Examining the San Francisco Giants’ Bench Problem at the Start of Spring Training

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The San Francisco Giants adopted a familiar offseason strategy after the conclusion of a disappointing 2013 campaign by re-signing key in-house free agents, and remaining relatively inactive on the open market. The biggest issue plaguing the Giants’ pitfall into mediocrity last season was positional depth. They noticeably lacked sufficient talent off the bench, and in the minor league ranks after suffering several key injuries to everyday players, such as Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.

Fortunately for San Francisco, its core talent enters Spring Training with health in tact, although injuries are practically inevitable over the course of a grueling 162-game season, and the Giants still don’t boast a bench capable of preventing a subsequent midseason collapse. General manager Brian Sabean took the high road over the offseason, plugging the Giants’ gaping holes with veteran starter Tim Hudson and power hitting outfielder Michael Morse. Those moves certainly figure to help the Giants improve in 2014, but it remains to be seen if such calculated risks will prove to be the difference between earning a playoff berth, or an early offseason.

The Giants are expected to carry five outfielders on their Opening Day roster because of Morse’s inadequate ability to cover ground in the outfield. That means San Francisco could potentially enter the season with as many as six bench players, although five seems more feasible. The Giants greatly struggled in clutch situations last season, especially in regard to players plugged into such situations off the bench. The fact that they failed to address this issue over the offseason could ultimately spell disaster in 2014.

The most practical candidate to win the Giants’ fifth outfield spot is recently acquired Tyler Colvin, who owns a career .743 OPS with 47 home runs and 160 RBI in parts of five big league seasons. He faces competition in camp, but is the most talented fifth outfield option the Giants possess. Speedy outfielder Gregor Blanco will fill out the Giants’ outfield, and serve as a primary late inning replacement for Morse, especially when the Giants have a lead. Blanco wasn’t exactly impressive while filling-in for Pagan last season, although he did post a respectable .341 on-base percentage in 511 plate appearances.

The two available infield spots on the Giants’ roster are mostly wide open. Utility man Joaquin Arias is a lock to make the 25-man roster, although the amount of playing time he’s destined to receive remains to be determined. Arias recorded a .271 batting average with just 12 extra-base hits in 225 official at-bats in 2013. He figures to assume a role as a defensive replacement in the upcoming season, as he owns a decent .975 fielding percentage in parts of six big league seasons.

The remainder of the Giants’ bench has yet to be determined. Shortstop Ehire Adrianza has provided early intrigue in camp, and is no longer a long shot to make the Opening Day roster. Middle infielder Tony Abreu is also a possible option, but his preemptive roster spot is not guaranteed. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a lock to make the team, as he continues to develop his skill set. The 24-year-old backstop recorded a .248 batting average with three home runs and 19 RBI in 129 official at-bats last season.

A lack of pop is the Giants’ most glaring deficiency on their bench. It’s arguable that San Francisco should have convinced long-time veteran Michael Young out of retirement simply to provide the Giants with a legitimate late inning power threat off the bench. The Giants’ front office brass stood pat, though, seemingly touting “defense” as their main priority in selecting bench players. San Francisco isn’t exactly fundamentally sound in the field. They ranked 12th in the National League in that category in 2013, and ranked dead last with 355 errors.

The Giants’ lack of talent on the bench remains a problem, and Spring Training doesn’t appear to present a clear-cut solution.

John Shea is a San Francisco Giants writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cutthroatpicks. “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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