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02/13/08 10:00 AM ET

Around the Horn: The Bench

Giants face roster crunch in the outfield this season

The following is the seventh in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Bench.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The composition of the Giants' bench will depend largely on a seemingly unrelated factor: the pitching staff.

Whether the Giants open the season with 11 or 12 pitchers will determine the number of reserves they can keep. The staff's size is a crucial factor, because the Giants face difficult position-player decisions around the diamond. San Francisco has opted for a 12-man pitching contingent every year since 2004, but the fact that general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy are openly considering the smaller option demonstrates their awareness of the looming roster crunch.

The outfield is a particularly intriguing spot. With Dave Roberts expected to start in left field and Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn assured of jobs in center and right, respectively, Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz will compete for what remains. Davis, the only right-handed batter besides Rowand, could play his way into a platoon with Roberts.

Davis and Lewis have no Minor League options remaining, which is ominous for Schierholtz. But as Sabean noted, demoting anybody among that trio to Triple-A Fresno is pointless.

"Frankly, I'm a little bit worried, because it's going to be a challenge to mix and match them in," Sabean said. "I'd hate to be in a position to send any one of them back to the Minor Leagues because I don't think any of them have anything to prove down there."

Moreover, all three conceivably can benefit the Giants. Davis displayed everything but power after being acquired from Pittsburgh for right-hander Matt Morris last July 31. Lewis, along with Davis, is one of the team's fastest players and has a flair for the spectacular, as his pair of grand slams and May 13 cycle at Colorado last year attest. Schierholtz, one of the most physically impressive Giants, possesses the most power potential among the younger outfielders.

San Francisco Giants
Catchers: Molina's durability a plus
Corner IF: Ortmeier has edge at first
Middle IF: Second base up for grabs
Outfielders: Youngsters to compete
Starters: Youth is served
Bullpen: Youngsters will be key
Bench: Roster crunch in outfield

Keeping one fewer spare infielder would be another way to squeeze an extra outfielder onto the Opening Day roster. But Bochy may need to perform another juggling act in this area, particularly if the rumors about trading for a Chicago White Sox third baseman come true. In that event, Rich Aurilia, who can play every infield spot, would be strictly a utility man. If the Giants don't get Joe Crede, Aurilia could receive substantial activity at third.

A Crede arrival would halve the on-field opportunities for Kevin Frandsen, who'll compete with Ray Durham for the second-base job but also can play third. Frandsen, who also has experience at shortstop, offers much more versatility than Durham, who has played only second in his 13-year Major League career and would be limited to pinch-hitting and spot starts if he opens the season on the bench.

The Giants are likely to begin the season with two catchers, although Bochy occasionally employed three-man corps when he managed the San Diego Padres. Eliezer Alfonzo, coming off a winter ball season in which he hit 22 home runs (15 in the regular season and seven in the playoffs) for Caribes in Venezuela, might have a slight edge over Guillermo Rodriguez for the job of backing up Bengie Molina.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.