Free agency preview: Giants hit reliever market at right time

Free agency preview: Giants hit reliever market at right time

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once again, the offseason has lined up perfectly for the Giants. The organization needed starting pitching last winter, and the market presented one of the best classes in years. The Giants came close on Zack Greinke, made calls on other big names, and ultimately came away with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

This offseason presents a similar opportunity.

The Giants were always going to need additional relief pitching after the 2016 season, with the three remaining members of the "Core Four" due for free agency. But the urgency increased during an ugly second half, and the final inning of the brief postseason run sealed the deal: The Giants need a closer, and this might be the best closer market the game has ever seen. 

Before we get to the options, it’s worth remembering what general manager Bobby Evans said a couple of days after the season ended. This will not be an “overhaul.” The pieces are in place for the bullpen to once again be a strength, but …

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we’re clear on who is finishing our games,” Evans said. 

If they can do that, the Giants should have a group more than capable of backing what should be the deepest rotation in the National League. 


RHP Cory Gearrin
RHP George Kontos
RHP Derek Law
LHP Steven Okert
LHP Josh Osich
LHP Will Smith
RHP Hunter Strickland
RHP Albert Suarez

THOUGHTS: The Giants opened the 2016 season with eight relievers, so the addition of one this offseason would pretty much set the group when you look at the players listed above. Smith came over at the deadline and didn’t allow a run after August 18. He should be the Jeremy Affeldt-type going forward. Law (2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP as a rookie) has Future Closer written all over him, and if he can stay healthy, he could be the go-to guy in the eighth. Strickland (.207 opponents average in three seasons) is still viewed as a guy who can pitch the ninth down the line, and he’ll team with Law in the late innings.

Okert might have pitched his way onto the 2017 roster with a strong September. Osich pitched his way out of the mix and had minor knee surgery after the season, but the Giants believe his 2015 run (2.20 ERA) is more indicative of who he is. 

Kontos quietly has a 2.48 ERA over the past three seasons, which tucks him right between Craig Kimbrel and Cody Allen on the leaderboard. You can make the argument he’s not used enough. Either way, he’s locked in as Bruce Bochy’s fireman in the middle innings.

Gearrin has held righties to a .615 OPS in his career and could be the new Sergio Romo in Bochy’s matchup-heavy plan.

Finally, there’s the long reliever spot. We’ll list Suarez here, but the Giants will need to find a spot for Matt Cain if he loses out to Ty Blach in spring training, and others like Chris Heston, Chris Stratton and Clayton Blackburn could get into this mix. 


Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon.

You know the names by now. Chapman, a 28-year-old lefty, is the hardest thrower in MLB history. He had 36 saves for the Yankees and Cubs and struck out 90 in 58 innings. He does come with baggage, however; he was suspended 30 games last season because of a domestic violence incident, and if the Giants become a finalist for his services, team executives will have a more detailed conversation about the off-field history. 

Jansen, 29, is a hulking right-hander with a 2.20 career ERA and 189 saves for the Dodgers. He has a simple, cutter-heavy approach, and he showed in October that he’s durable enough to pitch two or three innings when needed. Prying him away would be a monumental swing in the NL West. 

Melancon is a 31-year-old righty the Giants nearly grabbed from the Pirates at the trade deadline. Remember that three-year ERA list above? Melancon, Kontos’ former Yankees teammate, is near the top of every category during that timeframe. He has a 1.93 ERA in 225 appearances over the past three seasons, saving an MLB-leading 131 games in 141 chances.

Evans already has touched base with the representatives for all three, but the bidding could get away from the Giants over the coming weeks. Chapman and Jansen are expected to approach $100 million and both could reasonably ask for five-year deals. With the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals among the teams seeking closers, both guys will get what they ask for. The Yankees are thought to be the favorites for Chapman and it'll be hard to outbid the Dodgers for Jansen, who was given a qualifying offer and would cost his new team a draft pick. Evans surprised the baseball world by scooping Cueto up last December, but right now that world sees Melancon as his best bet.


The Giants watched Greg Holland’s showcase earlier this month, and if he’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery, he could be in the same class as the Big Three. They have seen plenty of Daniel Hudson over the years, and he’s an intriguing upside play. He has the stuff to be a closer once a team gets him away from Chase Field, but he doesn’t have the track record. Koji Uehara has the track record (93 big league saves) and the Giants have checked in on him, but he turns 42 next April so he would simply be a stopgap.

Brad Ziegler closed the Giants out three times last year while with the Diamondbacks and posted a 2.25 ERA in 69 appearances, most of them in hitter-friendly Chase Field and Fenway Park. He’s not the sexy pick, but his ability to keep the ball on the ground would certainly fit well in front of Gold Glove winners Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik.

Finally, you have a bunch of veterans who have done it before. Jonathan Papelbon. Fernando Rodney. Joaquin Benoit. Drew Storen. Etc. It’s hard to see how any of these options are better than turning the ninth over to Law or Strickland. 


Remember that Royals team that took the Giants to the very end in 2014? Holland was the closer for a lockdown bullpen, but two other right-handers could also be available this offseason. The Giants asked about Wade Davis (1.18 ERA the past three seasons; that is not a typo) in July but a forearm strain ended that conversation. He returned to the mound in September, and the best move for the Royals could be to deal a dominant closer who is under contract for just one more year. Herrera saved 12 games when Davis went down, and if the Royals ever make him available, he has the stuff (10.8 K/9 last season) to step right in as a closer. 

The Royals will need to sell at some point, as just about all the key pieces from that 2015 title team are coming up on free agency. The White Sox should be selling now, and if they do, David Robertson (37 saves, 3.47 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) might be a nice short-term fit. He has two years and $25 million left on his deal and he shouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects. Some American League talent evaluators believe he would benefit greatly from a roomier ballpark and better defense. 


No look at the reliever market would be complete without remembering what the Giants had. Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Romo are free agents, but the Giants haven’t had serious discussions with any of them. Casilla will be a sneaky-good addition somewhere, but his time in San Francisco ended bitterly. Both sides need a fresh start. With Smith, Okert and Osich already on the 40-man roster, it’s hard to see where Lopez fits. He’s said to have a very short list of teams that could keep him out of retirement. 

Romo has had his ups and downs in recent years. He lost the ninth-inning job, battled injuries, and didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Bochy (twice in 2016 he laughed as he was pulled from a game). But he continues to dominate in short bursts thanks to his slider and what Cueto would call “coconuts,” and if he can’t find a bigger role elsewhere, a January or February reunion could make sense.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.