Urban: Giants' crowded outfield no problem

May 9, 2011, 8:51 pm
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May 9, 2011

Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy finally got some of the love they've long deserved as bright, creative, forward-thinking baseball men of the highest order when the Giants stunned everyone by steamrolling through the playoffs on the way to the first World Series championship in San Francisco history.The challenges are very different for both men as the Giants attempt to defend their title, but Sabean, the general manager, deserves credit for anticipating what some of those challenges would be. Now the onus is on Bochy, the manager, and the irony is that Sabean's vision makes Bochy's job a bit more challenging.
This is about depth. Knowing full well that the Giants cheated the reaper in a sense by remaining relatively healthy during 2010, and that the odds of another such season were slim, Sabean made sure Bochy had options. And sure enough, a steady stream of injuries have been spraying the squad since spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.Now that the team is starting to get healthy again, though, the luxury of depth threatens to become a bit of a burden for Bochy.Everyone saw this coming, of course. It was one of the hottest topics of March. The Giants' outfield, in particular, was overcrowded. More players than roster spots. Someone, maybe two people, would have to go.Nate Schierholtz seemed like the most obvious candidate, just a tick below Aaron Rowand on the dispensable meter. The notion of getting rid of either, though, came with it a less-than-ideal component. In addition to being a valuable reserve on the world championship team, Schierholtz was out of minor-league options, so unless he were sent out in a trade, the Giants would have to put him through waivers and likely lose him to a wire claim and get nothing in return. Rowand's huge contract and lack of 2010 production made him virtually untradeable -- unless the team was willing to eat the bulk of the 24 million (total) that Rowand is due for this year and next.Yet as we're told so often, baseball has a way of working things out. An injury to Cody Ross ensured that both Schierholtz and Rowand broke camp with the club, and an early season injury to Andres Torres ensured that they'd see more playing time than anyone expected. And all that Schierholtz and Rowand have done in 2011 is prove to be two of the more reliable, consistent offensive contributors.URBAN: Giants Insider Notes: Nate the Great
Heck, they've been absolutely essential in keeping the Giants' heads above water while the bulk of the lineup has been drowning in the choppy waters of the Mendoza Line Sea.That Ross, a cult hero for what he did last October, was a wreck upon his return from the DL made the surprising production of Schierholtz and Rowand all the more noticeable, but with a clutch double during Friday's comeback win over the Rockies and a home run and all three of the Giants' RBIs in Sunday's sweep-clincher over Colorado, Ross looks poised to break out and go on one of his extended, club-carrying tears.Schierholtz seemed to benefit when Pat Burrell's hot start turned cold, but Burrell has had some big hits of late, too. And here comes Torres, said to be ready for activation from the DL on Tuesday, and Bochy on Sunday said he's inclined to throw his 2010 sparkplug right back into the fire.Where, exactly, does that leave Schierholtz and Rowand? They certainly won't lose their spot on the roster; Darren Ford is the no-brainer to be sent out to make room for Torres, and Ryan Rohlinger will be demoted to make room for Mark DeRosa, whose absence with Pablo Sandoval out for an expected 4-7 weeks (depending on whose Twitter feed nourishes you) was glaring.
But where, and how often, will Schierholtz and Rowand play? Bochy has hinted that Torres might be eased back in by playing on a corner, and there's no way that Ross doesn't start most games on a corner himself, so that would suggest that Rowand stays in center field for a while. But it's hard to see Bochy telling Burrell he's now primarily a bench player, even though Burrell is exactly the type of right-handed power presence off the bench that the Giants have been lacking all year. So maybe Burrell stays put in left, Ross handles center until Torres is deemed ready after a few games in right, and when he is, Ross and Torres trade places.RELATED: Is the Giant tide turning?
That would leave Schierholtz and Rowand out of the regular mix, and that seems both unfair and, given how they've played, just plain wrong.Oh, and we're conveniently forgetting that there's this kid down at Triple-A Fresno, absolutely killing Pacific Coast League pitching, who was recently told to get his outfield on. You can't stash him down there forever, can you?See the problem? Bochy could, very soon, have to every day settle on three starting outfielders among a six-some of Burrell, Torres, Ross, Rowand, Schierholtz and Brandon Belt. And as of right now, a decent case could be made for each of them as a starter.Now, baseball does indeed have a way of working things out. And as A's GM Billy Beane is fond of saying, "Having too many good players is not a problem." True, true. Depth is good, and that's why Sabean made sure Bochy had it.But having unhappy players is a problem and that's at least a possibility here.Is it a probability? Not if the 2011 Giants are as cohesive as the 2010 club, and there's been nothing thus far to suggest that it isn't. It's the same group of outfielders that celebrated on the field in Arlington last Nov. 1, with the obvious exception of Belt. WATCH: Cody Ross talks about his clutch hits
It's a lot easier to swallow your pride, though, when all that stands between you and a ring is a couple of weeks of biting your tongue. Bite that bad boy for four months or so and there might be blood.Fortunately for Bochy, he's banked some goodwill for the way he masterfully handled egos and pulled all the right levers last fall. His players truly respect and adore him. That's going to help. But it's not going to make those daily decisions any easier if, say, Torres' career year proves to have been just that, and Pat the Bat again turns into a strikeout Machine. Or if Ross is less Boss than workaday clock-puncher. In the meantime, now's as good a time as any for Giants fans to do something they might not think to do a few weeks down the road.If you happen to be as AT&T Park on Tuesday for the opener of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks, try to get down there within earshot of Schierholtz andor Rowand. Get their attention somehow. Just say, "Thanks."
Their proverbial days in the sun could be coming to an end very soon.