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Why 2021 Giants will face many difficult roster choices

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One of the most important moments of the Giants' surprise run to the edge of the postseason came a couple weeks into the season, and just about nobody realized it.

Major League Baseball was supposed to cut rosters from 30 to 28 players on the 15th day of the season and from 28 to 26 two weeks later, but the second set of moves never came. 

With the Miami Marlins and St.Louis Cardinals dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks on their rosters, MLB decided in early August to stay at 28, which was particularly helpful to a Giants club that tried to match up at the plate and leaned heavily on a big bullpen.

As president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris build the 2021 roster, they know they'll have two fewer spots to work with. Rosters will be limited to 26 players all of next season. 

"I think a lot of teams are going to have to assess what it's going to mean on both sides of the ball," Zaidi said. "Your bullpen is probably going to be shortened up by at least one arm, and that's probably going to put more of an onus on your starting pitchers to work deep in games. On the position player side, it gives you less opportunity to match up and that certainly impacts the dynamic of how you're using guys." 

The Giants' preference with a 28-man roster was to carry 14 pitchers and 14 position players, although the former group didn't always have five starters and nine relievers.

 

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For most of the season, the Giants went series-to-series and often day-to-day with their rotation. They had six different pitchers make at least five starts over 60 games, and all of them but Johnny Cueto also made at least two appearances out of the bullpen. 

That was doable over 60 games, but there will be less mixing and matching over 162, and however the rotation shakes out, the Giants will need more length. Their starters averaged 4 2/3 innings during the 2020 season, something that's not sustainable over six months with one arm taken out of the bullpen. Re-signing Kevin Gausman would be a step in the right direction, as he had four of the rotation's 11 starts that lasted at least six innings. 

The impact on the position player side could be seen right away in the offseason, with the Giants having to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 2. They finished the year carrying two catchers, six infielders and six outfielders, something they won't be able to do next year. 

You can pretty easily get just about to 13 without even thinking about offseason additions. With two catchers, the Brandons, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano, Wilmer Flores, Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson, Austin Slater and Mauricio Dubon, you're at 11.

The Giants filled up the final spots late in the year with Darin Ruf (a slugger who is limited defensively), Steven Duggar (a defensive replacement in a banged-up outfield) and Daniel Robertson (a utility guy). They won't be able to carry quite that much depth next season, and have decisions to make on Ruf and Robertson, who are arbitration-eligible.

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For a team that values versatility and exploiting matchups, having two additional roster spots allowed for some breathing room in the first year of a new coaching staff. The decisions will get more difficult in 2021. 

"We may have to figure out different ways to get different guys involved and to get guys adequate rest. It'll definitely have an impact both ways," Zaidi said. "We got a little used to the 28-man roster and the luxury of having that, and going back to 26 is definitely going to have some impact."