Admitting this is probably a bad look for a professional baseball writer, but I have no idea how Heliot Ramos still has minor-league options left. The Giants drafted him the same year that the Orioles drafted Cal Ripken, Jr., give or take, but he’s still eligible to be sent to the minor leagues throughout the 2024 season. This will be his ninth season in the Giants organization, and I’ve pulled off my socks and shoes to figure out how he might spend another season in Triple-A Sacramento.
Having an option left is almost certainly a bummer for Ramos, who would very much like to be on the opening-day roster, but it’s a relief for the Giants. They don’t have to make a decision on Ramos’ future by the end of spring training, and they won’t be forced to carry him on the roster to keep him away from waivers. If they think he’s one of the five-best outfielders in the organization, he’ll be on the roster. If they don’t, he won’t.
Every team in every season has to play the options game before opening day, making roster decisions or trades that they wouldn’t have otherwise made. Let’s see how many tricky decisions the Giants will have. Spoiler: Not a lot.
We’ll ignore LaMonte Wade, Jr. and Thairo Estrada, who are out of options but are about as likely as Bob Melvin to get 200 plate appearances for the River Cats. (Logan Webb has two options remaining, so I guess it’s possible that he’s not a lock for the opening-day roster. Watch Baggs’ Twitter feed for updates.)
The big one. He could be on the opening-day roster in the event of an injury, or he could be traded to another team by next week. The only thing we know for sure is that he won’t be in Sacramento this season. He’d have to clear waivers first, and that won’t happen. Someone will take a no-risk chance on him, even if he’s out of options.
However, the lack of options makes a trade difficult, if not unlikely. It’s one thing for, say, the A’s to get Bart for free to take pressure off Tyler Soderstrom (and put pressure on Shea Langeliers). It’s another thing to actually trade a player for Bart and commit to him on a 26-man roster. It’s possible that there’s a team out there that thinks they can fix Bart’s bat, and they might trade for him instead of hoping he reaches them on waivers. It sounds incredibly Rays-ish, but don’t forget that it’s been weeks since the Mariners and Giants have made a trade. Weeks!
Bart operates in a weird gray area, where he’s probably better than a few backup catchers out there, but he’s not guaranteed to be. Another team could focus on the ceiling that made him the second pick in the 2018 draft, along with the floor that comes along with his respectable defense, but that seems unlikely. My guess is that Bart is claimed on waivers after the opening-day rosters are set, with the Giants keeping him throughout the Cactus League in case of an injury.
Oh, I can guess how the comments under this article will go. Half of you will be bullish on Walton and screaming for him to make the opening-day roster as a utility infielder, and the other half of you will also be bullish on him, but screaming for him to start at second or short, with Marco Luciano getting optioned to Triple A. What a mess it’s going to be.
Unless almost all of you forgot that Walton was still in the organization. Which I did at least twice this offseason.
Walton’s career with the Giants is almost certainly at an end or close to it, but not because they’ll need to make a decision on him before opening day. It’s close to the end because he isn’t on the 40-man roster, which means he won’t need to clear waivers to get sent down. He’ll likely get at-bats, possibly a bunch of them, for Sacramento at several different positions. But if he appears in the majors with the Giants again, that will mean that he’s on the 40-man roster again, and that’s when the lack of options will matter. The only plausible path for Walton’s return is in the event of several injuries at the same time to infielders on the 40-man roster, a group that includes Tyler Fitzgerald, Casey Schmitt, Brett Wisely and David Villar, in addition to the players who will make the opening-day roster.
It would take a plague of locusts, and even then, it’s hard to imagine that Walton would be the front office’s only response to the roster carnage. Eventually, there would need to be room made on the 26-man roster, and Walton’s lack of options would make him an easy candidate to make room on both the 26- and 40-man rosters.
Also, while you’re grinding your teeth, remember that there’s a non-zero chance that Prelander Berroa saves a game for the White Sox this year, while Luis Castillo wins many games for the Mariners (the team that the Giants traded Berroa to for Walton; in another fun twist, the Mariners acquired Gregory Santos for Berroa). Hopefully Francisco Liriano catches a little bit of it on MLB.tv.
Howard is a 27-year-old right-hander who played his college ball at Harvard of the West. He’s consistently posted above-average strikeout rates in the minors, albeit with some iffy walk rates, and he signed as a minor-league free agent back in September. If he does appear with the Giants this season, that would give them two players with a World Series ring (Luke Jackson is the other.) That would still be the fewest since … heck, I don’t even know. Even the 2009 Giants had Edgar Rentería, Randy Johnson and Brad Penny.
There is a way that Howard makes the active roster at some point: He becomes an absolutely lights-out reliever in Triple A, which leaves the Giants no choice. It’s unlikely, perhaps, but that would be the path. At some point, a player’s performance becomes impossible to ignore, and a team has to stop worrying about options and 40-man roster spots.
If that doesn’t happen, though, it’s going to be very, very difficult for Howard to see the major leagues this year. Like Walton, he’s not on the 40-man roster, which means that his lack of options won’t force the Giants into a decision by the end of March. It also means that he’s behind all of the pitchers who are on the 40-man roster, including:
• Sean Hjelle
• Trevor McDonald
• Erik Miller
• Ethan Small
• Kai-Wei Teng
• Randy Rodriguez
That’s in addition to all of the other non-roster invitees to spring training, some of whom are being talked up as candidates to make the opening-day roster. Howard will need to be so dominant that the Giants won’t be worried about messing with their plans for an option-heavy bullpen. Without any other additions, the Giants will need three of those pitchers on the roster if they want a 13-man bullpen, and they’ll be playing the option game with most of the other ones all season. Add in the possible debuts of prospects like Mason Black, Carson Whisenhunt, Landen Roupp and Hayden Birdsong, and the Giants probably won’t even have to worry much about the rule that lets them option a player only five times in one season.
And they certainly won’t be worried about a player’s lack of options very often this season. They won’t be worried about them at all, with the possible exception of Bart.
Some seasons start with a lengthy list of players who will need to fight for an opening-day roster spot if they want to stay in the organization. This is not one of them. There will be 40-man roster decisions to make before the 2024 Rule 5 Draft, from Vaun Brown to Carson Seymour to Will Bednar, but the Giants will start the season by not giving a good hot dang about players who are out of options.
(Top photo of Joey Bart: Norm Hall / Getty Images)