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The Importance of April 11th

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I'm still pretty sure Brandon Belt is going to start the season in the minor leagues. Promoting Belt to the majors on March 31 would force the Giants to part with two players. It will happen soon enough, but as we'll see in a moment, it can't hurt to delay that decision for a couple weeks.

As I've argued on the pitching side, it doesn't make sense to let useful players walk for good if there's a way to keep them in reserve. Lo and behold, the day after I mused about Ryan Vogelsong accepting a minor-league assignment, Vogelsong told the press he was OK with that possibility:

Drafted by the Giants in 1998, Vogelsong has been one of the surprises of camp but may end up at Triple-A as insurance for the big league starters. He said Thursday that he would be willing to accept a return trip to Fresno, where he last pitched in 2001.

"I signed back here to be a Giant again," said Vogelsong, who was traded to Pittsburgh in 2001. "I've been trying to get back since I left. That's how much respect I have for this organization."

You're a wise man, Mr. Vogelsong.

Back on the hittin' side, the roster logjam is the only drama of the spring. Schierholtz, Ishikawa, Rowand, Belt, all are vying for one or two spots. Baggs writes this morning that Schierholtz is the only one drawing trade interest. I don't think Nate will ever be a big-league masher, but his skills fit in well with this team, especially that arm in right field telling opposing runners in the late innings, "Don't even THINK of taking that extra base."

In the face of the Rowand conundrum -- do you eat $24 million to save the roster spot of Schierholtz or Ishikawa? -- the Belt puzzle is far less puzzling. He's got options. And the service-time clock doesn't need to tick that long.  Here's what MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes wrote last week:

By my calculations, the MLB regular season is 182 days long this year (March 31st through September 28th).  172 days of service time represents one year, so a team just has to make sure their top prospect makes his MLB debut at a point where it's impossible to accrue more than 171 days.  In 2011, that point appears to be April 11th or later.

If the Giants are destined to eat all those dollars on Rowand's contract, wouldn't they go down a little easier if the team knew it would save a few million clams down the road by waiting two weeks to bring up Belt? Two weeks, folks. A spoonful of service-time savings makes the medicine of sunk costs go down, as Mary Poppins' CPA once sang.

Mark DeRosa's balky wrist might buy the Giants more time, just like Fred Lewis's mild injury last spring gave them a week or two of leeway before the difficult roster decisions. If not, though, here's my recipe:

Cut Rowand. Keep Nate. I want his late-inning D and his bat off the bench (keep in mind he's actually better against lefties than righties). Send Belt to AAA. When Belt is, ahem, "ready," Ishikawa's skills will be redundant, and it will be sad to see him go. From the underrated stretch-and-pivot he made to haul in the final out of the Division Series against the Braves, to the walked he coaxed from Craig Kimbrel to start the rally the night before, Travis has done good things for the Giants, and he's fought hard. Remember, after his miserable 2006-2007 minor-league seasons, he'd fallen completely off the prospect map. It's a credit to him and the Giants' patience that he can now boast of two useful major-league seasons on the back of his baseball card. Whether Rowand stays or goes, it's looking like endgame for Travis as a Giant. Sorry, buddy.  

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