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Giants 2011: Organizational Depth

(originally written 3/6/11)

Organizational depth. What does it mean?

It means if a key player has his hand broken by a pitch, or shreds a hamstring, or falls down the stairs carrying a slab of meat (Clint Barmes), are there capable replacements available for summons in-house?

Obviously, if anything were to happen to Matt Cain or any other key players, any substitutes would be a step down. But somebody would have to make his starts. 

This off-season, like every other team, the Giants brought in a number of veterans with major league experience as non-roster invitees. With the possible exception of Jeff Suppan, who seems to have a shot to make the team as a long reliever or even Barry Zito’s replacement (if you believe some reports), we don’t want to see any of these men in Giants uniforms at any time this year—because if they are, it’s because one of the main 25 has been injured. You can ask the A’s—injuries suck. San Fran was very fortunate last season in terms of health, but that was last season. 

Below are the Giants MLB-experienced non-roster invitees. Some will stay in the organization as insurance; others will be released—by request, even. As I said, with continued fortuity, one or less of them will break camp with the team.

Jeff Suppan, age 36, SP (138-143, 4.69 in 442 MLB games, 411 starts, 1995-2010)

“Soup” has been around a long time. In the mid-1990’s, he was in line to replace Roger Clemens as Boston’s ace—that never panned out, and it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that Suppan established himself as a reliable starter with Kansas City. (I would point out he was their ace for a time, but does that really serve as an endorsement?) Eventually, Suppan hopped on I-70 destined for Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals; there, like so many before him, he enjoyed his best years (44-26 from 2004-2006) and even was named NLCS MVP in 2006, the year St. Louis won it all. Milwaukee, feeling frisky, signed Suppan to a four-year deal worth…a lot. He was not the same pitcher, eventually losing his rotation spot in 2010 and being cut.

If one of the Giants’ starters should go down, there are far worse options to employ than the battle-tested Suppan. He’s going to put the ball in play—not once in his career has he allowed fewer hits than innings and 128 is his career high in K—but he’ll have a quality defense behind him and a nice, big home ballpark to swallow up mistakes. Thru 3/5, he’s had separate 3 IP/0 ER outings—one start, one in relief.

Marc Kroon, 38, RP (7.43 in 26 MLB games from 1995-1998, 2004)

KNBR fans may have “met” Kroon already; he was on with Marty Lurie over the weekend discussing his transition back to American baseball after six years in Japan. Kroon was a Mets draft pick back in 1992 but made his MLB debut with the Padres in 1995. He’d pass through Cincinnati, lose five seasons with arm woes, and cameo in ’04 with Colorado before saving nearly 200 games in the Japan League—and firing a record-101 MPH fastball! Now the likable vet is back, and enjoying the opportunity to pitch for a defending World Series champions even if it’s almost definitely for March only.    

Chris Stewart, 29, C (9-for-48, 0 HR in 26 MLB games 2006-2008, 2010)

Don’t know a lot about Stewart, sadly. I remember him from his brief White Sox days; they drafted him in 2001 #12, and he’s also kicked around Texas, San Diego and one game back in ’08 with the Yankees. His career high in minor league homers: 11, even though he’s a fairly big guy. He’d only be called up to fill in for Eli Whiteside, should Eli get banged up.

Brian Lawrence, 34, SP (50-63, 4.19 in 168 games/152 starts, 2001-2005, 2007)

Next to Suppan, Lawrence is the most accomplished big leaguer in the Giants camp. Once upon a time, during the waning years of Qualcomm Stadium, Lawrence was the ace of the Padres, eventually pushed aside by Jake Peavy and a bevy of injuries. He won 37 games from 2002-2004, and led San Diego in innings each year. But in ’05 he fell to 7-15, underwent surgery, and besides six starts for the 2007 Mets, he hasn’t been in the majors since. 

Having been released multiple times in the last three seasons, odds are slim that this righty will suddenly wow Giants management, especially at almost 35. Stranger things have happened—although Lawrence has not pitched in any of the team’s first 10 games.

Shane Loux, 31, P (3-7, 6.14 in 39 MLB games/13 starts, 2002-2003; 2008-2009)

Loux (pronounced Lew) first sniffed the bigs way back in 2002-2003 with the then-awful Detroit Tigers, for whom he was a 1997 2nd-rounder. He then spent the next five years working his way back to the bigs; the Angels finally rescued him. Loux is big and burly, a right-hander who’s started and relieved in the majors, but he isn’t going to make the Giants’ roster barring a mumps outbreak in the clubhouse.

Brad Eldred, 30, 1B (.204, 15, 33 in 85 MLB games, 2005, 2007, 2010)

Not long ago, the gargantuan Eldred—no relation to Cal—seemed to have a good shot at the Pirates’ first base job. He once enjoyed a 38-HR, 137-RBI minor league season, so he’s either got power or incredible influence over statisticians, but he strikes out about every three at-bats and in two stints with the Pirates (2005-2007), he was punched out 93 times in 236 AB’s.  In 2010, when he wasn’t smashing 30 home runs in AAA, he was notching 24 at-bats with Colorado—and whiffing in 10 of them. Eldred, a RHH, wouldn’t be a bad short-term (15-day) fill-in, but fans would tire of him for much longer than that. (Note: just as I type that, I read he’s struck out once in 13 spring at-bats, naturally)

Ryan Vogelsong, 33, RP (10-22, 5.86 in 120 MLB games/33 starts, 2000-2006)

Longtime Giants fans recall this name—in the early 2000’s, Vogelsong was among the team’s top pitching prospects, but was sacrificed to the Pirates in the Jason Schmidt deal (no criticizing Sabean for that one). He got long auditions with the Bucs as a starter and in relief, ultimately lasting off-and-on into the 2006 campaign but never making an extended impact in either role. Since then Vogelsong has pitched in the Japan League, but at 33 he’s back for one more (unlikely) shot at MLB success. 

Terry Evans, 29, OF (.158, 1, 3 in 19 MLB games, 2007-2010)

Evans has played very briefly with the Angels and O’s in recent years (19 games). There IS no book on him, only a short memo. Already, he’s beaten long odds to get this far, as a former 47th-round pick.

Casey Daigle, 29, SP (3-4, 7.16 in 33 MLB games/10 starts, 2004, 2006, 2010)

His biggest claim to fame is wedding the softball legend Jennie Finch, not any particular feats on the baseball diamond. Daigle got 10 starts with the 2004 D’backs, 10 relief appearances with the 2006 club, then was out of the bigs until last season in Houston, when he coughed up 25 hits in 10 innings, accompanied by a 11.32 ERA. Ouch. With that unimpressive resume, the big righty will not be in the majors this year unless there is an injury epidemic.

Josh Banks, 28, SP (4-8, 5.66 in 27 MLB games/19 starts, 2007-2010)

He was a Padre in 2008-2009, memorably firing a complete game vs. SF in which he allowed just an unearned run on six hits. The big righty has also worked briefly for Toronto and Houston, but hasn’t stuck anywhere. He’d make decent injury insurance, with his past N.L. West experience.

Edgar Gonzalez, IF/Elmer Dessens, RP (both voided)

Both Gonzalez—Adrian’s little bro who held a reserve role with the Pads for two years until a horrific beaning at the hands of Rockie Jason Hammel, and the veteran reliever Dessens who’s been with pretty much all 29 other teams, failed physicals.

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