As left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt looks to be close to wrapping up a rehab assignment with the Class A San Jose Giants, the big-league club will be faced with a tough decision. Affeldt will need to be added to the 25-man roster, and there is no obvious candidate to be removed from the roster.
The assumption has been that the Giants will subtract a pitcher from their seven-man bullpen in order to accommodate the 34-year-old Affeldt. However, the Giants’ bullpen has been very effective in the early going, and that includes the presumed victim, right-hander Juan Gutierrez. Since a shaky outing in the second game of the season, Gutierrez has had five straight scoreless appearances in which he has surrendered just one hit, struck out six, and walked none over 4.2 innings. The 30-year-old provides the best fastball velocity of any of the Giants’ relievers, and it’s seeming to be an increasingly difficult possibility that the Giants will be able to simply get rid of Gutierrez and risk losing him on waivers due to the fact that he is out of options.
Then again, three relievers—Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo—are absolutely locked into roles. Lefty David Huff and right-handers Jean Machi and Yusmeiro Petit have all been effective and settled into key roles in the Giants’ bullpen, and with all of them out of options as well it would be risky for the Giants to subtract any of them from the big-league roster.
With the way the bullpen has performed, the most likely candidate for demotion upon Affeldt’s return (excluding an unforeseen pitching injury that requires a disabled list stint) is outfielder Juan Perez. The 27-year-old worked hard both in the field and at the plate in spring training to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. With that said, he’s done literally nothing at the plate to make himself valuable during the regular season. Perez is 0-for-8 with three strikeouts, which includes an 0-for-4 night in his first start of the season on Friday.
Though Perez is a serious weapon defensively—arguably one of the best fielders in all of baseball—he’s basically a right-handed hitting version of Gregor Blanco, who is also a very good defensive outfielder. Manager Bruce Bochy likes to have a defensive specialist on hand to replace Michael Morse late in games, but with Morse continuing to recover from the calf injury that sidelined him during spring training, his removal from games will probably become a bit less frequent. As long as the Giants have Blanco around, they should be fine. While the decrease in flexibility caused by not having both Blanco and Perez available to make double switches with may be a bit frustrating for Bochy, it seems to be necessary to insure that the Giants have the pitching depth necessary to remain effective through the season.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for an NL team to survive with only four bench players throughout the season, so the Giants will eventually need to either suffer an injury or make a tough decision in order to maintain a proper roster balance. Until then, though, sending down Perez seems to be the best course of action.