Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Giants never tried to hide their offseason plan. From a downcast season-ending press conference, to the General Managers Meetings, to the first days of December, team officials insisted that the focus was on adding a big name to the ninth inning. 

In the opening hours of baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, the Giants found their guy.

Mark Melancon, a three-time All-Star and one of the premier relievers in the game, signed a four-year, $62 million deal. The ninth inning is set. The Giants believe the bullpen is set, too. 

“The core of the bullpen was in place. We felt that closer was the one area we didn’t want to have any doubts about,” general manager Bobby Evans said Monday. “It gives all of the club peace of mind and confidence. As many close games as we play, we have a lockdown guy in the ninth.”

Few have had a firmer grip on the ninth in recent years than Melancon. In his three full seasons as a closer, he has led Major League Baseball with 131 saves. He has a 2.60 ERA in eight seasons and last season posted a microscopic 1.64 for the Pirates and Nationals, closing 47 games in 51 chances. 

Melancon has 10 blown saves over the past three seasons. The Giants had nine in September alone. 

“We’re glad he chose us,” Evans said, smiling. 

When Melancon completed a physical on Monday afternoon in Scottsdale, the finishing touch was put on the richest contract ever given to a reliever. The deal put the Giants back over the competitive balance tax and carries a $17 million average annual value. The previous Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, was on a deal that originally guaranteed him $15 million total over three seasons. Melancon has blown that out of the water, and he could be in line for one more payday. 

The deal includes an opt-out after the second year, similar to the one given to Johnny Cueto a year ago. Melancon will get a $20 million signing bonus with $8 million deferred. He is due $4 million in salary in 2017 and $10 million in 2018, and if he opts out, he gets that money plus the full signing bonus, turning this into a two-year, $34 million pact. If Melancon doesn’t opt out, he will make $14 million in each of his final two seasons. He also received a full no-trade clause. That was simply the price of doing business for the Giants, who have avoided big-money closers since the Armando Benitez disaster. 

“You would have loved for this market to have been more in line with past markets, but the demand for closers is high and there were some big clubs pursuing them,” Evans said. “It certainly created a competition.”

The Giants were edged out in a competition for Melancon’s services in July, when they fell just short of the Nationals’ offer to the Pirates. They had the winning bid on Monday, and league sources indicated that the Nationals finished second this time around.

Melancon took advantage of the best closer market in MLB history, and he was the first of the Big Three to ink a deal. The Giants met with Melancon in San Francisco in November and also visited former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen at his home in Arizona. They never met face-to-face with the third big name on the market, Aroldis Chapman. Both Jansen and Chapman are expected to shoot past Melancon’s current high mark for money given to a relief pitcher. 

The Giants all along felt that Melancon was the right fit of the three. Evans noted his durability — he has made at least 70 appearances in five of the last six seasons — and said Melancon impressed team officials with a description of his preparation process. Melancon primarily throws a cutter in the low 90s and he’s not the traditional power pitcher in the ninth. He struck out just 8.2 batters per nine innings last season but he allowed only three homers and walked just 12 batters. Melancon ranked eighth in the Majors in average exit velocity against, and the Giants believe that pitch-to-soft-contact approach is perfectly suited for an infield that has two Gold Glove Award winners up the middle.

“He’s a high ground-ball rate guy, which is perfect for our defense,” Evans said. “His preparation and approach — we just feel he’ll be a great fit for us.”

Melancon will be introduced to fans and the media on Friday at AT&T Park. When he dons the orange and black, the Giants believe he’ll be the final piece to a championship contender. They do not intend to make big waves in the rest of the market, although Evans said they would remain open-minded about additions to the outfield or bench. In the bullpen, the order is just about set. Any additions will likely be non-roster invitees at this point, tasked with trying to break into a group that includes Will Smith, George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and other young pitchers. 

Evans said he feels good about the collection — now that he’s found his closer. 

“He'll make the rest of the bullpen better,” he said of Melancon. 

Bumgarner injury just the latest in recent run of misfortune for Giants

Bumgarner injury just the latest in recent run of misfortune for Giants

Eight years ago in this very space, I postulated that Brian Sabean had done a lucrative deal with Satan.Co to win the Giants’ first World Series in 56 years. He never denied it, so I took that as silent affirmation.

Now, it seems Beelzebub has brought the bill, to be paid in full on receipt of same.

The San Francisco Giants, who needed as few things as possible to go wrong to start this season, just got two full-on groin shots in the space of less than a week, the second of which was delivered when Madison Bumgfarner fractured his hand trying to repel a line drive from Kansas City second baseman Whit Merrifield during Friday’s Cactus League game.

The injury did not look serious at first because, well, because Bumgarner pretends to be made of adamantium, but an X-ray revealed the fracture and though no time for recovery was listed, Bumgarner may return to health before the Giants do.

And yes, I know spring training is no time for fans to lose hope for a cheery season, but you take the fact as they present themselves, and the Giants are already 40 percent down from their projected starting rotation. Jeff Samardzija is already on the disabled list with a hinky pectoral muscle, and as the Giants know all too well, things like this tend to come in sixes, if not eights.

The 2010 Giants hit on every midseason trade and parlayed that good fortune and the assets already on board to a storied October run. A year later, Buster Posey got Scott Cousin-ed, and his broken ankle snapped the team’s hope of repeating.

The Giants then won in 2012 and ’14 without too much incident, but starting midway through 2016, continuing into last year when Bumgarner flipped his dirt bike, and now down to today, it’s been nothing but seeds and stems for Giantvania.

The rumor mill has been quick to offer up possible replacements for the Bumgarner vacancy (though not for his expected results), but at a time in the game’s development when the best and most progressive-thinking teams are talking about four-man rotations and Staff on every fifth day, a strategic development that requires strength in numbers, the Giants have neither that strength nor those numbers.

Their best internal choices are veteran Derek Holland, who might already have been penciled in as Samardzija’s replacement, and phenom-in-training Tyler Beede. But that essentially uses up the in-house bank of usable goods, so Sabean can either buy something very off-the-rack or hope he and Bruce Bochy can fake it long enough for Samardzija (three to four weeks) and then Bumgarner (six to eight, according to ESPN's Buster Olney).

This seems awfully daunting, especially for a team that has buzzard’s luck and a rotting bat rack for a season and a half. But with six days before the regular season starts in Los Angeles against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers...oh, the hell with it. If you’re a Giant fan, start drinking, and continue until further notice. The evil lord of the netherworld will tell you when it’s time to stop.

Bumgarner fractures bone in pitching hand in final tune-up before season

Bumgarner fractures bone in pitching hand in final tune-up before season

SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after the Giants lost one of the game's most durable pitchers, they took a much bigger blow. 

Madison Bumgarner fractured the fifth metacarpal in his pitching hand when he was hit by a line drive Friday in what was to be his final appearance before facing Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Opening Day. The Giants did not have an immediate timetable for how long their ace will be out, but he is expected to miss a significant portion of the season for a second straight year. The rotation is already without Jeff Samardzija for the first month of the season because of a strained pectoral.

Bumgarner told reporters he will have surgery on Saturday to insert pins into his hand. He expects the pins to be removed in four-to-six weeks, and that he'll be able to pitch before the All-Star break. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that, in all, Bumgarner will be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Bumgarner looked poised for a huge season, and he threw well all camp. He was injured when hit by a liner off the bat of Kansas City's Whit Merrifield. Ironically, Bumgarner and Merrifield grew up close to each other in North Carolina, and Merrifield has told a story about getting beamed by an intimidating 11-year-old Bumgarner in little league.

The Giants had little rotation depth coming into the season, and the group is now in shambles. Derek Holland, a non-roster invitee, may be the No. 2 starter. The Giants will also have to lean heavily on young pitchers Chris Stratton and Ty Blach. Johnny Cueto is the de facto ace, but he's coming off a down year and at times has struggled this spring. 

There are not many appealing options left in free agency and the Giants likely would have to go into the tax to sign one. Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez are the top in-house options.