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Thoughts on the Giants' Final Bullpen Spot

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I'm a big believer in pitching depth. Arms arms and more arms. If the Giants break camp with 12 pitchers, and Matt Cain has built up enough strength to start the year in the rotation, 11 of the spots are spoken for.

The contenders for the final spot are Dan Runzler, Guillermo Mota, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jeff Suppan. It doesn't look like Mark Kroon, despite my sincerest wishes and worst puns, will make the team. Because relievers, especially a rag-tag collection of journeymen, wild youngsters, and washed-up vets, are an unpredictable bunch, the best the Giants could do is keep as many around as possible. In that vein, there's one obvious move: Send Runzler down to Fresno. He's got options. He's got control problems that could benefit from more farm time. If needed, he's only a Greyhound bus ride away. The Giants have two solid lefties in the bullpen already. No rush.

Next, convince Ryan Vogelsong to accept a minor-league assignment, as well. As nicely as he's performed, I'm not convinced that bringing him up and cutting loose Mota and Suppan is the best long-term solution. Ideal situation: Vogelsong slots into the Fresno rotation and continues to throw well, giving the Giants an excellent emergency starter option. If Vogelsong declines a minor-league assignment... I'll get to that in a minute.

With Runzler and Vogelsong stashed in AAA, we're left with Suppan vs. Mota. It's not a tough choice. When healthy last year, Mota was effective. Suppan hasn't been good for several years. His last sub-4.00 ERA was in 2005, which was also the last year he struck out more than 5 batters per 9 innings. He's also owed $1 million if he makes the team. His late-March opt-out is fast approaching. If he were tearing up the Cactus League, I might have a glimmer of hesitation, but he's not, and one stat stands out: two strikeouts in ten innings. He's never been a strikeout pitcher, but if he's not missing bats in the late innings against the scrubs, what happens against lineups full of big leaguers? Sorry, but that $1 million is better spent on a league-minimum contract, with the rest stashed away for trade-deadline deals. Or given back to season-ticket holders as a special dividend. Just a thought.

So it's Mota coming north with two very useful pitchers waiting in Fresno, right? But what if Vogelsong says no to Fresno and the Giants lose him entirely? Putting aside the notion of a nice story -- former farmhand traded for Jason Schmidt in 2001, wanders lonely as a cloud for a decade, then returns in quiet triumph to the fold -- it's not like the Giants would be losing a sleeper phenom. But the alternative here, folks, is Guillermo Mota. I don't like turning people into commodities, but let's just say there's a factory in China somewhere churning out Motas for sale at Wal-Mart. It comes down to this: Is Vogelsong's 33-year-old "upside" promising enough to risk losing the known quantity of an aging reliever? It's a question normal folks shouldn't really spend their hard-earned leisure time contemplating, but no one ever said you and I were normal. At least I hope not.

It's been such a smooth (ie, boring) spring, I'm going to get a little giddy. Unless Vogelsong accepts a Triple-A assignment, I say bring him north if he keeps pitching well.   

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