt has been progressing quicker than expected, stoking optimism that the 32-year-old veteran will be available for Opening Day.
“If you would have asked me a month ago, did I see this coming to fruition where he has a chance to be on our Opening Day roster, I might not be as optimistic or as bullish on that topic,” Kapler said Thursday. “But right now, I see a real path to him being ready for us on Opening Day and ready to contribute right away.”
Zaidi said he expects the Giants to open the season with 13 position players and 13 pitchers on their roster, so if Belt is placed on the injured list next week, outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. could end up nabbing a spot on the bench. The left-handed-hitting Wade can play all three outfield spots, but he’s also gotten looks at first and could provide additional coverage there alongside Tommy La Stella, Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf.
The starting rotation is also coming together, as Kevin Gausman and Johnny Cueto are expected to start the Giants’ first two games of the season against the Mariners and should be followed by Anthony DeSclafani, who struck out eight over four-plus innings against the Padres on Wednesday. Logan Webb has also shown that he’s deserving of a rotation spot after tossing 11 scoreless innings with three hits allowed, 17 strikeouts and one walk over four Cactus League starts.
Alex Wood and Aaron Sanchez will be in the mix to round out the starting staff, though Wood is still on the mend after undergoing an ablation procedure to alleviate stiffness in his back. He has resumed throwing bullpen sessions, but he might not have enough time to get stretched back out before the start of the regular season. Sanchez, who allowed two runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 2-2 tie against the Brewers on Thursday, is also in the process of building up after signing with the Giants late last month.
“We'll see how far along he is and what his endurance is like,” Zaidi said of Sanchez. “That was a little bit of an issue in his first game, but he feels like he's trending positively. Alex Wood, obviously, coming off the ablation procedure is trending up really quickly, but we don't have a lot of time, so we'll have to see what we do at the back end of the rotation. It may be a little bit in flux, as we've kind of figured out where those two guys are.”
The Giants signed two other experienced starters, right-hander Shun Yamaguchi and left-hander Scott Kazmir, to Minor League deals and gave them an opportunity to compete for rotation spots this spring, but they’re unlikely to be included on the Opening Day roster at this point.
Yamaguchi has an assignment clause in his contract that will allow him to explore opportunities with other teams if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster before the start of the regular season. Kazmir doesn’t have an opt-out clause early in the year, but Zaidi said he’s continued to have discussions with both veterans and their agents to gauge their willingness to potentially open the season at the Giants’ alternate training site to continue to refine their stuff and stay ready in case an opportunity arises in the Major League rotation.
“I think a lot of guys understand that the way this season is shaping up, teams are going to need a lot of pitchers,” Zaidi said. “Being the first line of defense out of the gate, you're probably going to be called upon earlier than would be anticipated based on past experience. We'll have those conversations with those guys and all the guys that are going to start at the alternate site.”
The toughest decisions for Zaidi, Kapler and general manager Scott Harris will come in the bullpen, which has featured plenty of competition this spring. The group is likely to include Jake McGee, Matt Wisler, José Álvarez, Jarlín García, Tyler Rogers and Reyes Moronta, leaving several intriguing non-roster invitees to fight for the remaining spots. Right-hander Nick Tropeano is slated to start for the Giants on Friday and appears to be the favorite to stick as a long reliever or swingman. Zaidi said he’s also been impressed by the performance of righties Dominic Leone and Zack Littell.
“These guys have all thrown the ball really well, and that's been good to see, because one of our concerns coming into camp was how thin we were in terms of right-handed relief,” Zaidi said. “Those guys have stepped up and made themselves real options.”
The Giants are unlikely to make any splashy additions over the final week of the spring, though Zaidi said he will be seeking shortstop depth, given the organization’s shortage of upper-level options beyond Brandon Crawford and Mauricio Dubón.
“Shortstop is a position that we do have some concerns about,” Zaidi said. “One of the things we'd like to do in the next few days is find some upper-level depth at that position, just in case it's needed. It’ll probably be someone who starts for us in Triple-A, but that's definitely something that we're going to be looking for in the next few days.”