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Off The Books And On The Roster

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September! Glorious weather forthcoming, but accompanied by inglorious baseball at our dear little yard. At least there's a lot of money coming off the books.

That's what people keep saying. I wish they would stop. If Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Javier Lopez and Barry Zito all walk, it's more than $50 million in salary the Giants aren't spending, but can soon spend again! Problem is, when the coming-off-the-books concept is invoked, the invoker usually pays no heed to the incoming money about to be spent.

Like Buster Posey's salary, jumping from $3.8 M to more than $11 M. Or the raises for Madison Bumgarner (up $3 M), Pablo Sandoval ($2.5 M) and Sergio Romo ($2 M).  You can click here to peruse next year's payroll obligations, or you can foolishly trust my math when I tell you the Giants are already on the hook for about $90 M, assuming they pick up Ryan Vogelsong's option. That doesn't include arbitration raises for Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias, and perhaps Jose Mijares. And minimum contracts for Hector Sanchez and the Brandons, who aren't yet arb-eligible. I'll ballpark those guys at $8 M total.

That comes to nearly $100 M for three starting pitchers, two catchers, a starting infield, an aging center fielder, two utility guys, and four relievers: 16 spots. The Giants spent $135 M this year, more or less. So there's not as much money coming off the books as you might think. If the Giants extend qualifying offers to Pence and Lincecum, and they accept, they're practically right back at their 2013 payroll level.

See what I'm getting at? We need to know how much the Giants are going to raise payroll, if at all. If not, and the above scenario plays out, there probably won't be room for a splashy free agent pickup or high-risk international signing.

We won't know for a couple months the team's makeover plans, so we'll spend September what-if'ing over every Francisco Peguero plate appearance and Heath Hembree hanging slider. The prospects are coming, if they aren't already here, and more likely than not the jobs they're looking to win in 2014 will be filled this off-season by major league free agents. I'm sorry. I know how much you're looking forward to the Peschnick Kieguero left field platoon.

One little mind puzzle the Giants need to solve in the next few days is how to shoehorn everyone on to 40-man roster, which is currently full. Angel Pagan will be returning from the 60-day DL, but he can swap places with Andres Torres, who is having foot surgery.

It gets interesting if the Giants call up a player not currently on the 40-man, like Hembree. Someone currently on the 15-day DL could slide to the 60-day to accommodate him. I'm assuming there's no limit to the number of players on the 60-day at one time. So, Tony Abreu, or even Matt Cain, who isn't likely to pitch again this year, slide on down.

There's been speculation that Yusmiero Petit could be cut yet again, but after his two very decent appearances with the big club this year, I'd like to see him more. In my frequent ruminations on next year's rotation, I always give Petit the shaft. But he deserves to be in the potential 5th starter pool with Kickham, Surkamp, and Gaudin. Think of it this way: If Gaudin doesn't return, and you had to name a 5th starter today, would you go with Kickham, Surkamp or Petit?

Other questions to ponder via laughably small sample sizes in September:

- Will Kieschnick or Peguero make a good backup next year? Let's assume a starting outfield of Pence, Pagan, and someone really good acquired either by trade or free agency, then Blanco as the 4th. So, with the remaining slot: Kiesch or Pegs? If you think one of them could be a starter next year, please explain yourself. You got a lotta 'splanin' to do.

- Can Nick Noonan stick? After his first couple weeks of lining singles up the middle, pitchers caught on, and he went something like 10-for-70 with no power and a terrible eye at the plate. Let's assume Joaquin Arias remains the primary utility infielder. The Giants will definitely need another who can also do a little damage as a pinch-hitter. They hoped Tony Abreu would be that guy this year but he couldn't stay healthy. Perhaps Abreu will get another shot.

- The Mike Kickham tea leaves. Does he get more chances to start? Do the Giants test him in short relief, which might be his eventual calling? I'm guessing he has more upside than Eric Surkamp -- 18 months younger, nastier stuff -- and might be more tempting to other teams in off-season trades, so it might make sense to showcase him in more than the occasional mop-up relief appearance. 

- Can the Giants avoid last place in the division? Spend your last few days of August thinking about this: Would you prefer the Giants enter 2014 with as high a draft pick as possible, or as the only World Series champion ever in the history of baseball that actually tried to be good the next year but finished in last place?

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