|Image C/O Joseph Pun at AZGiants Photography.|
Brandon Belt has made the Opening Day lineup for the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants. There will be no doubting that manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean sacked up this year after keeping Buster Posey in the minors to begin last year, and Belt will have to deal with a lot of pressure to possibly bring a second consecutive Rookie Of the Year award back to AT&T Park.
What it came down to – and this is from multiple mouths around the organization, on the radio, and on the television box – wasn't that Belt was too good for AAA or that there were service time issues, but was that management has to put nine guys on the field at 5:00 today. Those nine guys have to be the best nine people qualified to bring home a win. And Brandon Belt is one of those nine guys most qualified.
But now that Belt has made the Opening Day roster, and the front office has many times re-iterated that, like Posey, once Belt is up, he's up for good. If he starts to struggle a lot, I don't doubt they'll keep him up just for sake of their word, but I do believe that he's not the stopgap while Cody Ross recovers from an injury.
That means that, while Spring Training is over and the Opening Day roster is set, there are players on this team whose jobs are not exactly resolved. Dan Runzler and Guillermo Mota both made the team, but I imagine that when Brian Wilson returns from the disabled list, one of them will be the first one out. Runzler still has options left, so I assume that he'd be the one to go. But Mota is also spotty, and easily replaceable, where Runzler is less so.
On the position-player side of the ball, things get a little more complicated. The Giants have already cut ties (pending waivers) with Travis Ishikawa, mostly because they still have five players with experience at first base (Huff, DeRosa, Sandoval, Posey, and of course, Belt).
When Cody Ross returns, however, they'll need to make another decision. This time it will definitely be an outfielder that gets moved out, and I can almost guarantee it will be between Nate Schierholtz and Aaron Rowand. Some people have even been saying Pat Burrell isn't as safe as we all think, but I think that he'll only be on the bubble if he struggles mightily at the plate.
Again, this is the debate that I had with myself a couple weeks ago. I think Schierholtz has a lot more value than Rowand does at this stage in his career, but the contract of Schierholtz is a lot easier to move. But the Giants have already made one bold move with Belt, so maybe they'll have some brass balls and do what needs to be done.
Think of it as just extending Spring Training another two weeks for these four guys (Mota, Runzler, Schierholtz, Rowand). Even with the season starting, they're still playing for a spot on this team. And the last thing you want to do when your team wins the World Series is to not be there for the title defense.
All because of a 23-year old kid from Houston. A fifth-round pick who vaulted up the minor league system in a year. A kid that is now the starting first baseman on a team that won the World Series five months ago.